SA companies cotton-on to staff-driven corporate responsibility

Marianne Merten

South African companies are exploring a new approach to corporate social responsibility through employee-centred initiatives such as matching staff donations to charities made via the payroll.

Much of the pressure to move away from a straight “cheque book approach” has come in the wake of increasing global corpworks. Over the past 15 years such initiatives, drawing in staff, have become common in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Since its launch in 1998 more than 100?000 have been channelled to NGOs and charities. In addition, specific fundraising efforts by teams of staff have raised 54?000.

“Companies are seeing that employee involvement primarily makes good business sense in terms of boosting employee morale and creating a happy working environment by bringing people together,” says Laura Maxwell Stuart, corporate services manager of the Non-Profit Partnership (NPP), an NGO.

The NPP offers South African companies assistance to administer and monitor “pay as you earn” schemes and initiatives under which a company matches either rand for rand or in proportion to the donation by staff members.
The underlying philosophy is that such programmes enhance staff awareness of their company’s own programmes and also strengthens staff involvement at community level.

The NPP is a joint initiative between the UK-based Charities Aid Foundation, the South African NGO Coalition and the Southern African Grantmakers’ Association.

The initiative is funded by two US donors, but it is expected the scheme would become self-funded as this approach becomes more widespread.

“Our main aim is to promote the increased flow of funds to the NGO sector. At the same time we want to play a role in companies putting in place ethically sound, development-orientated programmes,” says Maxwell Stuart.

She says a 1997 study of 2?100 US MBA graduates showed more than half would accept a lower salary if they could work for a socially responsible company. And another survey of 300 British companies in 1999 showed that those with a public commitment to social responsibility outperformed others three times over.

Several South African companies are already involving their workers in staff-driven corporate responsibility schemes. However, not all such initiatives are being fully realised. For example, one bank has promised to match any employee’s donation to charity, but because the forms for this are unwieldy, few workers have taken up the offer.

It’s not all rands and cents. Staff at some companies have grouped together to give up, for example, weekends to repair schools or orphanages. This also has become a team-building exercise, with the managing director sweeping floors alongside the janitor.

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