Corporate Volunteering - the New Black in Team Building?
28 November 2012 at 9:27 am
Volunteering – is it the new black in corporate team building? asks Corporate Community Engagement Consultant, Kate Driessen in her latest Australian Charities Fund (ACF) post.
And if it is, are employers prepared to pay for the experience, or at least off-set the cost to the charity to conduct the activity?
With the demand on charities to provide large-scale, organised volunteering as high as ever, many are throwing up their hands in exasperation. Partnerships are weakening as expectations and needs are not aligned and incentives to work out a creative solution together are missed.
Yes, volunteering and volunteers are the backbone of charities. They would not be able to exist without them. But these are long-term, regular, committed, often trained, background checked and specifically recruited for the role, volunteers. Not the, ‘I’ve got 15 guys in our finance department that would like to paint the wall of the children’s hospital ward. Next Tuesday afternoon’.
Employers are benefitting from out-sourcing their community activity and employee engagement to the community sector. Reporting on their volunteering hours and the dollar value of lending their expertise is helping demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, in turn making them look like good corporate citizens. HR Managers have KPIs around their volunteering participation. And with the likes of corporate volunteering benchmarks sitting at an average staff participation rate of 7.8% (1), demand for team-based volunteering opportunities is fast exceeding supply.
Some charities have been quick to rein it in. And, I think, rightly so. One organisation will co-ordinate a labor intensive activity central to their operations, but the employer pays for the costs of materials, and a volunteer ‘management fee’. Another will gladly organise a bus-load of disadvantaged children to receive bikes that are purchased, constructed and quality checked at the expense of the company. Some charities will even offer your company first grab of their coveted volunteering opportunities… if your annual corporate contribution exceeds $50,000.
But are employers and employees currently truly benefitting? If corporate volunteering is supposed to be about staff engagement, is it enough to be engaging less than 10% of your staff base? Should 7.8% be purported as an acceptable, let alone remarkable level of program ‘success’? Can employers aim higher? Of course volunteering is probably only one of several staff engagement activities within an organisation, but for a program to capture so few and yet require so much, you might well ask, what’s the point?
On the other hand, if charities are already struggling to meet the current demand, and many employers are without the resources required to structure and give a volunteer program the attention it needs to grow and deliver returns, is large-scale corporate volunteering the right opportunity for every employer?
One employer I work with, given the nature of its retail environment and high casual workforce chooses not to offer volunteering leave but to engage its staff heavily in its workplace giving program and celebrate its success. Other employers in the manufacturing, telesales, and production line environments also struggle with offering team-based volunteering and could also better look to other opportunities better suited to their organisation but which still support employees in their desire to make a contribution to the community.
If employers are prepared to pay thousands for a professional company to run a team-building event, why not cover the costs, or make a corporate donation? Shouldn’t employers be prepared to pay an equivalent amount to a charity who is providing volunteering team building events? Surely this should be seen as part of their investment in building a stronger workforce.
(1) London Benchmarking Group AU & NZ Annual Benchmarking Report 2011
About the author: Corporate Community Engagement Consultant, Kate Driessen is currently a Senior Advisor at The Australian Charities Fund