New Zealand employers ignore volunteers

New Zealand companies are yet to realise the importance of volunteers and the country lags behind many others such as UK and US in promoting this sector, according to an academic.

Dr Louise Lee, who specialises in ‘Employee Volunteering’ at Massey University School of Management New Zealand, had not followed the rapid growth in employee volunteering schemes, which are a part of corporate social responsibility.

Although the trend is growing in New Zealand, the number of companies implementing schemes is not sufficient, she said.

Dr Lee participated in the ‘National Volunteer Week,’ an initiative of ‘Volunteering New Zealand’ (of which she is a Director) held from June 16 to 22, 2013.

The programme featured a number of events and celebrations to recognise the invaluable contribution made by volunteers in New Zealand.

Forging links

Her recent research, which focused on the experiences of ‘City Action,’ an employee volunteering brokerage initiative of the City of London Corporation, found strong links existing between city-based businesses with local community organisations.

New Zealand companies government agencies and charities have much to learn from such programmes, she said.

“Employee volunteering is still relatively underdeveloped in New Zealand but I am excited about the potential for growth and innovation in this space. Well-established programmes like ‘City Action’ play a critical role in helping business and community organisations to develop volunteering initiatives that add value and tackle important community issues,” Dr Lee said.

London example

She cited the example of a 2012 ‘City Action’ initiative aimed at harnessing the professional expertise of City firms to support the growth of local social enterprises.

As part of this initiative, Sumitomo Bank employees, participating in a talent programme for junior management staff, worked with two local social enterprises to provide strategic planning, fundraising and marketing strategies.

“This sort of programme could work well within New Zealand’s own growing social enterprise movement,” she said.

Dr Lee said that employee-volunteering programmes will accrue benefits for all, if companies and charities develop long-term and sustainable relationships, leveraging employees’ workplace skills.

“While there is certainly a place for short-term collaborations, the magnitude of social issues often requires more sustained engagement between businesses and non-profits through volunteering. One way for firms to increase their impact on specific problems is through skills-based volunteering. Leveraging employees’ professional skills and expertise can really build capacity within non-profits and help them better meet their goals,” she said.

As governments all over the world cut spending and subscribe to austerity, volunteering will become an important contributor to economic growth.

The assistance of volunteers in delivering vital services will become critical, she said.

“All volunteers are important to not-for-profit organisations, but businesses have significant resources that they can mobilise to foster, encourage and support volunteering and community participation with their staff.

“Employee volunteering programmes also help those who are keen to volunteer but are unsure of where to start. An employer-supported programme lets people dip a toe in the water and can be a catalyst for a lifetime of voluntary work.”

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