Virtual Volunteering part 2: Case Studies & Tips for your business

BITCI News - Community - Jul 06, 2020

Business in the Community Ireland

What are the types of activities that a company might be able to support through Virtual Volunteering? The possibilities are almost endless. Here are just a few short case studies of how BITCI member companies have used Virtual Volunteering to maintain their previous CSR activities and Community commitments – and to develop new initiatives.

Virtual Volunteering for Employment Services & Jobseekers

BT Ireland has been a long-standing supporter of BITCI’s employment programmes. Since 2008, they have been providing IT training to groups of up to 12 jobseekers every 3 weeks, providing training to over 1800 people so far. When Covid-19 put an end to the possibility of face-to-face gatherings, they were able to quickly transition the training to a virtual setting.

This worked much better than originally anticipated and paved the way to explore other opportunities for BT staff to engage with vulnerable jobseekers. This has led to their support of BITCI’s Women@Work programme, involving CV reviews and feedback as well as a workshop offering tips to stand out during the recruitment process. Ollie Corbett, Talent Acquisition Manager with BT Ireland, virtually volunteered with the delivery of this workshop and was delighted he could contribute to the programme: “It was my pleasure, I loved delivering the workshop and already have ideas for the next one!”

BITCI member company KPMG has also been able to offer virtual support of BITCI’s employment programme clients during the emergency lockdown. This has involved business volunteers from KPMG providing virtual mentoring and career advice to clients on BITCI’s EPIC programme (Employment for People from Immigrant Communities), many of whom have experienced heightened levels of social isolation and anxiety during the lockdown. Virtual Mentoring potentially allows jobseekers and employment programme clients to be matched with a business volunteer who might be working in their targeted career sector. Vulnerable jobseekers can now virtually network with a business volunteer – or meet them for ‘a-virtual-cup-of-coffee’ – despite being confined to their homes.

Virtual Volunteering for Befriending Elderly People

Virtual Volunteering has also been a valuable tool for supporting vulnerable isolated elderly people during the Covid-19 pandemic (particularly those who might have been living in care homes or socially isolated, and so unable to see their families). For example, after the onset of the pandemic, BITCI member company KPMG launched a new volunteer initiative called ‘All Write Together’ to help tackle the isolation and loneliness many local elderly people were experiencing.

‘All Write Together’ is a pen-pal style initiative, involving KPMG volunteers being matched with old folks in their local community. The KPMG volunteers then write letters to their ‘pen pal’, providing them with moral support during a time that so many of the elderly are finding challenging. Over 50 KPMG staff have signed up to the programme since it was launched. KPMG were also able to support older people through a new virtual initiative with ALONE, where KPMG staff who previously enjoyed individual interaction with the local community were able to use technology to do befriending calls with the elderly. Karina Howley, Head of Corporate Citizenship & Diversity at KPMG Ireland, says that Virtual Volunteering has allowed their organisation to maintain previous community partnerships and forge new ones: “In KPMG Ireland we focus on skills-based volunteering and our people typically enjoy hands-on engagement in volunteering. In spite of the recent restrictions, our volunteers were still eager to engage in activities and give back to their communities in whatever way they could. Like many organisations we pivoted our engagements online so that we could do new initiatives safely from home”.

Gas Networks Ireland is another BITCI member company who have applied Virtual Volunteering to help elderly people (perhaps the group most at risk of social isolation and loneliness during the lockdown). Gas Networks Ireland had been partnered with Age Action Ireland since 2016 on a number of impactful initiatives including donating carbon monoxide alarms, vans and fundraising. When the Covid-19 pandemic forced the country into lockdown, Age Action launched a new Tech Tutoring programme for their services. Gas Networks Ireland threw their full weight behind this Tech Tutor initiative, matching GNI volunteers with older people, giving them virtual support on smart phone use and video calling. Volunteer tech tutors from GNI were able to help these older learners discover how to navigate the internet, upload apps on their phone, and how to use programmes such as Skype and Zoom. All of this virtual support enabled Age Action’s service users to keep in touch with their friends and family while staying safely at home.

