An increasing number of companies provide their employees with corporate volunteering opportunities. Volunteer organisations benefit from helping hands, firms from motivated employees.
Gratitude and the willingness to help others are the key to happiness, as happiness research claims. The approximately 3.5 million people in Austria who, according to the Austrian Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, volunteer outside their own home are probably one step closer to this goal than those who don’t. Businesses too have realised that volunteering improves employees’ morale and loyalty to the company, as scientific studies confirm.
Therefore, more than a third of Austrian firms state that they accommodate or encourage corporate volunteering. Well-known examples include Erste Bank, whose staff at Zweite Sparkasse work on a voluntary basis in cooperation with Caritas and Schuldnerberatung debt counselling services to provide basic accounts and banking services to people who otherwise would not have access to these services. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer began over ten years ago to organise social days during which its employees lend a helping hand to cooperation partners for the duration of one day, engaging in various projects. During the refugee crisis many companies were able to improve their corporate image, as they supported people arriving in Austria with donations in kind or by donating their time. Helping refugees to boost employers’ attractiveness? Sounds more like a marketing strategy than sincere projects, which may occasionally indeed be the case.
How to recognise sincerity
Corporate volunteering is, however, a good option, particularly if there is a win-win situation for both sides such as, for instance, the transfer of knowledge on equal terms, says Michael Meyer, head of the Institute for Non-Profit Management at Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU). Examples include pro bono services such as legal counselling free of charge or an IT firm building a homepage for an NGO. How companies deal with their employees’ voluntary commitment outside working hours also indicates whether these companies are really serious about it. “If a company engages in voluntary work but makes it difficult for its employees to volunteer – as was the case during the flood disaster – so that they have to take time off work, this is an ambivalent attitude,” says Meyer.
Still, most companies seem to take it seriously. For Alexander Tröbinger, spokesman of the Austrian Red Cross in Vienna and in charge of corporate volunteering, this is due to the fact that “giving back to society is part of the mission statement of many economically successful companies. If a company is not doing well, however, these costs are cut first.” Nevertheless, more and more firms are jumping on the bandwagon, says Michaela Neumayr, who collaborates with Meyer on research into this topic at WU. “The trend continues; non-profit organisations claim they’re getting inquiries more frequently.” Social days are most popular and most frequently deal with social issues.
“As we want to avoid having a wall painted for the fifth time, we try to offer suitable individual projects,”
— Alexander Tröbinger, spokesman of the Austrian Red Cross in Vienna
“As we want to avoid having a wall painted for the fifth time, we try to offer suitable individual projects,” says Tröbinger. Clients of the Assistance to the Homeless programme for instance enjoy watching the soccer World Cup games together. On a social day, a company’s employees prepare snacks with homeless people and watch a match together. “As we need to coordinate these events and also train staff in how to deal with the clients, such days are the biggest challenge for us,” says Tröbinger. The Red Cross in Vienna also offers long-term cooperative projects involving five to ten companies. “That adds up to quite a few hours, which helps us a lot. Many projects would not be feasible without these volunteers.”
In the cities in particular, numerous companies offer such services, says Michael Meyer. There is a clear urban-rural gap when it comes to volunteering. While in the countryside organisations such as the Red Cross, volunteer fire brigades or neighbourhood assistance schemes have no difficulties finding helpers, the situation is more problematic in cities as they offer a wider range of leisure activities. Therefore, non-profit organisations also see corporate volunteering as an option to get volunteers in urban areas, who will then engage in other voluntary work beyond that. At least the Red Cross is pursuing this strategy, says Alexander Tröbinger.
Apart from this, such projects broaden the mindset and encourage team building. Michael Meyer sees them as an opportunity for “innovative personnel development, provided that know-how is transferred. But: “Corporate volunteering is not a solution to all problems; it must really fit the situation. In some cases, raising funds might make more sense than donating time.”