A Profitable Venture for
Businesses and Communities
Dr John Murphy Barrie Thomas
Mornington Peninsula The Body Shop
Community Connections New Zealand
In preparing this paper reference has been made to the thoughts, ideas and publications of Mark
Glazebrook, Darren Quirk, Adrienne von Tunzelmann, Louise Lee, Colin Higgins, Noel Tichy,
Andrew McGill and Lynda St Clair. Details for published material appear at the end of the paper.
Employee volunteering involves companies supporting and encouraging the
involvement of their staff in the community, for mutual benefit.
Around 90 per cent of big companies in the U.S. and 30 per cent in the U.K. have
employee volunteer programs.
Traditionally, the main way that businesses have supported communities has been
through philanthropy or gift-giving. Most commonly this has involved a business
giving a money donation and then having little further to do with the beneficiary.
Employee volunteering, on the other hand, entails a more substantial relationship
between a company and a community group, often involving an extended-term
commitment or partnership to work together. In the process, employees of the
company have a hands-on role with the projects, services, and staff of the community
Increasing numbers of companies overseas are combining employee volunteering with
core business functions. External studies and internal assessments by companies
have found that the benefits of employee volunteering are as follows:
develops the knowledge and skills of staff in 'real-life' situations
enhances staff's ability to initiate and cope with change
develops teamwork and interdepartmental co-operation
raises staff morale and company pride
helps to create healthier communities in which to do business
enhances the reputation of the company as a good corporate citizen and its
consequent capacity to be more competitive.
provides satisfaction from making a useful contribution to the community
develops their existing abilities and additional skills
broadens their outlook through experiences outside of company culture
enables personal growth through the process of 'putting something back'
makes work more interesting and meaningful overall, especially for staff in
mundane and unfulfilling jobs.
For the community:
extends limited resources
adds new skills and energy to problem-solving
provides an additional source of volunteers
builds productive links with companies
helps to increase management skills in the community sector
improves the quality of community services
helps groups to reach their full potential.
THE CHANGING ROLE OF BUSINESS
Why should companies support their communities through employee volunteering?
As the world has moved into the 21st century, the often-cited assertion that business
organisations have no social obligations beyond financial ones to their shareholders
has become outdated. A growing number of businesses throughout the world have
concluded that through adopting more socially and environmentally responsive
approaches, gains can be made for them and for society.
Business operates most successfully in strong communities which have access to
plentiful and well-managed natural resources, political stability, good education,
health and welfare systems, and minimal problems such as unemployment, poverty
and crime. Many businesses are coming to recognise the relationship between
community well being and company well being.
The community also has higher expectations of business groups than ever before.
Increasingly, the public wants companies to conduct themselves in ways that enhance
rather than jeopardise community well being. Over the last 30 years business groups
have come under increasing scrutiny and public criticism for conduct not viewed as in
the best interests of communities. Now there is much less tolerance for company
decision-making which is based on profit-making grounds only, and which is viewed
by the public as insensitive to the needs of consumers, employees, the environment
BUSINESS SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
AND CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP
The terms Business Social Responsibility and Corporate Citizenship are used to
describe the broader role of business in society, and there is a growing body of
research and literature in the area.
A definition of Business Social Responsibility which seems to capture the basis of
current thinking on the topic is as follows:
The distinctive contribution a company makes actively and voluntarily to the
advancement of society or alleviation of social concerns, usually through some
form of investment in partnership with the community which may include
One of the many different types of activities that make up the broader concept of
Business Social Responsibility is Corporate Citizenship, which includes company
activities and services which go beyond the traditional definition of profit-making.
Currently there are a number of different models of Corporate Citizenship. One that
is simple in concept and which captures the essence of Corporate Citizenship
combines moral, social and economic perspectives.
Figure 1 on the following page illustrates the framework of good Corporate
Citizenship within which businesses work to strengthen the morale of employees,
create consumer credibility, develop community trust, and secure investor confidence.
In the process, companies build their reputations which provide them with a
competitive advantage, eventually translating to higher long-term profits.
According to this framework, the concept of Corporate Citizenship has a foundation
of social responsibility, community integration and reputation building. Shared
values are maintained by programs and projects which emphasise the integration of
the individual into the community. Ultimately, the reputation of the corporation is
strengthened, its jobs become more attractive to employees, its stock more appealing
to investors, and its presence more attractive to the community in which it operates.
TYPES OF COMMUNITY VOLUNTEERING
There are two main categories of community volunteering. They involve company
1. Sharing their existing knowledge and expertise with community groups to
assist with their management and development.
