COVID 19: corporate support of the community in a time of crisis

Heart of the City | 6 April 2020 | News
COVID 19: corporate support of the community in a time of crisis

Heart of the City ambassador Hannah Zucker writes about how businesses can continue to keep their responsible business programmes going:

“COVID-19 is going to significantly change the way we live and work for the foreseeable future. Some of those worst impacted will be those who were already on the fringes of society. At times like this, it’s natural for businesses to address business continuity as a first port of call. Employee volunteering likely may not be the first thing to come to mind, even though it can provide much-needed value. When your business is ready, the good news is that there are a multitude of options to keep your corporate responsibility programme going strong.

In times of crisis, charity partners have told me repeatedly that the resource they need most is cash. Some but not all businesses will be in a position to make a financial donation at this time. There are options from the global, like the UN COVID-19 Solidarity Fund, to the hyperlocal, such as your local foodbank, that will be grateful for a donation. Speak with your existing charity partners about what support they need and keep an eye on the news for trends in community impact. If you have a company charitable gift matching programme available, now may be a good time to communicate that. If not, you may consider matching the first £X of donations.

Even businesses that are facing financial uncertainty can help. As members of Heart of the City, you’ve already made a commitment to responsible business practices. Reflect back on what’s already been done that will continue to help. Are any of your recent practices or charitable donations going to provide ongoing support as we navigate COVID-19? Examples may include support for vulnerable people and basic human services like providing food for people in need. Consider providing employees a list of reputable, reliable organisations like those listed above where employees can make a personal donation if they wish.

Volunteering provides benefits to everyone – your employees included – that can still be gained during social distancing. Anxiety levels are on the rise and opportunities to connect with colleagues, friends and family are reduced. Now is the time to harness volunteering’s ability to provide connection, meaning and wellbeing (NCVO; Jenkinson et al 2013). While some virtual volunteering can be related to crisis response, often those volunteers are already trained and experienced responders. Instead, volunteering unconnected to the crisis provides a much-needed break while still doing good. Here are some examples of flexible options for your employees to give back while staying safe at home through virtual volunteering:

  • Missing Maps helps put vulnerable, isolated people onto the map so that first responders have better information to shape disaster response. Volunteers take satellite images from OpenStreetMap and tag houses, roads, and other objects to create maps that will help disaster response take effect more quickly and efficiently.
  • The Red Cross regularly recruits digital advocates that help spread emergency messaging and digital volunteers that monitor online conversations for disaster-affected people who may need help.
  • Zooniverse is one of my all-time favorites for “minibreak volunteering”. Volunteers can spend anything from five minutes and up reviewing photos, videos, and sound files and adding tags that describe what’s in there. The data helps move forward scientific research in medicine, climate, the environment, and numerous other fields. This is the kind of virtual volunteering that children home from school can also get involved in.
  • Technovation Challenge are recruiting virtual judges for the global competition helping to get more girls interested in technology through inventing socially conscious apps. Judges volunteer around three hours anytime in May or June and need no prior technology experience.
  • CareerVillage is an online platform where students can get free, personalised career advice from real-life professionals. Volunteers answer questions from students interested in developing a career in volunteers’ field.

It’s important to consider if a longer-term volunteer opportunity is something your company and volunteers can commit to at this time. If you’re looking to develop a long-term virtual volunteering programme, you may want to take a look at:

  • TutorMate – an online volunteer tutoring program that is helps young students learn to read.
  • Age UK – a vital lifeline to older people that provides telephone befriending with volunteers as one of their many services.
  • Crisis Text Line – a free 24/7 national crisis-intervention and counseling service via text for people in the US. Volunteers respond to messages using set procedures and wording from the charity.

Set yourself up for success with virtual volunteering by getting the format right. Give everyone a way to connect during social distancing by setting up your events similar to how you set up an in-person event to build engagement: give a set date, time, and place to gather (e.g. a Zoom or Teams meeting). Make sure there’s time at the start for everyone to say hello, ask some “warm up” questions to get the group talking, and host the event just like you would if you were all in a room together. Remember that people are much more likely to talk if the group size is 20 people or less. If you’re hosting larger events, to build a sense of community you can leverage your internal corporate social networking tool (e.g. Yammer or Teams) to encourage people to upload selfies and add comments about their experience. By asking everyone to volunteer with specific partner(s) in a specific timeframe, you can collate the impact data and photos to send participants a feel-good thank you email after.

Be aware that your employee may have their own, legally protected, plans to volunteer. Some kids of volunteering have always had legal protection compelling employers to support their employee with unpaid time off to complete their role. Some of these roles may be leant on during the crisis, with more people asked to give more time. You can find out more about your obligations related to Armed Forces Reserves here and other kinds of legally-protected “public service” volunteering here. When the government announced the call for 250,000 NHS volunteers to come forward, they also wrote in the Coronavirus Bill that all volunteers must be granted four or more weeks’ unpaid time off to give service. You can read more about the protections in the Coronavirus Bill summary here – search for the word “volunteer” to pick out the relevant information. There’s nothing wrong with individuals signing up to these vital voluntary roles – this kind of unity and generosity is something to be proud of and is part of the spirit that will pull our country through the crisis. As a business leader, it may be prudent to review your existing HR policies, stance on paid time off for these specific roles and how you may cover absent team members before it becomes an issue for your business.

Responding to COVID-19 is a team effort that we all need to contribute to. Giving back to the community doesn’t just help others – it’s a great way to help your people feel good and connect. There are options out these for businesses of all types and sizes, no matter where you’re working from today.”

Hannah Zucker is responsible for FactSet’s Corporate Responsibility program across EMEA and APAC. FactSet creates flexible, open data and software solutions for tens of thousands of investment professionals around the world, providing instant access to financial data and analytics that investors use to make crucial decisions.

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