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Steve Butterworth



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Social responsibility: How to pivot to virtual volunteering during Covid-19 and beyond

How companies can encourage employees to show community spirit virtually.

Employee volunteering programmes aren’t just about doing the right thing – they are about securing a better future for business too. Businesses must be active, authentic and meaningful partners with their local community if they are to build long-term trust and relevance with their employees and customers. New research by Neighbourly showed that 82% of consumers say they are more likely to trust a company that contributes to where they live or work.

Employees will feel that they are adding more value and making a real difference if they understand the change they’re making.

The benefits of employee volunteering programmes go beyond the bottom line. Research on the wellbeing benefits of volunteering showed that 80% of employees who took part said the experience made them happier, and 100% said they felt proud to work for their company as a result. Volunteering programmes are a vital motivator for employees, and businesses that enable staff to support their communities through the second wave of the pandemic will have a happier, more fulfilled workforce as a result.

With many traditional forms of volunteering currently unavailable due to lockdowns and shielding, it is important to adapt your employee volunteering programme for maximum positive impact during Covid-19. Neighbourly has been working with several big brands to do just that and has gathered key lessons on how to pivot to virtual volunteering, whilst still offering a wide range of opportunities to employees.

Find an organisation that aligns with yours

Identifying a charity or community organisation that aligns with your business and the issues your employees care about is important. Whether they’re working in your sector, in the same regions or have similar values to your organisation, there needs to be a clear connection for an effective partnership. Platforms are available can help you to identity, and put you in touch with, matching community causes.

Prior to Covid-19, Samsung’s employee volunteering programme consisted predominantly of face-to-face volunteering, from beach cleans to garden make-overs. When the pandemic hit, Samsung’s Head of CSR, Jessie Soohyun Park, knew that Samsung’s core value of connecting people was going to be vital throughout the crisis.

Jessie said: “As part of our commitment to supporting local communities, employees across the business have been writing letters to provide companionship to the elderly and vulnerable to help tackle social isolation and loneliness.

“We felt that finding different ways to connect and communicate during the pandemic were really important, and our employees have given us a fantastic response so far with everyone finding the programme to be fulfilling and rewarding.

“Beyond our 1000 Letters of Love campaign, we’re also offering other remote training and volunteering opportunities with Shout, the UK’s first ever 24/7 text messaging support service for anyone in need of mental health support”.

Identify the most relevant opportunities for your employees

One of the benefits of virtual volunteering is that employees can support good causes wherever they are based – all while at home, fitting around other time commitments – which provides an opportunity to think creatively about what your virtual volunteering programme might look like. What skills do your employees have that could help those in need?

During the first wave of the pandemic, Danone partnered with a wide range of volunteering activities and match specialist skills with community need. Employees helped community causes with areas that sat within their skill set, including support in social media engagement, setting up online fundraising pages, employability mentoring and administration and IT support. Danone employees took part in a virtual webinar with school children interested in the grocery industry and helped a community kitchen to set up processes to support their emergency food distribution and volunteer rotas.

Consider how you can create the most impact

Start by reaching out to local community groups to see where you can offer help. To have the best possible impact ensure your volunteering programme is led by them and their needs. Employees will feel that they are adding more value and making a real difference if they understand the change they’re making. Sometimes it may be necessary to partner with multiple groups and organisations to reach higher amounts of people in need.

During the peak of the pandemic in the UK, Penguin Random House recognised the importance of relief and escapism that books can provide in difficult times, as well as offering entertainment to children unable to go to school and comfort and company to those experiencing isolation. In order to reach communities where the need is greatest, Penguin connected with a network of food banks, primary schools, hospitals and charities to distribute free books to people who could most benefit and ensure maximum impact.  

Track and measure your impact

A common challenge is how to measure the impact of employee volunteer programmes. Tracking the benefits of the programme for the volunteers and positive outcomes for the organisations you’re supporting provides insight into how to advance and improve your programme in the future. This data can also be shared with employees to provide motivation and show the impact of their efforts, as well as providing justification for the continuation of the scheme.  

Interested in this topic? Read Purpose-driven CSR: why an integrated approach is the way forward.

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