Charity City Action has launched an online matchmaking site to try and connect well-meaning City folk (yes, they do exist) with volunteering opportunities in the local area. It’s all part of the ongoing trend for companies to offer their staff a bit more than the bog-standard team-building activities, while also salving their consciences slightly about the huge profits they’re making (which is admittedly likely to be less of a problem this year).
The charity says there’s currently a big drive towards ‘directed volunteering’, which means people using their professional skills to help the community (without charging them through the nose for the privilege). So recruiters give school kids practice interviews, lawyers provide pro bono legal seminars, and UBS bankers tell passers-by how to lose $20bn in sub-prime CDOs.
But the idea of City Action, which has been going since 1998, is not just to provide an introduction service. It also tries to help align the expectations on both sides, to stop either side rubbing the other up the wrong way and falling out. So it also does an impact evaluation for each volunteer, and tries to act as an intermediary to make sure all concerned are singing from the same hymn-sheet.
And although the City’s reputation among the general populace is not exactly at an all-time high these days, there is no shortage of volunteers. More than 5,000 people have volunteered in the last five years, while about 45 companies signed up to help the charity in the last year alone. Many make it a central plank of their CSR activity – like law firm Addleshaw Goddard, whose annual ‘Big Week Out’ sees over 20% of the firm get involved with a community project.
As far as they’re concerned , volunteering should be a win-win. City Action reckons this kind of programme engages staff, improves morale, acts as free training, impresses clients and helps recruitment efforts. All that, and you also get to feel good about yourself. What’s not to like?
Just make sure you don’t take the Harriet Harman approach and equip all your volunteers with stab-vests – it might not give the right impression...