2. Obtaining new knowledge and skills to enable them to participate as
It is important that companies recognise the value to community volunteering of their
own core competencies such as professional knowledge, managerial and technical
expertise. Often small community groups do not possess the necessary knowledge,
skills or time to enable them to develop to their full potential. It is common for busy
staff in small community groups, many of whom are part-time, to have their hands
full just managing the most basic of day-to-day administration. Usually small
community groups lack the financial resources to employ specialists to assist them
with tasks essential to their development.
Many community groups also require additional volunteers for their services, and
company employees can become involved in a variety of activities which support
communities. Sometimes this can require staff to develop additional knowledge and
skills which can be gained on the job or through specific training.
The type of community volunteering chosen by a company usually will be influenced
by the number of staff interested in becoming involved; the knowledge and skills they
already have to offer or need to gain; the staff time the company can make available;
the volunteer needs of the community; and the preferences of the company and its
staff for involvement in particular types of volunteer work.
A company’s staff can undertake employee volunteering regularly or occasionally. It
can be a formal or casual arrangement, although in practice generally a formal system
will work more efficiently for the company and for the community group.
An example of a formal but less structured approach is the company which offers free
a minimum 100 hours of staff expertise annually to community groups, on an as-
requested basis. Another example is companies providing release time as required to
their staff who are volunteers with emergency services.
As an example of a formal, but more structured approach, The Body Shop provides
interested staff with four hours release time monthly to become involved in
Some companies provide their staff to volunteer just once a year, maybe for an
environmental clean-up or fundraising for a community cause. A company can make a
regular commitment to support just one community group or project at a time, or it
can support a number of community groups and projects at the one time.
Examples of employee volunteering using existing company expertise include:
Management staff assist a community group to develop a strategic plan.
IT staff assist a community group to establish an information system or
provide regular consultation to a group about IT.
The company’s salaries section administers the wages of a couple of staff from
a small community group which does not have an adequate salary system.
Alternatively, the salaries section helps the group to establish a salary system
and mentors the group in their use of the system.
The accounting section assists with the preparation of a small community
group’s monthly financial statements.
The company accountant prepares a small community group’s annual financial
returns or undertakes the annual audit.
Public relations staff assist a community group to develop promotional
A staff group collectively assists a community group with a project.
A staff member with knowledge and expertise relevant to a community
group’s management becomes a member of the group’s board.
A company’s training officer runs sessions for a community group on topics
relevant to the work of the group, or assists to develop a training program for
the group’s staff and volunteers.
Staff who do not have particular professional knowledge or skills which may be of
value to a community group’s management, but who still wish to participate as
community volunteers, often can become involved as volunteer workers in the
group’s existing services.
AREAS OF VOLUNTEERING
There are many areas of volunteering in the community in which staff can become
involved with the support of their companies. They include
sport and recreation
health and welfare
Probably the most well known area of community volunteer activity is charity work.
Many charity agencies, especially the big ones, devote a lot of resources to promoting
their organisations to gain community support. Companies wishing to become
involved in community volunteering should not overlook smaller community groups
which do not have the resources to promote themselves and their needs as widely as
the bigger organisations can.
The most recent findings on community building indicate that smaller grass-roots
community groups which are established, managed and staffed by local people, most
of whom are volunteers, play a more important role in strengthening communities
than do bigger and more costly-to-operate charity organisations. Small grass-roots
community groups and their members are seen as a kind of ‘social glue’ which holds
the community together.
It is important that companies recognise that contributing to community well being
involves more than just supporting charity and health and welfare services. While it is
natural to be drawn towards providing support to disadvantaged and needy groups in
the community, it is an under-utilisation of the resources of business if companies
only focus on this type of involvement. A strong community is one which gives
attention to all areas of community well being – education, the environment, arts,
heritage, sport and recreation, in addition to the health and welfare needs of its
THE PUBLIC RELATIONS AND MARKETING APPROACH
It is important that as far as possible, all parties involved in a company’s employee
volunteering activities (the company, employees, community services and the people
who receive them) benefit equally from arrangements.
However, the experience of the authors indicates that the main reason why many
bigger companies become involved in supporting their communities is for public
relations and marketing reasons. Often the benefits received by the other parties to
the arrangement are secondary or incidental (although this is never openly admitted
by any of the parties). When public relations and marketing are the main motivators
for a business group, the company is seeking to enhance its reputation as a socially
responsible and caring company with the aim of attracting more customers and greater
profits. Some companies are keen to gain or regain a good reputation after their
image has been damaged through poor conduct.
