Why virtual volunteering could be the answer to the Great Reengagement

How the corporate world can create bigger and more long term impact for not-for-profits

Why virtual volunteering could be the answer to the Great Reengagement

Business leaders looking for a different way to engage their staff, reach corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals, and differentiate themselves as an employer of choice, should consider the emerging wellbeing trend of virtual volunteering.

The definition of virtual volunteering is collaborating or contributing to a community need via online means. While it may sound like another online trend born out of the pandemic, way back in 2018, even before COVID, a national review on the future of volunteering made eight recommendations and seven of those recommendations explored online volunteering avenues.

That review in 2018 also prompted entrepreneur Victor Lee, CEO of social enterprise Communiter, to officially launch the project he’d been working on for a couple of years prior – a passion for volunteering combined with his experience working in change management had led Lee to conceptualise a better way to mobilise corporate volunteers and use them in a more impactful way for not-for-profits.

Communiter is an Australian company that connects corporates with not-for-profits. They currently work with volunteers from 28 corporates and 20 universities pairing each volunteer’s skillset with skills needed in not-for-profit businesses.

Read more: Corporate volunteering: Hard to ignore

“Our bread and butter in virtual volunteering is skills-based AI, we’ve seen trends over the last 18 months that virtual volunteering is on the up and there's definitely a trend of corporations wanting their staff to not just contribute their time, but also use their expertise and their skills to actually do more and create bigger and more long-term impact for not-for-profits,” said Lee.

When COVID hit Australian shores in 2020, Lee’s company was perfectly positioned as the market leader in skills-based virtual volunteering, so organisations flocked.

When COVID stopped a not-for-profit in Western Sydney facilitating weekly learning gatherings for mature women, Lee’s company provided volunteers to not only reconstruct the gatherings virtually, but also provided volunteers to teach everyone how to use Zoom.

Communiter runs a subscription model that corporates and universities sign up to. “We always say, we’re for profit, and for purpose,” said Lee before outlining the benefits of virtual volunteering for businesses; “Post COVID the face-to-face interaction has been loosened so business leaders need to invest in a more decentralised way of keeping their staff engaged and their teams cohesive and virtual volunteering is a great way to do that,” said Lee adding that it increases culture and morale which is always great for employee engagement. 

Read more: Can an employee insist on charity leave?

“If companies can pick the right opportunity and charity to support, there might be some alignment between the cause area and the purpose of the company itself,” said Lee giving the example of Australian property development company Mirvac, Lee matched them with charities in the housing and poverty fields so their corporate volunteers could help support vulnerable people that are homeless.

“For employees, that amplifies why you should work for Mirvac, and that’s what virtual volunteering can facilitate, it’s not just telling your staff why they belong, it’s much more powerful,” said Lee.

“There's a bit around virtual volunteering, where it beds down that productive side of working remotely but it kind of infuses that humanity side of teamwork, you’re more than just working in silos, you’re working on empathy and trying to reach out and make that connection with the other person across the internet.

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