The rising trend of businesses offering their services for free may seem unlikely at first glance. Yet more companies than ever are harnessing their potential as influencers of social change by motivating their people to volunteer in activities that benefit local communities. In fact, the contribution of employees' specialist skills, competencies and enthusiasm to support charities and non-government organizations (NGOs) is being increasingly viewed as an actual responsibility to help create a sustainable future for all.
This ideology is in line with a growing movement among major employers towards becoming more socially aware and accountable. For many, this involves integrating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) within their overall strategy, often implementing policies that allows their people to volunteer during business hours. This allows companies to set a positive example through the way they operate, something that large international companies not only have the opportunity to do, but also the responsibility to act upon. KPMG is one such company committed to the concept of using employees’ skills and passions to make a difference to communities, as Head of Corporate Citizenship and Diversity, Michael Hastings, explains: "We want to set the pace on corporate citizenship [...] We want to lead change and be involved in dynamic solutions that change the societies in which we work and live."
Why not just donate money?
Every company has social responsibilities. These range from maintaining good employment practices to proactively reducing environmental impacts. Aside from the obvious benefits to communities of donating time and money, other factors fuel support for volunteering within a CSR strategy. These include:
- Reputation – In an age when information is easily shared and scrutinized, it's essential for companies to maintain a proactive and exemplary CSR record. What's more, providing voluntary schemes – rather than cash donations alone – presents the company's public profile as people-focused and civic-minded.
- Attractiveness – A company that demonstrates a sense of responsibility towards its role in the wider community will appeal to those who share similar 21st-century concerns of issues such as human rights and the environment, as well as those who value making an active difference. And, of course, these people will include potential employees, shareholders, clients and investors.
- Skills development – Volunteering can offer a unique opportunity for individuals to develop personal, communication and professional skills. This in turn benefits employers, businesses and communities alike.
- People passions – Investment in employees means more than skills-development alone; it means recognizing people as individuals with diverse interests and levels of enthusiasm. Volunteering can help a company support its employees in this way by ensuring that opportunities relate to a person’s particular passion, be it working with children, taking part in physical activities or simply helping others. This will provide the most enjoyable, inspiring and fulfilling experience in return.
The need for know-how
Roisin Murphy, the European Integration Manager in KPMG's CSR team, recently contributed to the UK's Social Market Foundation (SMF) report on the benefits of employee volunteering, ‘More Than CV Points? The Benefits of Employee Volunteering for Business and Individuals’, which circulated to 20,000 businesses. Central to Roisin's article is the value of promoting skills-based – rather than general – volunteering at major companies. She discusses not only the importance of understanding a community's social and environmental needs, but also identifying how the professional expertise and personal skills of employees can create maximum positive impact in these areas.
Roisin adds that there has never been, “a more opportune time to re-shape and more explicitly link volunteering with skills development. With the credit crisis and organizations under budgetary pressures to reduce costs and maximize impacts, training that may once have been 'nice to have' or considered non-essential is being reviewed.” She adds, “Forward-looking organizations are focusing more attention on how to leverage volunteering to maximize the benefit to both the local community and the organization itself.”
While definitions and boundaries of social responsibility continue to evolve, employer-supported volunteering looks set to embed itself further within the ethos of the global corporate sector. This shows that businesses and individuals alike have come a long way in recognizing that we are all a part of, and not apart from, the societies in which we live.
Volunteering at KPMG
KPMG member firms boast a strong and active culture of volunteering. The company is committed to enabling communities, business and employees' personal development to thrive worldwide. For example, KPMG Europe LLP is currently carrying out a three-year plan to establish CSR Forums in every office. Each of these will be dedicated to developing community programs and encouraging staff to get volunteering.
Examples of volunteer activities at KPMG
National Coalition Against Loneliness
In 2006, KPMG in the Netherlands set up National Coalition Against Loneliness to promote awareness and encourage people to volunteer to help those facing isolation and loneliness. Together with 14 national NGOs they are setting up a large scale national campaign against loneliness, commissioning scientific research and encouraging collaboration between different NGOs and local municipalities on a local level.
Environmental reviews for UK hospices
Working closely with community NGOs and charities helps to identify specific needs and thus tailor an expertise-led program to suit. One such program involved over 20 UK employees volunteering to undertake an innovative series of environmental reviews for 30 hospices, which resulted in an identification of more than £120,000 and 500 tons of CO2 energy savings.
KPMG's Global ITAS Citi Team Community Service Day
For the third consecutive year, this 2009 event took place around the theme of 'Education', based on the UNICEF estimate that about 93 million children worldwide lack access to basic education. One-hundred and seventy-five KPMG volunteers from 11 countries responded to the challenge in what was an inspiring example of how volunteering can create a valuable impact across international and cultural boundaries. Here's an idea of how some got on…
Baltimore, USA – 5 November 2009
Six members of the ITAS and Audit teams spent the day in classrooms of an elementary school in the city of Baltimore, where they engaged children in business and civic lessons. Charity Lee, who taught a kindergarten class, said: "My favorite lesson of the day was called 'Let's Buy A Present' and was about the value of money. The kids really had fun and learned to distinguish between the quarter, nickel and dime. It was a great experience and I was repaid with smiles and happiness."
Hong Kong – 7 November 2009
Eight members of the Hong Kong ITA team conducted a one-day personal finance course at a secondary school. James O'Callaghan drew funny drawings to depict his personal 'life map', which helped guide the students into thinking about their own goals. One student's life map revealed a desire to be a Latin dance coach, although he said, "I would need another income to support my living". This comment summed up the very aim of the course: how to achieve your dreams through personal finance planning.