Moving charity beyond Mandela Day

31 July 2013 | Jolene Shaw | Insight

Mandela Day saw corporates and employees extending goodwill across South Africa through various charitable giving. Classrooms were painted, blankets were collected and sandwiches were made for the needy. All this was done in the spirit of inspiring individuals to take action and help change the world for the better. And as wonderful as this type of charitable day is – bringing out the compassionate side in most people – the question posed now is how we extend the attitudes and activities beyond just one day.

One definitive way that corporate South Africa can progress their volunteerism from short-term charity to sustainable social investment is through strengthening their employee volunteering programs (EVPs). EVPs should progress from ad-hoc, once-off activities to more structured, programmatic efforts that leverage staff skills and energies to achieve more sustained and more sustainable change.

Understanding the value of long-term sustained interventions in communities means understanding that by creating functional societies, corporates strengthen the environments in which they work.

Increasingly, South African consumers are looking to give their loyalty to socially responsible corporates. And with social media allowing everyone to access information quickly, customers can follow corporates closely and link their brand loyalty to the social actions of the business world.

Now it is true that the short-term mentality, such as once-off volunteer days, may engender a sense of team spirit, motivate staff and may even create enough publicity to augment the bottom line; however the benefits of continued volunteerism – whether this be monetary or time – far outweighs the benefits of the former. Improved socio-economic conditions mean a more financially stable population, able to purchase more; a reputation cemented in ethical responsibility also has a deeper connection to customers than quick PR gimmicks may; and the corporate that has an ongoing relationship with the community is better able to measure its impact in their development.

EVPs also have a profound impact on the employee. Being part of ‘doing good’ not only widens the awareness of community problems for employees but it also helps attract and retain employees to companies. EVPs can double up as team-building exercises. As employees work together to select beneficiaries and solve problems, they also improve interpersonal staff relations.

Additionally having this sense of duty to communities and working for a company that has committed part of its business to giving back, improves staff morale; and contributes greatly to job satisfaction.

Effective community building is reliant on support from corporate South Africa and EVPs can assist in building these better functioning communities. Equally the benefits of a well-run EVP is a win-win proposition, as above all a mutually beneficial relationship is formed, based on understanding each other’s needs and creating shared value. More specifically a long-term relationship involves:

  • Tools to measure and communicate community impact
  • A menu of volunteer opportunities and creative giving options that allow employees to support causes they care about in the ways they want to
  • Clear indicators set by both the beneficiary and corporate in terms of expectations
  • A platform within corporate which employees can use to adopt innovative volunteering strategies and through which can execute their volunteer programs throughout the year

The point is not to discount the ‘good works’ and magic of Mandela Day; rather, the spirit of generosity and community that we exhibit on July 18th is not simply a once-off event, and corporate volunteerism initiatives should reflect that fact. It should become an extension of the corporate volunteering you do throughout the year. Indeed, the success of an EVP lies in the quality of the partnership created and the shared value, for both the corporate and beneficiary, of continued engagement.