Building Corporate Volunteerism into CSR

Companies today are moving back from philanthropic (cash only) contributions to active community involvement. This includes in addressing practicing community amelioration by engaging employee involvement. Civil society is increasingly holding the corporate sector responsible for environmental issues and local community issues. This movement has been promoted by growing accountability demanded by the general public.

As a subject it has taken front stage in the corporate world globally. However correct understanding of CSR is still quite limited in Pakistan, with a general belief that corporate philanthropy (altruistic donation of funds to causes / charities without expectation of any return) is the ‘same thing’ as CSR. Whilst CSR has evolved from corporate philanthropy, it needs to be considered as a process within the company which goes well beyond mere cheque-writing.

In Pakistan, companies which have made the effort to understand CSR have quickly realized that there is in fact a business case for CSR. These companies have improved their image and reputation within the local communities, have more productive supply chains, have become better selling brands and have become workplaces of employee choice.  In other words, CSR is good for business. By developing a holistic CSR strategy covering all business operations, and by putting this strategy into practice, companies stand to reap a number of benefits. Broadly speaking, these include:

  • Cost savings
  • Reduction of environmental footprint
  • Higher efficiencies and hence higher productivity
  • Higher profit margins
  • Reputation and image enhancement
  • More motivated workforce

Corporate volunteering can be linked to reputation enhancement and a more motivated workforce. It has been explored as both an aspect of CSR and employee development. Globally, survey reports identify a number of reasons for CSR. Effective CSR creates a viral marketing or word-of-mouth benefit, which may be difficult to quantify but whose impact is far greater and far more long-lasting.

Volunteerism is not a new phenomenon. Children from as early as the age of sixteen are part of volunteer programmes in Pakistan. Private schools encourage students to opt for programmes towards community building and helping to promote progress and equality.

Volunteerism helps to bring in new ideas and energy to work. New innovative ideas can be drawn while looking into new projects or at times dealing with monotonous work. There is a great deal of flow of ideas.

Other benefits of introducing volunteerism at a large scale include the strengthening of relationships with the people in the local communities. This also helps to improve social and relationship skills of the volunteer. Moreover, engaging volunteers for a project helps to gain support for the work and to gain first-hand knowledge of what the community needs and lags behind in. Later, the goals can be set in tune with the perspective of the community as a whole rather than just in the aim of the organization.

Volunteerism thus enables everyone to become a part of the community service. It provides them a sense of direction, and keeps them engaged and occupied. It is not only good for individual self-esteem but at the same time it is important for mental health.  In developed countries volunteers have become a support force to different public and not for profit organizations. Volunteering Australia reports volunteer activity was worth $25.4 billion to the Australian economy in a study done in 2010 (Volunteering Australia (2015).

Corporate volunteering has been explored as both an aspect of CSR and employee development.  Volunteering has become a strategic asset to help achieve business goals.  The benefits of corporate volunteering include employee development, as they are required to think and use his/her skillset in an alternative situation. It also helps build greater teamwork and bonding between employees within the company through their close interaction outside the workplace. When employees are validated by the company for their additional skills and strength of character, it can lead to higher productivity, increased employee motivation and loyalty.  

Researchers have found that employees who volunteer through their workplace report improved physical and emotional health. The specific benefits include reduced obesity, reduced stress, increased levels of activity, a more positive emotional state and higher levels of overall satisfaction with life.