Voluntarism is a vital form of community involvement, it provides a bond between the citizen and their broader grouping, whether it be social or civic. Business can benefit hugely from “deploying” people on various community activities: they provide ambassadors for the company, giving it credence and relevance to the neighbourhood, and they can bring some of the district back into the company, helping it to remember its core ‘stakeholders’ – be they a potential employment pool, or a new source of customer.
Big companies have been doing this for many years now. Companies with designated PR budgets ensure that their employees are seen volunteering – and, more importantly for them sometimes – where they volunteer. Just as with everything, there are fashionable causes to contribute time and attention to. As Sarah Murray says in a FT article from the tail end of last year, when speaking about Cisco:
“It tends to give people a broader perspective – they often come back with ideas as to the way we do business,”
Employees are allowed to take sabbaticals, typically of about three months, to volunteer on this and other philanthropic projects to which Cisco contributes. As well as being seen as an appealing perk, the sabbaticals allow the company to give its staff valuable opportunities of a break from routine.
Cisco also uses volunteering for team building. Through its work with Habitat for Humanity, for example, the company sends teams to work on construction projects with the charity, which builds affordable housing.
“As part of their development during the year, they do these projects jointly, and you usually have various skills in the team, from technicians to sales people, so it’s interesting to see how these people gel in an environment that’s more level,” says Mr Smith. “Taking them out of their normal comfort zone and putting them somewhere different can often be very powerful.”
Environmentalism is the main recipient of new volunteering schemes, its cache resounds around the workforce and this usually means that it’s easier to obtain willing supplicants to whatever new idea the Chief Exec’ wants to pitch his people into. However, it is vitally important – indeed we have done work on this in the past ourselves, that the “old society” (see dot com distinction between ‘old economy’ and ‘new economy’) is well represented in this largesse of time giving. By this, we mean Scouting, the National Trust, Church groups: Civic Society. We all benefit if we know the people with whom we entrust our children; if we understand the work that it has taken to restore the local park, if the old folk’s home has a brighter cheer to it, as people call in, even just to spend some time. An older and often more rewarding form of currency.