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Imagine Canada

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Volunteering and the Rise of Individual Social Responsibility

Monday, April 16, 2018
Guest Writers
Corporate Philanthropy
Sector Research
Elizabeth Dove
Hands with dirt/soil on them

National Volunteer Week is a time to thank and recognize Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers. It provides an opportunity to celebrate the social and economic value created for individuals, organizations, communities and society at large. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the evolving and expanding nature of volunteer engagement.

Research undertaken by Volunteer Canada points to the rise of Individual Social Responsibility or ISR. ISR is an integral part of peoples’ daily lives encompassing a broad range of activities beyond volunteering, including their environmental footprint, purchasing decisions, choice of employer, charitable donations, and vacation choices. ISR has been defined as “the continuing commitment to behave ethically and contribute to people’s development while improving the quality of life of other individuals, groups, teams, as well as society at large.”

How do Canadians express their ISR?

While 12.7 million Canadians (44%) volunteer through organizations, we know that this does not reflect the whole picture of the generosity of Canadians. They are also:

  • Mobilizing outside of organizations: mounting public awareness and social advocacy campaigns, raising funds through digital channels, organizing events, and mobilizing people around issues that matter to them.
  • Crowdfunding: crowdsourcing funds to pay for funerals, participate in a peace mission, or retrofit a van to make it accessible.
  • Making informed decisions: about their consumption habits based on a company’s corporate social responsibility practices and making lifestyle changes to reflect their social and environmental concerns.

What does ISR mean for community organizations?

ISR combined with pressures on time in today’s society means community organizations need to be creative in the opportunities they make for the public to contribute. This could include micro-volunteering opportunities, which are quick activities with short commitments that are usually done on one’s own and possibly from home. Another example could be advocacy opportunities such as signing a petition or raising awareness through personal social media. 

Some of these opportunities, particularly those using social media, may mean that some of the keenest supporters will never be fully known to community organizations. Organizations may then need to decide that traditional means of extending their relationships (e.g. turning a volunteer into a donor) or recognizing efforts (e.g. volunteering awards) no longer fit.  As well, measuring the impact of the public engagement aspects of community programs may require new approaches and metrics.

What does ISR mean for companies and employers?

Business, as a sector, is experiencing diminishing trust and rising expectations that they will positively influence society (Edelman Trust Barometer, 2017).  In this era, most companies are quite aware that, for many customers, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) generates loyalty and is an integral part of businesses today. CSR encompasses a broad range of considerations including environmental footprint, ethical supply chain management, hiring (diversity and inclusion), charitable donations, employee-volunteering, and community relations. Consumers using their purchasing power to support socially responsible companies is perhaps one of the most powerful expressions of ISR.

To recruit and retain talent, companies and other organizations must become as flexible and creative as community organizations to motivate, support and celebrate the ISR expressions of employees. For example:

  • Giving time off (normally granted for volunteering at a community organization) to support a sick neighbour.
  • Commending employee commitment to a cause beyond their volunteering. For example, celebrating an employee who consistently makes ‘green’ choices.
  • Allowing employee-directed donations to go to community organizations that are not registered charities, such as a community sports team or an advocacy organization.

As with community organizations, some employee ISR activities will never be known to their employer and are therefore not measurable. Some employers will find this challenging as many are trying to improve the impact measures of their community investment programs. But with 68% of Canadians preferring a job with a company that has a strong volunteer culture, employer expressions of encouragement, openness to diverse ISR activities and offers of support, will allow employees to feel more able to ‘bring their whole selves to work’ and improve both work culture and community contributions. 

Celebrating the value of volunteering – formal and informal

Canadians are making choices and taking actions every day to build a stronger, kinder Canada – making ethical purchases, engaging in causes they care about, and greening their daily commute. Volunteering and ISR, whether formal or informal, long- or short-term, recurring or one-off activities, build confidence, competence, connections and community. Those contributions are rich in value and should be celebrated! Join Volunteer Canada and Investors Group for National Volunteer Week 2018 from April 15 to 21 as we celebrate the value of volunteering in all its forms!


About the Author

Elizabeth Dove

Elizabeth Dove is the Director of Corporate Citizenship at Volunteer Canada. She is a tri-sector leader, specializing in social impact strategies that engage businesses, nonprofit organizations and governments. Passionate about the power of collaboration, she focuses on bringing together actors from different sectors to create value for their organizations and the broader community.

Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.

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