It improves the reputation and motivation of staff, develops neglected skills and competences, strengthens trust and empathy, and contributes to build a team spirit. These are only some of the benefits produced by corporate volunteering, the work provided free of charge by corporate employees to benefit a non-profit organisation, with the approval of employers, who might even get personally involved in these activities.
Launched in Italy twenty years ago, the process has progressed significantly during the past ten years. Calculations indicate that it directly concerns about 15% of companies based in Italy (according to research conducted by the Osservatorio Socialis), which dedicate an average of 3 working days to initiatives focused on strengthening their CSR (including corporate volunteering programmes), amounting to an annual economic value of ca. 155,000 euro, and involving ca. 120 people per company in projects that generally have a duration of 5 years. Moreover, the same survey underscored the fact that 19% of companies is «strongly interested» in the opportunity of offering days of corporate volunteering or in placing their internal professional expertise at the disposal of non-profit organisations.
This practice was also promoted by the European Community with project “Volunteering Awards” during which the following guidelines were published, “The Employee Community Engagement Measurement Workbook”. Besides defining the ECE as «involving employees in actions focused on community wellbeing», the book lists the most common trends and modes of implementation. They include, deployment of staff to the non-profit organisation to perform specific duties or projects for a certain period of time, professional performance for the public good, mentoring services for individuals referred by non-profit associations, or the most common trend, even in Italy, of days dedicated to volunteering in an organisation or in "challenge” events, where a staff group works together to achieve specific benefits for the community, such as, for example, an environmental project or, again, restoration/maintenance of real property that belongs to non-profit associations.
About 15% of companies based in Italy promote corporate volunteering to which they allocate a mean of 3 working days a week.
There are several well known cases. And, if Italy has still to organise an event like the famous Give & Gain Day international appointment with corporate volunteering designed by Business in the Community (that in 2016 alone involved 250 companies in 14 countries to benefit 43,000 people), it is also true that many leading enterprises have long since launched significant corporate volunteering initiatives.
Just to cite a few examples, suffice to think of: Poste Italiane that in 2016, through its proprietary Poste Insieme Foundation, promoted corporate volunteering outside working hours, involving 1,200 people; UBI Banca that from 2014 to date has allocated 2,845 days of volunteering donated by employees in 34 cities, which corresponds to ca. 20,000 hours of work performed in a range of 152 projects proposed by several non-profit organisations; ABB, which promotes volunteering projects that witness the annual participation of more than 150 employees, donating over 2,000 hours. Finally, every year counts more than 2,500 Volunteers for a Day, people who participate in the namesake initiative designed by Kpmg in partnership with the Milan City Council, Ciessevi, Sodalitas Foundation and Un-Guru to encourage the meeting between workers who wish to “return benefits” and associations that need qualified work.
Nine companies and more than 200 employees, who donated 1,040 hours of voluntary work, partnered the cooperative La Strada in 2016.
Of course, good will on both sides will not suffice. Indeed, corporate volunteering activities that stand the test of time and which constitute the future of this sector are the most structured and most carefully defined to the smallest detail by both parties. «We started by receiving employees of companies that participate in “volunteering days” several years ago, almost by chance», says Gilberto Sbaraini, President of the social cooperative La Strada, Milan, that focuses on hospitality and integration of minors and families experiencing hardships, «but we immediately realised that we were not interested in isolated initiatives that produced nothing concrete. Hence, we designed a successful model made up of moments of training, sharing, field work and return, which yielded results in the long run». In fact, 9 companies and more than 200 employees passed through La Strada in 2016 alone, donating 1,040 hours of volunteering in 36 initiatives for 340 beneficiaries including, mothers, children and the elderly. «On volunteering days we always organise an introductory moment to encourage mutual acquaintance. We listen to the wishes of our guests and do our best to meet them. Then we have lunch together and, as far as possible, encourage discussion and genuine relations, which later repay us for the effort».
Indeed, not everybody considers that organising such events can entail a cost also for non-profit organisations, a cost that is compensated not only by the hours of voluntary work donated but also by the relationship established with visitors, «Some decide to become volunteers also in their private life», says Sbaraini, «or to share corporate management for other more stable supportive initiatives. This gives corporate volunteering added value that has convinced us to continue the experience».
«Companies are increasingly interested in implementing corporate volunteering programmes because they consider the social commitment of their employees a value and an asset to be disseminated», says Giovanni Rossi, General Secretary of the Adecco Foundation for Equal Opportunities. «The benefit perceived by workers who participate in these corporate programmes is that they do not feel that they are only part of an economic system but of an organisation that appreciates their value even from a human perspective, a company that takes an interest also in the community it belongs to. This increases the esteem employees have for the company and improves the atmosphere. This outcome is highly appreciated and sought by an increasing number of companies based in Italy too».