Corporate Social Responsibility

Rethinking Volunteering- from transactional to transformational

When one thinks of giving back to their community, or to a social cause, the first thought is that of giving in kind or in currency. Time is usually not so quickly thought of as an option. However, its increasingly evident that if time is harnessed well,  can do wonders to create a much more caring and compassionate community. NGOs are usually thought of as the vehicles for social change and a lot of volunteering at least in urban spaces seems to be directed to and sought from these agencies. Civic engagement such as beach clean ups and plantation drives are equally, initiatives that attract and engage activities. Yet both of these seem to perpetually struggle to get the numbers of volunteers that will truly enable them to create significant and sustainable change.

I also realised that the ask for volunteering is usually around the ends that have to be achieved- whether it is a wall being painted, or a meal being served in an elder care home. Its very rare for the ask to be focused on what and individual might want to do, how,  why and when.  There is a giver of time and a recipient creating a hierarchy , an engagement of power .We tend to focus on the transaction between the volunteer and the activity or the NGO and rarely on the transformation that takes place within the individual or what we would like it to be . However, in volunteering there is gain to the individual too and this is rarely focused upon

The truth is that each of us goes through a journey from being exposed to the idea of volunteering to being evangelists . Its quite like trying a new restaurant , enjoying the meal there and recommending it to others to try . Life stage is also a huge determinant of how an individual might choose to volunteer . A young mother , with school going children for instance despite her best intentions, may not be able to volunteer in the weekend of after 3 PM, the CEO of a company, may not be able to get out during a working week at all , a young IT professional may want to meet others like him and make new friends…

I spent some time speaking with a few spiritual groups yesterday . The primary reason for the calls was to understand how they manage to attract lakhs of individuals to volunteer their time and it was really interesting that in all of the calls – the message going out was just one- volunteering is about enabling the volunteer to see the change that s/he can experience within. The opportunity to be a better human being, to move on in their spiritual journey. Individuals are not “asked” to help . They volunteer themselves . Its not so much about the task that needs to be completed but more about what the person volunteering time takes away from the experience . Once they find that, it is sustainable and the numbers grow . The alignment to the spiritual leader , of course is the first step in that direction . Peer influence follows as a second strong reason. 

For some months now, I have been trying to get my head around this issue- WHY don’t people volunteer as easily ? And perhaps the answer to that lies in extrapolating from the spiritual groups – that change must be experienced within. Opportunities that focus on leveraging the motivations and minimising constraints for the individual must be factored in carefully, and systematically . Life stage challenges have to be understood better and volunteering focused on making it easier and possible for people to give time. Creating peer influencers rather than role models that are harder to relate to, maybe another strategy to explore.

For those in the corporate sector promoting volunteering, maybe it’s a good idea to consider the above approach. For those of us trying to influence others to volunteer , too, maybe we need to spend time to understand the individual first and create the space and the opportunity for her/him to reflect on WHY they might want to give time …and then help them to find opportunities that will meet their motivations.

As I continue to learn and reflect more on this…would love to hear your own thoughts, experiences and ideas .

Earlier written on Linked in by me

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