“Ironically, the prominence of corporate volunteerism in Singapore co-exists with a somewhat self-limiting view of what volunteerism is, what it involves and how it can make a difference” (It is Only in Giving That We Truly Receive, Eugene K.B. Tan).
Good volunteerism – I believe – is marked by consistency, sustainability, and strong impact, and in this vein the observation that “corporate volunteerism in Singapore is commonly expressed narrowly and insipidly as employees being given time off, often a day or two, to volunteer or take part in a one-off activity” (TODAY, Dec. 13) is fair. Corporate volunteerism, moreover, is oftentimes conflated with corporate social responsibility, with disproportionate emphases on media-friendly events or financial contributions which may reflect positively on the company, but may do little for the beneficiaries. Three recommendations are therefore in order, if companies want to nurture more meaningful volunteerism within their organisations.
First, the organic development of corporate volunteerism should be facilitated by employees with a history of volunteerism, and further through projects which are aligned with the skill-sets or capabilities of these workers. Data or software engineers with expertise in data analysis or marketing executives with experience in social media marketing, for instance, could help charities to process data-sets or to promote different events respectively. Employees – as regular volunteers – will still make a difference if they take up generic responsibilities and roles, yet specialisation in this regard will be more beneficial to both charities and volunteers.
A second related recommendation is coordination with and attachment to a particular charity for the long-term, starting with needs analysis. The alignment between the employees and the charity will allow for a relevant agenda to be decided upon, and thereafter when a service or a programme is implemented, output and outcome data should be collected and analysed to ascertain impact.
The final recommendation is to ensure the consistency and sustainability of projects. An obvious undertaking would be for companies to stick to an adopted charity over a few years, even if the teams and their employee compositions change, though guidance can be sought from American writers and non-profit professionals Elizabeth Lynn and Susan Wisely, who defined philanthropy and non-profit contributions progressively as relief, as improvement, as social reform, and as civic engagement. In the bigger picture, companies and their employees can conceptualise their projects more ambitiously, with aspirations for the future.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.