Corporate volunteering programmes can attract people that otherwise would not have been active in regular community volunteering. That is the conclusion of a case study by PhD researcher Lonneke Roza of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). Corporate volunteering programmes also attract younger people and those with a higher education, when compared to the regular community volunteering opportunities, Roza found.

Lonneke Roza says that, contrary to popular belief, volunteer participation rates have been stable in many countries. What has changed is how people volunteer, including new forms such as corporate volunteering, volunteering facilitated or organised by the person’s employer.

Corporate social responsibility

This type of volunteering is often an important part of companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme and enables people to donate their time or expertise to volunteering projects, ranging from short bursts to longer term projects. Knowing that this type of volunteering is on the rise, Roza was interested to find out if people who engage in corporate volunteering are different from those engaged in private community volunteering options.

Corporate volunteering

To find out, Roza studied the volunteering and demographic characteristics of 776 employees of a large service company. She divided the group into corporate volunteers, people who engage in community volunteering, people who do both, and people who do not volunteer at all. Of the research group, 88 people responded that corporate volunteering was the only type of volunteering they participated in. Although the study was limited to one company, Roza says it’s telling that 11 per cent of the study’s respondents apparently needed the trigger of a corporate programme to start with volunteer work. This means that companies are able to stimulate people to start volunteering.

The demographic comparison revealed that corporate volunteers also have a different profile than the typical community volunteer. They are generally younger and more often have a higher education than those in community volunteering. Corporate volunteers are also married more often and are less likely to have children. This seems to indicate that corporate volunteer programmes activate a different group of citizens than traditional volunteering initiatives, Roza says.

Supportive employer

Interestingly, the researcher found no demographic differences between those in corporate volunteering programmes and those who do not volunteer at all. This means there must be other reasons for these people to become active as a volunteer. Roza says there are several explanations for this.

First of all, corporate volunteers reported that they felt more supported by their organisation in their volunteering than those in regular community volunteering. This indicates that the perception that the employer is supportive could also play an important role in encouraging employees to start volunteering. In an organisational culture where volunteering, community involvement or helping others is considered normal, people are more inclined to act according to these organisational norms, Roza explains this.

Finally, it also becomes harder to decline to help out at a charitable organisation when your entire department signs up, or if you are being asked directly by your manager. A little social pressure from colleagues or managers might help the participation rate.

Attitude changes

Companies should realise that their support for corporate volunteering programmes really helps to create more volunteers, Roza says, and that they are effective way to increase engagement in civil society. To enlist more people in these initiatives, companies could allow people to volunteer during work hours or let employees schedule their own work more flexibly around the volunteering. Corporate volunteering may superficially look like a social activity, but actually has the potential to change attitudes towards volunteering at large, she concludes.

Lonneke Roza’s PhD thesis ‘Employee Engagement In Corporate Social Responsibility – a collection of essays ‘ can be downloaded here