Achieving CSR Engagement Through Volunteering

In the 1990s, becoming ‘eco friendly’ grew in popularity as businesses woke up to the idea that being ‘green’ actually helped saved money, thanks to a reduction in resource use and waste. In particular, when it came to consumer facing organisations, there was also a marketing benefit to being green, with increasingly environment-conscious customers expecting more from the companies they were buying from.

Today, this ethos has developed into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – the aim of ‘doing good’. This goes beyond the environment, to considering how staff, suppliers and the community at large are affected by the business’ decisions. This may sound great, but there can be resistance to ‘CSR programmes’ from sceptical staff.

Undoubtedly, ‘greenwash’ is very much an issue within the world of CSR. The reality is, some businesses have approached CSR in a cynical way, looking to reap the rewards whilst cutting corners. The reality is that there are many facets to ‘responsibility’. Take, for example, the Guardian’s recent article on sustainable pensions. It shows that some companies out there are claiming to have embedded sustainability, yet haven’t checked their pension schemes to see where there money is going. As such, good efforts are being undermined in other areas.

As a result, demonstrating you operate a responsible business is far more than simply donating money to charity, or using recycled paper. Truly ingraining CSR principles is therefore no mean feat; it takes the ongoing engagement of staff to achieve success. One such way of doing this is through encouraging volunteering; something more and more businesses are implementing in order for staff to feel empowered (by allowing them to take part in what they do) and motivated (working for an organisation that cares.) The result? Greater productivity, retention and a tangible difference to the bottom-line.

Making volunteering work

Volunteering may be more common than you think. In the 2010-11 Citizenship Survey, the findings showed that 25% of people volunteer on a monthly basis already. With a business being a microcosm of wider society, there should therefore already be plenty of people within your company already positively predisposed to the idea of volunteering.

The key to the success of engagement – in any activity – is encouraging participation for ideas rather than forcing people down a particular route. For example, it is very common for people to have an affinity with a charity related to a family member’s illness. Providing them with an opportunity to say thank you through volunteering would be far more empowering than dictating a company-chosen charity. Encourage your staff to suggest ideas and find opportunities for them to use their existing skills.

There also needs to be senior management buy-in, so everyone is in the right frame of mind. Some members of the management team may be less impressed about the idea of giving back to the community, yet encouraged if you were to focus on volunteering being proven to help reverse high staff attrition rates.

On an ongoing basis, it is very useful to get staff to talk about their volunteering experiences in order to encourage more ‘recruits.’ Developing case studies can help internal marketing of programmes too. Otherwise, noticeboard, intranets etc. are good ways of promoting volunteering opportunities.

Many businesses have a ‘CSR team’ to help generate new volunteering programme ideas or refresh existing ones. It can make spreading the word far easier, and reduces work load versus one person having sole responsibility.

Volunteering success stories

Salesforce, who are a major player in the world of CRM software have a CSR policy where they give 1% of profit, 1% of employees’ time, and 1% of equity to charities and other non-profit organisations. Salesforce employees are able to do 6 days of charity work each year and are actively encouraged to support charities of their own volition. They say this has reaped rewards when it comes to employee motivation and retention.

Meanwhile, over at accountancy firm Grant Thornton, each employee is allowed a day’s work paid to take part in volunteering. Furthermore, each office has autonomy in what they choose to do and representatives are elected to liaise with their national CSR team. Initiatives have included helping at local schools and organising charity bike rides, where Grant Thornton match personal fundraising.

The most common fear behind offering staff the opportunity to volunteer is that there will be a massive uptake that would leave the company under resourced. However, this is unlikely to be the case. Take the Financial Services Authority (FSA), who offer employees a generous 20 days paid leave for volunteering a year, yet engagement is

at 20%.

Relating their volunteer work to their own strengths, the FSA’s staff provides financia

l literacy lessons; reading, maths and computing partners; help with CV writing; mentoring young people on work placement schemes; and supporting Young Enterprise programmes.

Ensuring volunteering pays off

Measuring output of volunteer work may sound cynical, but CSR isn’t about doing good at the cost of profit. In order to formalise volunteering, there should be a clear link between company CSR goals, HR goals and appraisals. With research showing engaged employees result in better retention, productivity, innovation, morale and fewer sick days, these are all things that can be passed from HR to be measured for CSR reporting.

Reporting can be brought to life through employee case studies, showing what they’ve done and how they found the experience. This will also provide invaluable information to managers.

Hopefully this article has inspired you to either implement a CSR programme, or influence one starting. From an individual’s perspective, LinkedIn recently shared on Twitter that 1 in every 5 managers in the U.S. say they have selected a candidate because of his or her volunteer experience.  As more and more businesses are seeking to demonstrate they are responsible, clearly you have a head start if your beliefs fit in with the company you wish to work for!

Got a volunteering story or tip that could help others in their CSR efforts? Share them in the comments below!

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