Keys to successful volunteerism

Although it is important initially to inspire and motivate staff to get involved, gaining longer-term commitment requires strategic support. Company managers with experience of employee volunteer initiatives shared five keys to success at a recent CSI Dialogues session.

Choosing a project
Some companies believe it is best to let employees choose projects that are close to their hearts. Other employers prefer to make the selection themselves, choosing projects that are aligned to the social development goals of the organisation.

In the latter case it is still possible to achieve a high level of buy-in from employees, as long as management solicits their input and involvement at various stages. The general consensus was that it is wise to support fewer projects and support them well. Whatever projects are chosen, it is important that they are entered into as long-term partnerships with the emphasis on building relationships in communities, not simply once-off engagements.

Planning to succeed
Proper planning is critical to ensuring a project's success and ensuring volunteers have a positive experience that will keep them coming back for more. When planning, find out what the organisation needs, who will be providing what is needed for the project to be a success and get clarity on the organisation's restrictions and rules. It is also vital to arrange training for volunteers so that they know what to expect and what is expected of them.

Giving the right kind of support
Support from top management is essential. To this end, it helps to select projects that are aligned with management objectives, as does presenting the project to the organisation's leaders in a manner that resonates with them.

With management's support, it will be easier for a volunteer programme to secure resources like money and time — employees should ideally be permitted to volunteer during office hours. It is also important to create a framework that supports volunteering, taking care of details like providing a code for leave forms that report progress in terms of BEE objectives, as well as considering the risk of possible injury while volunteering.

Sell it well
Once the programme is in place and the beneficiaries are lined up, put time and effort into marketing the idea of getting involved to potential volunteers in a compelling way. Highlight the fact that they are going to be instrumental in making a difference in people's lives while having fun. Inspire without demanding, engage through encouragement.

Say thank you
Volunteers also need to be recognised. Such recognition may take the form of an awards event. It is also a good idea to include volunteerism as part of an employee's key performance indicators, so they can be recognised and rewarded for their efforts outside the office, as well as inside.

Sarah Campbell is managing director of Kaelo Engage, producers of e.tv's Kaelo — Stories of Hope and organisers of the CSI Dialogues series Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.

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