The Covid-19 emergency and subsequent lockdown has meant that many Irish businesses have had to completely transform their CSR & Community plans for 2020. Despite this disruption, there is a compelling solution to this challenge that can ensure company volunteers can continue having a positive social impact while also helping struggling charities and vulnerable people: Virtual Volunteering.
Since the onset of the lockdown in March, Business in the Community Ireland have been working with member companies across Ireland on virtualising our established employment and education programmes. Alongside our pre-existing partnerships, BITCI have also been using our expertise in the community & voluntary sector to help Irish businesses identify new opportunities online where their employees can donate their skills back to society during the pandemic.
The Context of Virtual Volunteering during the Pandemic
Virtual Volunteering isn’t a completely new development for Irish businesses and charities but it has taken on an unprecedented relevance over the last four months, as so many of us have found ourselves working remotely, and companies have had to find new online channels to engage employees and support communities. During the Covid-19 emergency, the support of virtual volunteers has become vital to many charities and community organisations in ensuring they can maintain their services.
The Advantages of Virtual Volunteering
Thankfully, Virtual Volunteering has never been so easy to participate in. One of its great advantages over traditional forms of volunteering is its accessibility. The company volunteer no longer needs to be present at the physical site of an organisation in order to donate their skills to a cause.
It allows your employees, from the comfort of their own homes, to donate their knowledge, skills, and time in support of a cause or not-for-profit organisation. Employees who previously might not have been able to get involved in a company’s CSR & Community activities – whether because of demands on their time, home-based obligations, being based regionally or away from a company’s head office, or because of a physical disability – might now have greater opportunities to volunteer.
The greater accessibility and flexibility allowed by Virtual Volunteering also means that a company can increase the impact of their CSR activities. As the physical barriers to participate are removed when online, organisations can now involve a greater cross-section of their workforce in their community volunteering activities.
The benefits of Virtual Volunteering for your employees and charities
Online Volunteering can have a tremendously positive effect on the morale of your staff. For employees who may not have met their colleagues face-to-face for months, virtual volunteering can give them a great chance to catch up and collaborate on a meaningful project that will benefit the wider community. Such projects can really help your staff have a sense of purpose and feel more connected to their wider organisation during a time of isolation.
This advantage to Virtual Volunteering is echoed by Karina Howley, Head of Corporate Citizenship & Diversity at KPMG Ireland, one of the BITCI member companies who pivoted towards online skills-based volunteering during recent months. Through their virtual befriending initiative with ALONE, their online support of students from YMCA, and virtual mentoring programmes with BITCI’s employment clients, Karina Howley says that KPMG volunteers “have all learned that human engagement and interaction doesn’t always have to be face-to-face, and that people enjoy feeling useful during these recent difficult times, and feel more fulfilled by contributing positively to society”.
For the charity or NGO, the advantages of Virtual Volunteering are manifold. As well as getting increased access to the expertise of highly-skilled professionals that can assist with their outreach, communications and I.T. activities, virtual support can help charities to save money on their operating costs (something that is crucial to voluntary organisations given so many of them have seen their regular sources of revenue decimated during the pandemic).
Types of Virtual Volunteering Activities – Marketing, I.T. & Administration for Charities, Jobseekers & Schools
No matter what industry sector your company operates in, there are Virtual Volunteering opportunities that match with the skills, knowledge and expertise of your staff. Your organisation’s Learning & Development team could provide a workshop on Wellbeing, Resilience or Fitness to a group of vulnerable people who needs emotional support. Your Communications specialists could assist a Charity with their Digital & Social Media Marketing activities, or in developing Public Relations or Fundraising strategies.
The I.T. expertise within your organisation could help a charity or NGO in the areas of Web Development or Graphic Design, or help that non-profit organisation ‘virtualise’ their learning programmes online for their clients. Outreach, Advocacy, Research, Event Management and even something as basic as Back Office Administration remain other areas where your staff could donate their skills and talents.
Virtual Volunteering can be a powerful tool your organisation can utilise to help marginalised jobseekers gain access to the Irish jobs market. Many career-support activities – from CV and job application advice, to mock interviews, to advice on changing career or developing a personal brand – might also be delivered virtually by an employee volunteer. It is not only the areas of career advice and recruitment where you might be able to support employment clients (such as those on BITCI’s employment programmes). In a ‘Virtual Language Exchange’, you could help a recent migrant to Ireland practise their English language skills or, if you speak another language, help them with translation services.
And it isn’t just the Community and Voluntary sectors where your organisation could make a positive impact through Virtual Volunteering. The Education sector also needs your support. DEIS schools in Ireland, whose low-income students have been disproportionately affected by the lockdown, can benefit from your company’s help. Consider whether your staff might be able to deliver a virtual coding class or a session on mindfulness and resilience to a group of post-primary students.
Business in the Community Ireland are here to help your organisation navigate the area of online volunteering. We have compiled a database of virtual volunteering opportunities, and matching companies with charities and community organisations that need virtual assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic. Business in the Community Ireland’s Employment and Education programmes also present meaningful virtual volunteering opportunities for your staff.
Our Employment programmes help people on the margins of Irish society gain access to the jobs market. DEIS Students on our Schools programmes have been disproportionately impacted by the ‘Digital Divide’ that has emerged during the lockdown. Get in touch with us at BITCI to find out how your employees can support these groups during these challenging times.
Read about the impact BITCI member companies like KPMG and BT are having through Virtual Volunteering – and find out how your organisation can implement Virtual Volunteering for your staff – Click here to read our part two on Virtual Volunteering for business.
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 make a difference though Virtual Volunteering contact Joe O’Donnell at firstname.lastname@example.org