Volunteering, an Investment Well Worth It

ngos CSI business volunteerism
Wednesday, 23 October, 2013 - 14:13

In this article, Kaelo Engage highlights the potential benefits that volunteerism could bring to civil society as well as business

There is one day on the South African calendar when suits are exchanged for overalls, ties disappear and everyone knuckles down to do their 67 minutes of voluntary service in celebration of Nelson Mandela each year. But companies that are going beyond their 67 minutes are reaping the real rewards of volunteerism.
In an increasing competitive global business environment, companies are not only looking to increase and improve their productivity, but are also looking at ways that give them a competitive advantage and community standing. Many business leaders agree that a strong organisational culture, with a motivated, engaged workforce can be the intangible difference that sets the company apart. New research from Deloitte suggests that there is a link between frequent participation in workplace volunteer activities and this desired organisational culture.
Internationally, there has been a strong move towards corporate conscience with many top companies encouraging employees to participate in ‘one to one’ donation schemes or active volunteerism. In South Africa, the trend has been slower to take hold; many of the bigger corporates have developed their corporate social investment (CSI) strategies to include volunteerism, but other companies tend towards doing their part on Nelson Mandela Day, but even then sticking to straight forward CSI spending.
The importance of volunteer programmes in companies should not be underestimated and if strategically developed, they can benefit the organisation, the employees and the community as a whole. These programmes can become the vital link between business and civil society. Business guru, Richard Branson, believes making a difference in people’s lives and making a profit are not mutually exclusive and that a healthy profit means that a community supports and appreciates the services a business offers and how the business is managed.
Active community participation and sense of selfless service are known to increase an individual’s sense of well-being and happiness. When this is done through the company they work for, it increases pride in the organisation, a sense of fulfillment and a belief in what they are doing. These programmes are also known to teach employees new skills, particularly the so-called ‘soft skills’, improve confidence and earn them respect.
According to the eighth annual Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT survey (2011) millennials (21-35) who frequently participate in workplace volunteer activities are more likely to be proud, loyal and satisfied employees than those that do not. Of those who did volunteer, 70 percent said that a company’s commitment to the community would be a factor when choosing between two potential jobs. However, volunteering is not a purely altruistic decision, as 51 percent of all those surveyed also wanted their volunteerism investment to benefit them professionally.
Corporates like MTN Group, Absa Group and Standard Bank Group, all have developed programmes, sometimes referred to as skills-based volunteerism, that go beyond the typical short-term ‘crèche painting’ scenario. They have aligned their business strategies with corporate conscience projects that are visible, have a long-term effects within the community they operate in, that speak to their corporate vision and acknowledges and values the individuals involved.
The MTN Foundation, for instance, has aligned itself with the national imperative of education for all and has followed this as their theme over the last two years. Employees have been involved in various schools programmes, across all the provinces, from the building and refurbishment of infrastructure, installation of ICT equipment to providing much needed provisions and digging vegetable gardens.
Volunteerism can never be mandatory, but companies that have embraced this ethos, particularly when it is visibly top-down, have found their employees enthusiastically engaged and committed over the long-term. The MTN annual employee volunteerism initiative; 21 Days of Y’ello Care campaign has not only mobilised high levels of staff participation for the period of the campaign, but has also seen many of the employees continue their volunteer commitment on an ongoing basis.
In a country as divided as South Africa, these programmes can go beyond the workplace, the community and the individual, and speak directly to an understanding and humanity needed to change prevailing attitudes.
 - Kaelo Engage, a Johannesburg-based content creation agency. For more information contact Mandisa Mbenenge, Tel: 011 303 7027, E-mail: mandisa@kaeloengage.com.

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