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21(116) 2015
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HR & Professional Training

Corporate volunteering – where business and charity meet

by Wiktor Zaremba, fundraising manager, Fundacja Habitat for Humanity Poland
Header wiktor zaremba

Over the last several decades, volunteering has become an important element of the corporate world. 

Every year, millions of employees worldwide spend a part of their working hours helping in their local communities, offering support for causes they see as important.

The volunteering trend is also rising in Poland; according to CBOS, over one in five Poles is already a volunteer1- increasingly, in reaction to their employer’s initiatives.

Volunteering and corporate social responsibility

Volunteering activities in Poland are regulated by the 2003 Public Benefit and Volunteer Work Act [Ustawa z dnia 24 kwietnia 2003 r. o działalności pożytku publicznego i o wolontariacie ]. The aim of the Act is to ensure balance between protection of basic rights of volunteers and flexibility of the legal relationship. Companies seeking volunteering opportunities can easily find guidance in the many NGOs, including the nationwide network of Regional Volunteer Centres.

Finding a good match between the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals and a worthy cause is often crucial. Companies see corporate volunteering not merely as a PR-stunt aimed at boosting sales, but a combination of activities which help the organisation interact with its stakeholders in a constructive, meaningful way, benefiting the volunteers and beneficiaries alike.

As a result, volunteering is not only a way to get out of the office once a year. According to a Deloitte Touche USA LPP study, becoming a volunteer can boost a whole range of valuable business skills including problem solving, negotiating, and decision making. 86% of the Americans surveyed see volunteering as a positive addition to their career2.

To make things even more interesting, studies show that – on average – volunteers live longer. A review of the health effects of volunteering found that helping others on a regular basis can reduce early mortality rates, compared to employees who prefer to stay behind the desk3.

Over time, people who volunteer together with their office colleagues become more integrated as a team, which translates to lower levels of workplace stress and conflict. As a result, volunteering events offer a teambuilding element similar to that of coached, scenario-based events or the traditional paintball and BBQ day trip.

And, as the corporate volunteering trend grows, so do employees’ appetites. According to the 2011 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey, 61% of millennials said a volunteer programme would be a factor ‘when choosing between two potential jobs with the same location, responsibilities, pay and benefits’. Millennial employees who participate in a company's volunteer programme are more than twice as likely to rate their work culture as ‘very positive’, as compared to those who don't volunteer.4

Regardless of whether a volunteering programme comes as a result of CEO’s vision, or has its roots in employees’ bottom-up initiative, every organisation faces the challenge of finding the best way to contribute.

Once-a-year volunteering events (community engagement days, global impact events, etc.) are popular. Despite their name, events of this type are seen as a celebration of a one year’s effort; a finale of a long, fruitful campaign aimed at positive change.

Those are often supplemented by regular volunteering activities. Taking the afternoon off once a month to visit a local animal shelter, help a handicapped person, or teach at-risk youth how to handle their budget is becoming more and more popular, offering volunteers opportunity to engage in activities way outside their regular tasks.

Alternatively, many companies prefer to engage their employees in skill-based volunteering. Highly-qualified specialists offer their skills free-of-charge, sharing them with a beneficiary organisation. Global consultancy companies work with students, architectural firms help design social housing apartments, and paramedics give CPR courses during music festivals.

Even though skill-based volunteering offers less of a chance to get away from your regular work, it still provides contact with a completely different set of ‘customers’. Due to its nature, very often it also offers the beneficiary access to services normally beyond their financial reach.

Building homes and hope – volunteering with Habitat for Humanity

One of the largest organisations with volunteering activities at its core is Habitat for Humanity – an international development charity that aims to build a pathway out of poverty by eliminating poor housing and homelessness.

From Forbes’ 500 executives to veteran soldiers, celebrities, software engineers and school nurses alike, worldwide over a million volunteers work with Habitat for Humanity every year. Becoming involved in construction projects around the globe, they seek a practical way of helping another person.

Habitat for Humanity offers a well-tested corporate volunteering formula, also employed by the organisation’s Polish divisions in Warsaw and Gliwice. Each year Habitat Poland works with major business partners, building, repairing and renovating houses for those who need assistance. Even though the projects change, the formula remains. Habitat’s ‘Architects of Hope’ corporate volunteering programme engages a partner company with a complete package, from helping the company recruit the volunteers among its employees, to managing event logistics and insurance, providing the volunteers with onsite training, and – what is most treasured by the volunteers themselves – offering a chance to work alongside the beneficiaries, helping to improve their lives forever.

Through Habitat’s extensive network of affiliate organisations, more adventuresome volunteers can also visit other countries as part of the ‘Global Village’ international volunteering programme. Managers from a corporation’s many country operations can meet in a setting different than the boardroom and engage in a completely different set of activities, from digging foundations to raising roofs – and hopes!

Corporate volunteering is bound to grow in the future, becoming even more strongly infused into core business values and CSR strategies. The global character of online communication will accelerate this trend, with new possibilities becoming available to potential volunteers.

From online volunteering (giving your time and skills without the need to travel), to massive crowdfunding campaigns, the internet is not only a powerful matchmaker between CSR-conscious companies and social causes needing support; it also helps increase transparency, raising the bar for corporations and NGOs alike. All for the greater good of helping those who need it most.

Support Fundacja Habitat for Humanity Poland at the BPCC Annual Ball on 24 October. A few tables still remain for those who hurry!


1 http://www.biznes.newseria.pl/news/wolontariat_coraz,p2082485906
2  [http://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/citizenship-deloitte-volunteer-impact-research.html]
3 http://healthland.time.com/2013/08/23/helping-others-helps-you-to-live-longer/
4 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Michael-Haberman/corporate-volunteering_b_1856314.html

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