All of us have a desire to give back to the society. But how many of us actually go the extra mile? As we celebrate ‘International Volunteer Day’ tomorrow, Ankita Shreeram explores ways to bridge the distance between intention and action

For most of us, life goals revolve around the dual pillars of family and career. But today’s thinking workforce seeks greater meaning from their lives and this can often come from dipping their fingers into social volunteerism. While most organisations are investing considerable resources into their CSR activities, not too many engage themselves in removing the roadblocks to volunteering. 
Desire versus duty 
Ryan Scott, CEO and founder  of Causecast points to the crux of the issue, “For most of us, volunteering usually falls in the category of ‘should do’, not ‘must do’ and that lack of urgency makes it all too easy to procrastinate.” He adds, “But the biggest barrier to entry for corporate volunteering is knowing where to get started. Volunteering should ideally begin as a well-planned, social experience that makes it effortless to get involved; to the point that not participating in it with your colleagues feels odd. Once people are introduced to volunteering, they usually want to keep volunteering as long as the experience has been managed well. This is especially true if volunteers find an issue that resonates with them personally; and if they can see and feel the impact of their efforts.” 
“Volunteering in itself is considered unselfish but in today’s day and age, with the transition in work culture and increase in material pursuits, helping others seems to have taken a backseat. The noble gesture of volunteering, especially in a time of calamity or crisis is however still visible across the country. People have opened up to this selfless act of helping others in distress quite overwhelmingly,” suggests Lt Gen Rajender Singh, CEO, DLF Foundation. 
A middle agent Consider enlisting the help of an outside agency to boost the number of employee volunteers. Internationally, organisations have been experimenting with agencies like Causecast, which provides an interactive, a mobile and social hub to make corporate volunteer programmes easier and more fun to be involved with. There are many companies that offer platforms that include an online solution, which centralises elements such as donation processing, mobile applications and reporting. 
Alternatively, one can also tie up with an NGO to facilitate the process of employee volunteering. “The best way to get started is to visit an NGO centre that works towards a cause one may associate with and spend half a day there to understand the operations, requirements and territory of volunteering and then establish the right fit,” advises Dhaval Udani, CEO, GiveIndia, a ‘philanthropy marketplace’ that is dedicated to helping people support a cause of their choice from approximately 150+ NGOs. He adds, “Organisations such as United Nations have the biggest avenues for online volunteering through which an aspiring volunteer can engage with any NGO across the world. Online volunteering can reduce the time crunch and the geographical barriers. These organisations also recognise, acknowledge and appreciate volunteers, which further boosts the participating volunteers’ morale and keeps them engaged.” 
In-house or external? 
On a personal level, volunteering need not begin at the workplace alone. However, opting for a programme offered by one’s organisation becomes a winwin proposal for both. “Volunteering outside of your workplace is admirable, but you won’t have the ancillary benefits that are available through wellrun corporate volunteer programmes. Increasingly, companies are looking at volunteer programmes as vehicles not only for community impact, but also employee engagement, retention, recruitment, skillbuilding and leadership training. So if you’re taking your company’s employee volunteer programme seriously, there’s a good chance that your company will also take you more seriously,” explains Scott. 
It has been said, “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” So maybe, it’s time to stop turning lack of time into an excuse and plunge into whichever cause that calls out to you the most. 
Make it structured: Companies such as Genpact, KPMG and Jardine Lloyd Thompson follow global guidelines to encourage employees to volunteer year-long while companies such as HDFC Life have dedicated employee champions who mobilise other employees to engage locally with NGOs, says Udani; Volunteers can engage with their alma maters or set up initiatives or even ‘organisations’ together. India’s largest ‘giving’ festival – the Joy of Giving Week – is initiated and run each year, purely by volunteers.The organisation,‘Make a Difference’ is a result of professionals volunteering aside from work, points out Udani; Even the trivial act of keeping your surroundings clean to helping out the neighbourhood old-age home or orphanage are great places to start volunteering, says Singh; There are also certain people who voluntarily contribute to the society through their respective professions; for instance, a doctor organising a free health camp, a lawyer advising or counselling for a social cause, etc, adds Singh.

Source: Ascent

Date: 4th December 2013


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