Creative Consulting & Development Works

We are a research, evaluation and communications consultancy, servicing nonprofits, governments and donors with innovative solutions within the development context.

CSI: Designing meaningful employee volunteerism programmes

27 February 2014
Beneficiary at The Carpenter Shop waits for services, © Jenn Warren (photographed as part of CC&DW’s Mandela Day activities in 2013)

Beneficiary at The Carpenter Shop waits for services, © Jenn Warren (photographed as part of CC&DW’s Mandela Day activities in 2013)

“To become part of the Mandela Day movement, all that is required is an action that helps change the lives of people for the better. To ensure that their actions have lasting benefits, they should with and within communities, always strive to leave behind not only physical changes but also a sense of empowerment, helping to build pride among those communities so that they can take charge of their destinies and change their circumstances. The cumulative actions of people, even if it is one small step at a time, can become a transformative momentum.”  – The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Employee volunteerism programmes are increasingly becoming a popular extension to corporate CSI initiatives. Staff can be given the opportunity to play a meaningful and integral role in the delivery of a company’s CSI strategy. Involving staff in this area of the business creates shared value for the company, employees and the community.

Employee volunteerism programmes are also often seen as an opportunity to encourage active team building. At Creative Consulting & Development Works, our view is that staff volunteer programmes should form part of the bigger picture to deliver high impact CSI projects.

Team building

Team building

However, the opportunity to make employee volunteer programmes meaningful for the corporate benefactor and recipient organisation is often missed.  Staff volunteer programmes often focus on one day initiatives, such as painting a classroom or playing with children at a children’s home, with no follow up or attempt at building deeper relationships with the beneficiaries. A more strategic approach to volunteer programmes is to identify the non-financial needs of a CSI beneficiary organisation and address these gaps through a regular, well-coordinated staff volunteer programme.

Lack of Planning and Rushed Initiatives

Mandela Day, for example, is an initiative that is aimed at engaging people from all walks of life to participate in changing our country for better, one small contribution at a time. While this is a noble call to society, a response that is not thoroughly thought out can be a waste of valuable time and resources.

A lack of planning, rushed initiatives, ad hoc initiatives that don’t make productive use of corporate or employee expertise, and lack of coordination, are just some of the ways in which many corporate volunteer programmes can fail to sustainably reach the communities they are trying to support.

One of the most popular activities around South Africa on Mandela Day is to involve staff volunteers in painting a wall at a local crèche or children’s hospital, while other staff members play with the children.

A newly painted wall may make a crèche or hospital ward attractive, but if the wall gets a fresh coat of paint every year – either by the same group of volunteers or different volunteers – it may not be the best use of time, resources or experience.

Quantifying Resources

Organisations on the receiving end of these one-off activities may not speak up about their needs if they are not specifically consulted. As has been the case with Mandela Day activities, the volunteer corporate or group contacts the organisation they want to support with an idea. More often than not, the beneficiary organisation may “take what they can get” or decide to simply be amenable in the name of Mandela Day.

A more effective approach to using volunteer resources is to consult the beneficiary organisation in advance and ask them what they need. In which areas do they think the volunteers could support best? In this way, not only is the organisation benefitting tangibly on a pressing matter, the support is much more likely to be sustainable and meaningful throughout the year.

Another way to look at potential lost productive time of an employee is to consider how an executive’s time may be best spent. A painter can be paid a day’s wage to do his or her job at a fraction of an executive’s salary, while the executive could instead provided essential mentorship to the organisation’s management team.

Meaningful CSI Programmes

Meaningful volunteer and CSI programmes leave a lasting impact on beneficiary organisations and, we would contend, these effective programmes also make productive use of volunteer time spent with the beneficiary organisation.

A well-designed programme is one that is planned well in advance (as with all business activities) and one that is well-coordinated. A well-designed programme must benefit all involved stakeholders, i.e. the project should be initiated only if there is positive effect for all sides – remembering the corporate, NGO, employees and community.

Project management

Project management

Best Use of Professional Skills

A good compromise for staff volunteer programmes is to look the skills of the team and match them to the needs of the organisations to benefit from the programme. The lead employee for a volunteer initiative should contact the beneficiary organisation and make clear what the employee’s collective skills are. This begins a two-way dialogue in which the organisation has a say in how they would like to benefit from the CSI initiative.

The team accountant, for example, could prepare a training session for accountants from various NGOs that are less experienced. And as is the case with Creative Consulting & Development Works on Mandela Day in 2013 – our Researchers used their interview skills to document the stories of an organisation’s beneficiaries, while our Communications Team used their photography and writing skills to provide key marketing materials for the organisation’s free use.

Team members whose professional skills cannot be utilised at the beneficiary organisation can then be selected for the less technical outreach activities, such as playing with children, painting or construction (when such an initiative has been chosen).

Employer-supported volunteers with professional skills can also:

  • Produce or enhance an organisation’s business plan
  • Create a long-term funding strategy
  • Offer proposal-writing training, or help set up trading arms, so organisations can raise funds
  • Advise organisations in matters of contractual agreements with donors
  • Provide HR, project management or other technical training to an organisation’s employees
  • Assist with marketing and PR

To summarise, Creative Consulting & Development Works calls on our readers to plan employee volunteer initiatives to compliment your overall CSI strategy, and to plan these activities in advance. With four months until Mandela Day 2014, it is the right time to begin engaging with NGO partners.

NGOs, be proactive and begin engaging corporate partners on your training, marketing, fundraising and other needs.

If all fails and you decide on a painting project, find a new classroom or hospital to paint… and ensure it wasn’t recently painted by another corporate in the not so distant past!


Creative Consulting & Development Works promotes ethical and effective corporate social investment (CSI) by supporting the public-private partnerships between corporate donors, government departments and development organisations.

We assist companies in bridging the traditional disconnect between themselves and the non-profit sector by leveraging our extensive development expertise to enable corporate clients to implement more sustainable and meaningful social investment programmes, through our CSI Works Model for Sustainability & Impact.

CSI Works is a tailored solution designed to enable businesses and CSI beneficiaries to implement social investment programmes that apply effective frameworks, through capacity-building, monitoring & evaluation of partnerships and programmes, development communications and production of CSI reports & publications.

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