To maximise public relations and marketing opportunities though community
involvement, companies usually seek out higher-profile community groups and
projects to support. This practice is often referred to as cause-related or social
marketing. Often the company offers assistance on the proviso that it will be
acknowledged very publicly, often involving the company’s logo being displayed
prominently on the community group’s stationery, literature and buildings.
Sometimes the community group may be required to incorporate the company’s name
into the project being funded.
It is often the case that the conditions imposed by companies on community groups
are out of proportion to the support provided.
Small community groups which are doing valuable work in their communities, but
which are barely known outside of their own neighborhoods, do not have the potential
to provide companies with good public relations and marketing opportunities. As a
result, they are not usually of interest to publicity-seeking businesses.
Companies like The Body Shop have been able to build a reputation as a socially
responsible business without openly ‘grandstanding’ about their community
involvement. A recent survey among customers of The Body Shop revealed that
most of them supported the company because they believed it to be ethically,
environmentally and socially responsible. While the company is fully aware of the
positive effects on profits from performing ‘good deeds’ in the community, the gains
are seen as secondary and naturally evolving over time rather than as a primary
motivation and contrived to achieve maximum benefits in the short term.
The Body Shop does not choose community groups and projects to support because of
their public relations and marketing value. Some of the groups supported by The
Body Shop have a very limited profile in the wider community. Although some
groups publicly acknowledge the support they receive from The Body Shop, this is
not a pre-condition for receiving support from the company.
Interestingly, there have been occasions when The Body Shop has lost customer
support in some areas because of its involvement with particular groups or its stance
on controversial community issues. Obviously, a company may struggle eventually if
it makes a practice of supporting unpopular causes. However, a solid reputation built
up over time can withstand a moderate community backlash if the company decides
occasionally and astutely to stand up publicly for what it believes in, even if the
cause does not have wide community support.
WHERE TO START
Starting at the Top
It is common for companies contemplating involvement in employee volunteering to
commence discussion at a senior management level given that among other things a
variation in the utilisation of company resources is being considered.
How other employees are involved in the discussions about and planning for an
employee volunteering program will usually depend on the size of the company as
well as its style of decision-making (ie. democratic, autocratic or somewhere in-
between). A small company with a limited number of employees, for example, may
include all staff in the initial discussions. Bigger companies might commence with
senior staff and then include middle management and supervisory staff in sequential
Sometimes interest in community volunteering may originate from company staff
who are not in management positions.
Staff Involvement Important
Whatever process is chosen to ‘get the ball rolling’, it is important for the success of
an employee volunteering program that employees be involved in the decision-
making about how they might be involved in the community as volunteers.
Compulsory Volunteering: a Contradiction in Terms
‘Volunteering’ means having the freedom to choose to be involved as well as having
choice about the type of involvement. Staff involvement in volunteering should not
happen as a result of a directive from the company. ‘Compulsory volunteering’ is an
oxymoron. An integral aspect of community volunteering is the commitment of the
individual to their volunteer work. People are more motivated and usually more
effective if they believe in and are able to make a personal commitment to the project
or activity in which they are involved as volunteers.
When companies donate staffing and other resources to community groups, for
example assisting a school to build a new outside play area by providing heavy earth-
moving equipment and an operator, this is a valuable contribution to the community,
but it is not employee volunteering. The employee operating the earth-moving
equipment has not had a genuine choice about participating in the task and may have
no particular interest in the cause for which the company resources are being used.
This is not to say that the employee will not gain in some way from their involvement
in the community exercise, but this type of staff involvement in the community is not
Employee volunteering programs which are imposed on staff and which focus on and
are driven by the whims and fancies of the company director or senior staff rarely
have the genuine commitment of employees. Such programs may appear to enjoy
early success, but they are unlikely to be sustained too far beyond the short term.
Companies should not expect all staff to respond enthusiastically when first
introduced to the idea of employee volunteering. If the company has earned a
reputation as a socially responsible and caring business, attempts to introduce
employee volunteering will be seen as consistent with the company’s business
philosophy, and it is likely that staff will be accepting. If, on the other hand, the
company has a poor reputation as a socially responsible business, staff are likely to be
more cautious in their response. The community will respond similarly.
Total Participation Unlikely
While initially some staff may be enthusiastic about employee volunteering, others
may prefer to see ‘how things go’ before making a commitment. Some staff may
choose never to become involved and their choice should be respected. Few
companies involved in employee volunteering have the interest of all staff.
Commencing on a Small Scale
Employee volunteering programs commonly start with the participation of a small
group of staff. Commencing on a small scale is a sensible way to proceed in relation
to the company’s new investment of its resources in a community project.
