Employee volunteering: a win-win

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Employee volunteerism initiatives, which allow staff to roll their sleeves up and get personally involved in community work, have benefits far beyond pure community development. These initiatives also boost staff morale and company loyalty, enhance the enterprise brand value and help position the company as an employer of choice.

As a component of overall corporate social investment (CSI) spend, employee volunteerism initiatives do not account for a major share of the budget, and in terms of sustainable community impact, they may not tick all the boxes, but they do offer staff an important opportunity to fully engage with community development projects close to their hearts. This enhances their job satisfaction and the enterprise’s employee value proposition.

Employee volunteerism

Employee volunteerism programmes, once an informal component of CSI, are becoming more formal and measurable.

Trialogue, a specialist corporate responsibility consultancy, reported late last year that the growth in corporate employee volunteerism projects had slowed somewhat in recent years. This is in line with overall trends: until 2013, Trialogue consistently found that the total annual estimated CSI expenditure was growing in real terms. However, between 2013 and 2015, CSI expenditure recorded negative growth in real terms (-2% in 2014 and -6% in 2015) and had flattened to zero real growth in 2016, with total expenditure estimated at R8.6-billion.

Trialogue’s research among large South African enterprises, now released to market in its 19th CSI Handbook, found that 70% of large companies have employee volunteerism programmes; 52% have formalised these programmes, and 58% have dedicated staff running these programmes as part of their overall CSI initiatives. Only 39% quantify the rand value of the time allocated to employee volunteerism programmes.

Trialogue reports that to assess the impact of volunteering, 51% of companies measure reputation, 38% measure brand value, and 29% measure return on investment. Fewer companies quantify the value that volunteer programmes have for staff retention (27%) and development (21%).

Trialogue director Cathy Duff says that in the consultancy’s 20 years of tracking South African CSI programmes, it has seen significant change: “Overall, CSI has become more strategic over the years. It has become steadily more aligned to the business, and more proactive in terms of selecting projects rather than just responding to requests.”

The business-CSI alignment has developed across a number of parameters, she says. “This alignment could be around geography: we see this among manufacturing firms contributing to the communities where they are based, for example. The alignment could also be around products and services: food companies might focus on food security initiatives or technology companies might apply technology to development issues. The alignment might also see projects supporting the development of skills required for the enterprise’s industry.”

Another change has been in the budgets allocated to CSI programmes. Duff says: “We saw significant growth until around three years ago. Between 2007 and 2013 there was a big uptick in CSI, possibly due in part to the BEE codes which provided a target of 1% of net profit after tax and led to better measurement and reporting. But growth has flattened in the past three years. This may be due in part to a tougher economic environment and the fact that most corporates use a percentage of their profits for CSI.”

Employee volunteerism does not constitute the largest share of CSI budget, and probably does not have the most significant social impact of all CSI initiatives, she notes. “When NGOs [nongovernmental organisations] are polled about the contributions they value most, financial support tops the list. Volunteerism efforts such as painting, planting gardens or working with children are not ranked as highly, possibly because of the amount of NGO resources needed to arrange such events, whereas employee volunteerism in the form of pro-bono professional services is more highly valued.”

However, employee volunteerism does raise awareness of community needs, allows staff to contribute to development in a personal way, and supports the enterprise’s overall CSI agenda. In international organisations, employee volunteerism is now starting to extend to volunteerism by retired staff members, family volunteering and sabbatical volunteering too — an indication of how individuals value opportunities to make a personal contribution to society. “We’re also seeing more strategic pro-bono professional services volunteering and more international companies looking to new ways to incentivise staff to participate in employee volunteerism programmes,” says Duff.

Being part of positive change

Old Mutual, a particularly CSI-focused company, pumps up to R114-million a year into a broad range of development and community projects, education and skills initiatives. While this is a significant investment, the money is not the point, says Dianne Richards, monitoring and evaluation manager: governance, regulatory and corporate affairs at the Old Mutual Foundation. “We often speak of having a ‘green heart’ at Old Mutual. For us, this means a culture of giving and community development that benefits the communities we work in, our staff, and the company.”

Richards says the culture of giving is a contributor to Old Mutual’s being regarded as an employer of choice in South Africa, and to its ability to attract and retain millennials, for whom corporate responsibility is increasingly important.

Old Mutual’s CSI programmes are formalised under the Old Mutual Foundation, but a broad range of initiatives are also run outside of the foundation’s ambit. With a focus on enterprise development, skills development, education, philanthropic giving and staff volunteerism, the company supports thousands of large and small programmes.

The employee volunteerism programme alone has a budget of around R12-million a year, of which half supports the flagship Staff Community Builder Programme, and has supported over 3 600 projects to the tune of over R66.5-million since 1993. Around 35% of Old Mutual’s staff members are active in the volunteerism programme, through which the company supports their work with chosen organisations. The Old Mutual Staff Community Builder programme provides up to R40 000 over three years to each qualifying organisation where staff members volunteer their services.

Staff members can also opt to have monthly donations deducted from their salaries, to benefit organisations selected by an employee trust. “The trustees determine how funds are allocated, based on surveys among our staff. Among the portfolios they choose to support are initiatives for women’s development, youth development and animal welfare,” she says.

This Payroll Giving programme, which allows staff to contribute to development programmes if they do not have time to personally volunteer at these organisations, was supported by 2 211 staff members donating a total of around R1.9-million in 2016. The Old Mutual Foundation matches their donations rand for rand. Richards says that between 2002 and 2016, total staff contributions to this programme amounted to around R15.6-million.

Old Mutual’s culture of staff volunteerism and corporate social responsibility is actively sustained through Old Mutual Foundation roadshows, information sharing and the annual Staff Volunteerism Awards, which recognise the community-building efforts of individual employees.

While the company’s spirit of giving appears to be exceptional, Richards notes: “We can’t claim to own that spirit completely. South Africa is a very giving nation. What we have done at Old Mutual is to create an enabling environment for that spirit of community building.”

Is your company or organisation serious about South Africa’s future? Enter your programme in the Investing in the Future Awards 2017 here

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