Company volunteers playing greater role in charity sector

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Businesses play an important role in the charity sector, with many choosing to donate to various good causes. But in the new development era, companies are being encouraged to let their staff volunteer their time to charities.

Company volunteers are supported by their organizations to help others in society. Allowing employees to do this enables businesses to make a much greater impact than they do by simply donating cash.

But how can companies efficiently organize their employees to make a contribution? And are there any key trends? To answer these questions, a reporter from the China Philanthropy Times talked to Wang Zhongping, associate professor in the School of Economics and Management at Beijing Forestry University — and one of the editors of a recently published book titled “Theories and Innovative Practices of Corporate Voluntary Services”. Wang is also the founder of Beijing Hozon Charity Development Center.

The 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympics triggered a wave of employee volunteering in China, and since then voluntary services offered by companies have been given more attention by the government, businesses, and the charity sector.

In the following years, the government issued a series of regulations targeted at volunteers. In 2004, the Central Civilization Commission issued the Opinions on Promoting the Institutionalization of Voluntary Services, proposing that companies, government agencies, schools and hospitals should be encouraged to organize volunteer teams in communities. In 2017, the State Council issued the Voluntary Services Regulations, outlining the roles of government agencies, businesses, social groups and social organizations in offering voluntary services by trained volunteers.

Two years later, the Central Propaganda Department and the Central Civilization Office published the Implementation Plan for the Construction of a Voluntary Service Mechanism in the New Era, which encouraged businesses to fulfil their social responsibilities by involving themselves in voluntary services and provide funding and support through technology, networks and marketing.

Wang believes that the government has made a significant effort to promote voluntary services, although it is still an ongoing process.

“Ten years ago, businesses fulfilling social responsibilities by giving their employees time to volunteer was a new trend, but now most companies include the provision of voluntary services in their corporate social responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, Wang observes that offering voluntary services has also become part of company culture and brand-building at many firms.

“There has been a steady increase in companies offering voluntary services and I’d estimate that 90 percent of company CSR reports now mention some kind of volunteering.”

“I think there are three stages for companies when it comes to providing voluntary services,” he said. “The first stage is experiencing, when companies create opportunities for employees to experience being volunteers. The second stage is continuation, when employees start to develop a passion for volunteering and begin to make a habit of it. The final stage is when volunteer services get integrated into companies’ social responsibility strategies and become an important way for firms to fulfil their CSR targets.”

According to Wang, companies have focused on allowing their employees to volunteer in the countryside, community, online, and abroad.

Once companies organize their volunteer groups, how to manage them becomes another vital point to consider. Sometimes, members of the executive team will share this responsibility and Wang recommends setting up a special association to help with this. In addition, relevant mechanisms must be created to provide funding, training and support for volunteers.

Wang says that currently, companies are in the first or second stage: “While many services are now provided by employees who volunteer, the management of volunteer teams and the services they provide have not been given sufficient attention.”

Also, collaboration between companies and communities or social organizations has been relatively poor. And Wang pointed out that without the support of communities and professionals such as social workers, it can be difficult to offer volunteer programs.

Service evaluation is another weak point that needs to be improved. Based on this reality, the Hozon Charity Development Center has developed an evaluation index for corporate voluntary services. The index includes two parts: the basic index and development index. The former measures the quality of services offered by company volunteers at different levels, such as organized activities, their impact and company policies supporting the services; and the latter recommends the future direction of volunteer services, including with regard to strategic planning, the setting up of volunteer service associations, and training.