This partnership between Gas Networks Ireland and Age Action has helped promote the issue of digital literacy, and also tackled the ‘digital divide’ that has been exposed during the Covid-19 pandemic (and which older people are at particular risk from). Christina van der Kamp, Corporate Responsibility Manager at Gas Networks Ireland, says that the volunteer tech tutor initiative has proved hugely popular with GNI employees: “We’ve seen great employee engagement benefits too, our colleagues have really appreciated the time out of their working day to take a break from the usual and support our communities, and make such a simple but meaningful impact on people’s day to day lives”.

How other BITCI Members are utilising Virtual Volunteering

Some other examples of how member companies of the BITCI network are putting Virtual Volunteering into action include:

  • Matheson are conducting mock interviews by Zoom for jobseekers as part of a long-established employability programme they have been running with one of their charity partners, JobCare.
  • Aviva Ireland staff have been able to get involved in a virtual ‘Mapathon’ to support their charity partners in the Irish Red Cross. Virtual Volunteers in these ‘Mapathons’ help the Red Cross to build safer and stronger communities across the world.
  • A & L Goodbody have been able to deliver their Pro Bono virtually during the Lockdown. This has meant they’ve been able to maintain vital support of their community partners such as the Irish Refugee Council, Spirasi, Focus Ireland and the Mercy Law Resource Centre. The main remit of their Pro-Bono services would be providing legal advice to refugees and running Housing Clinics.
  • Ulster Bank have held virtual Interview Skills sessions with job seeking clients from the employment support programme JobCare.
  • Accenture employees have offered their marketing knowhow to Third Age (a voluntary organisation that supports older people in Ireland). This virtual support from Accenture has helped Third Age to create a communications campaign so that elderly people know how to access their services.

How Companies can implement Virtual Volunteering

So, now that you know the benefits it can have – both for your workforce and for wider society – how might your organisation put Virtual Volunteering into action? Follow these initial steps:

  1. Business in the Community Ireland recommends that you look at your existing charity and community partnerships. Find out what are the biggest challenges your charity partners are facing during the pandemic, whether they be diminished revenues, a lack of adequate technology, or a new cohort of vulnerable people that now need to support.
  2. Talk to them about how your regular volunteering and fundraising activities could be shifted online, or whether there might be a new socially-impactful project you could collaborate on in the virtual realm.
  3. Find out what skillsets and abilities your non-profit partner is in urgent need of to keep maintaining their services, and establish whether those capabilities exist within your organisation.
  4. You might also consider donating funds your company might have spent on office supplies, canteen food, or cakes and pastries towards a Virtual Volunteering project.

How BITCI can help your Company with Virtual Volunteering

If you’re a member of BITCI , talk to your BITCI Account Manager about your objectives for Virtual Volunteering, what positive social impact your organisation wants to achieve through it, and what skillsets your staff might be able to contribute to it. Your BITCI Account Manager can then help you identify suitable Virtual Volunteering opportunities that make a meaningful impact in Irish society during the Covid-19 emergency, while also providing engaging experiences for your employees. With our unparalleled contacts across the Voluntary and Education sectors, Business in the Community Ireland is ideally placed to provide engaging Virtual Volunteering opportunities for your company.

Get in touch with BITCI

From befriending an older person living alone to chatting to a vulnerable job seeker about their career path; from hosting a workshop on personal brand to advising on a new communications campaign for a charity that has seen fundraising decimated; the opportunities to get involved and make a difference are limited only by your imagination.  But the impact of your efforts can be profound!

BITCI has been supporting business to make lasting positive impact in their communities for the last twenty years.  If you would like to learn more about how your company could make a difference though Virtual Volunteering contact Joe O’Donnell at jodonnell@bitc.ie or Shane Mulchrone at smulchrone@bitc.ie


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