You might think that choosing a ‘Charity of the Year’ for your business to support through fundraising and volunteering is a simple, fool–proof, and effective social good strategy.
Here is why that is not quite true….
What is a charity of the year?
Many companies have social good strategies that involve choosing a ‘charity of the year’, which they then fundraise for throughout the year, and perhaps volunteer for occasionally, before choosing a different charity the next year.
These are often chosen by cause – i.e. a publisher supporting a literacy charity – or by employee vote, as social media management mogul, Buffer, does here.
The good thing about this method of social responsibility, is that it gives the charities the much–needed security of slightly longer-term support.
Some companies that we have spoken to have even lengthened their support period to two years as they found that one year is not always long enough to make a significant impact.
Knowing when money is going to be coming in for the next two years is significant for charities who need to be able to plan ahead and manage their cashflow.
In theory, this sounds like a great way for a large company to manage their CSR in a simple and impactful way. However, in practice, this approach leads to disengaged employees and, often, a lack of continued support for the charity.
This is because, according to Gagne’s Self Determination Theory, ‘human beings have basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness’, and ‘controlling rewards, deadlines, and evaluation can decrease the enjoyment of an activity, whereas choice and acknowledging people’s feelings toward activities or rules regarding an activity can enhance it’.
Simply put, if you dictate to people on what they have to do and how they have to do it, they will not engage with the same enthusiasm as if you give them the freedom to approach the task from their own perspective.
Even if the company has decided on a charity by a democratic employee poll, there will be many disappointed employees who miss out on the chance to support the cause that means the most to them through work for another year or two.
Imagine if you could engage all of these employees equally in your volunteering programme, really embed a culture of giving in your organisation, and provide valuable long-term support to a number of brilliant causes?
Studies have shown that, while being prescriptive about volunteering at work can lead to a lack of engagement and a disinterest in providing repeated support, people are more likely to be motivated when ‘they can freely choose to pursue the activity, … and when they feel connected and supported by important people, such as a manager, … or team-mates’.
And not only are they more likely to be motivated; people work harder and get more out of volunteering if they can choose their own opportunity.
Personal connection is a huge motivation for volunteering, whether it is in the workplace or not. In fact, NCVO’s Time Well Spent report on Employer-Supported Volunteering found that 26% of employee volunteers got involved because the cause or organisation they were working with was important to them, compared to 25% of non-employee volunteers citing the same reason.
A better approach…
A report by the CIPD suggests that organisations can get more out of their employee volunteering schemes by valuing and encouraging employee input. They advise to ‘involve [your employees] in the selection of voluntary organisations and give them some control over the type of volunteering in which they will be involved’ in order to increase engagement.
NCVO also claim that employers who are more ‘flexible about how employees are able to give their time’ will support employee volunteers to better manage their volunteering hours around work commitments and increase engagement in employer-supported volunteering programmes.
They propose a more ‘personal’ approach, allowing volunteers to freely choose the causes that they give their time to, encouraging regular, longer-term volunteering engagement, and supporting them to find their own opportunities.
Charities need long-term support, but more than that, they need committed, motivated, and reliable volunteers.
Workplace volunteering is a brilliant way of engaging your team to create community impact, but employers looking to get involved with employer-supported volunteering should keep in mind that allowing your employees to be individuals and make their own decisions about volunteering is vital to the success of your program.
Unfortunately, activities which may suit your company best, such as one-off team volunteering days, or rigid volunteering policies, are unlikely to be the best route to impact. Charities value long-term support from passionate volunteers, and your team will value flexibility and autonomy in their volunteering activities.