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Corporate and High Net Worth Giving in the time of COVID-19: A 4-part Insights Series (part 2)

Insight number two: A chance to re-think corporate volunteering

The charity fundraising landscape was already experiencing rumblings of change over the past few years – and now COVID-19 has brought things to a head. Fresh research by our team at Just Cause highlights the need for non-profits to think in new ways about fundraising and partnerships. We cannot sit and wait for things to go back to the way they were.

Over the past few months, we’ve been taking stock of what corporate and High Net Worth (HNW) donors in Singapore and Indonesia are thinking and doing. As the world hunkered down on lockdown, over 25 experts in this field generously took time to speak to us on the phone. We talked to charity leaders, policy-makers, CSR managers, private bankers, consultants and philanthropists across Singapore and Indonesia.

We asked all of our interviewees one basic question: what does COVID-19 mean for the future of private philanthropy and non-profit fundraising? Their responses were at times inspirational and at other times truly bleak. Some people said they simply could not predict. But woven through many of the conversations, we could see several silver linings shining through the clouds. This blog post introduces the second of those insights…


A chance to re-think corporate volunteering

Volunteering is a wonderful thing that brings out some of the best in our society but unfortunately it isn’t always executed in a way that maximises impact.

Our interviews revealed the level of frustration that both corporates and non-profits have with traditional models of volunteering. One non-profit fundraiser told us that her top question is: “What would it take to convince corporate partners that staff engagement is not useful?” Meanwhile, several corporate CSR managers told us that in reality they struggled to recruit staff volunteers for their charity partners: it is supposed to be a nice engagement opportunity for staff, but actually most people aren’t interested in the types of activity on offer. We also heard about major corporations in Singapore that give all staff up to five days a year of paid volunteer leave but in reality most prefer to stay at their desks.

Before COVID-19, there had been increasing talk about “skills-based volunteering” e.g. deploying corporate volunteers in a way that directly utilises their professional skills. In Singapore, this was pioneered by organisations such as Conjunct Consulting, Empact and Talent Trust. But skills-based volunteering remains even now a cutting edge trend rather than mainstream practice. It’s still fairly common for corporate-charity grant partnerships to involve some kind of short and simple “employee engagement opportunity” where impact is inevitably limited.

COVID-19 now gives us a chance to address these frustrations. With social distancing, it is suddenly not possible to organise field-trips for volunteers as before. And so charities have an opportunity to propose new formats for “staff engagement” that are less face-to-face but perhaps in reality more meaningful and appropriate.

Those who were already thinking about skilled volunteering pre-COVID-19 can now accelerate that work. One leader in this field is American Express, which in 2019 launched its Serve2Gether Consulting+ platform, where Amex staff can volunteer virtually for non-profits around the world. In Singapore, Amex is working with NVPC to identify and onboard partner non-profits.

And maybe now is also a good time to start thinking about staff volunteers from a different angle: as the recipients, not just the givers. Corporate volunteering in the past has often come laced with an assumption that the skilled corporate staff have something useful to give to the poorly equipped charity. But the fact that charities can also teach the corporate staff a thing or two is not fully acknowledged or put to use.

What if non-profits started offering corporate staff a lot more training seminars, virtual experiences or online brown bag lunch sessions to raise awareness about their chosen cause? What if corporate staff could use their “volunteer days” not only for skilled volunteering but also for this kind of training and learning experience? This kind of interchange would work well in a virtual format and may provide new inspiration and motivation for staff struggling to adapt to work-life in the new normal. Sure, you won’t be able to claim a dollar value for the volunteer hours – but corporates and non-profits alike stand to gain much, much more


Over the next few months we will continue to investigate the new normal post-COVID-19 here at Just Cause and will hopefully have more to share on this blog in the coming months. If you’ve come across a great example or have thoughts for us on this topic please do get in touch!


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