Management Setting a Good Example
The company’s senior personnel can set a good example by being the first employees
in the organisation to become involved in community volunteering. Sharing their
experiences during informal conversations at work, at staff meetings, and through
various company communication is likely to engage the interest of other staff.
Forming an Advisory Committee
It can be beneficial for a company to obtain the support of individuals and groups who
are already strongly connected to communities and who have knowledge of
community needs, volunteering, and how to engage with community groups.
Forming an advisory committee comprising representatives from the company and
from the community may be a helpful.
Also, it may be of assistance to invite representatives from companies already
involved in employee volunteering to speak to management and employees about
Careful Selection of Community Partners
Companies should be discriminating in their assessment of prospective community
partners for employee volunteering. A high profile and good intentions do not mean
that a community group is proficient in what it does. Just as a company would
evaluate carefully the benefits and risks involved in an expansion to its business
activities, and especially the credentials of prospective new business partners, it
should assess carefully the credentials of its intended community-sector partners. It
can be disruptive to either party’s operations if the company or the community group
find it necessary to discontinue an employee volunteering arrangement prematurely.
It is much better for both groups to establish one another’s credentials and
compatibility to be partners before entering into an arrangement.
It could be helpful for the company to scrutinise the community group’s recent annual
reports (keeping in mind that they are used for public relations purposes); speak to
representatives from the group (and not only to staff in public relations roles); and
speak to other organisations and informed people in the community about the group.
A Policy on Employee Volunteering
After discussions have occurred within the company about the proposed project,
producing a simply-presented statement or policy will allow people both in and
outside the company to see what the company’s purpose and underpinning principles
are about employee volunteering. This will assist with the project’s acceptance by
employees and the community.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Monitoring and evaluation are important aspects of a company’s involvement in
employee volunteering. Based on the findings of an evaluation, adjustments and
improvements can be made to the project. It is important to develop evaluation
methods which include qualitative as well as quantitative methods. For example, the
former would be interested in employees’ and community groups’ experiences and
impressions of the project and its benefits to the community, rather than entirely on
the number of staff involved, the number of hours worked, the number of community
groups assisted and estimates about the positive impact on profits from the project.
Murphy, J. and Thomas, B. (2000) Developing Social Capital – A New Role for
Business in Social Capital and Public Policy in Australia. Australian Institute of
Family Studies. Melbourne.
Quirk, D. (1998) Corporate Volunteering: The Potential and the Way Forward.
The Wellington Volunteer Centre, Wellington, New Zealand.
The New Bottom Line. Social and Environmental Audit Results. (2000) The
Body Shop. www.thebodyshop.com.au
Tichy, N.M., McGill, A.R., St. Clair, L. (1997) Corporate Global Citizenship:
Doing Business in the Public Eye. The New Lexington Press, San Francisco.
Von Tunzelmann, A. (1996) Social Responsibility and the Company: A New
Perspective on Governance, Strategy and the Community. Institute of Policy
Studies, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.
THE AUTHORS’ PUBLICATIONS ON
BUSINESS SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Murphy, J. and Thomas, B. (2000) Developing Social Capital – A New Role for
Business in Social Capital and Public Policy in Australia. Australian Institute of
Family Studies. Melbourne.
Murphy, J. (2000) Business Community Partnerships: Fact or Fantasy. Paper
presented at the Broken Hill Community Round Table. February.
Murphy, J and Thomas, B. (2000) Partnerships with the Business Sector in
Developing Communities: We Need to Rethink This One. 9th National Conference
on Volunteering. Adelaide.
Murphy, J. and Thomas, B. (2000) BP and Global Social Investment:
Community Capacity Building. Discussion paper prepared for BP Australia.
Murphy, J. (2000) Forming Partnerships with Business. Workshop paper Broken
Hill Community Round Table. July.
Murphy, J. and Thomas, B. (2000) Business Social Responsibility: A Strategic
Partnerships Approach. Mornington Peninsula Community Connections.
Murphy, J. (2000) Partnership with Business: Some Thorns Among the Roses.
Keynote Address at the Northern Rivers Social Development Council Conference
Creating Communities of Opportunities, Byron Bay, N.S.W.
Murphy. J. and Thomas B. (2000) The Role of Business in Community Capacity
Building: An Alternative Approach. VicHealth Seminar, Melbourne.
Thomas, B. (2000) Business Social Responsibility and The Role of The Body
Shop. Keynote Address Broken Hill Community Round Table. July.
Glazebrook, M., Murphy, J. and Thomas, B. (1999) Building Strong Communities:
Partnerships Between the Business and Community Sectors in Community
Development. Paper presented at the Making It Happen for Australia’s Children
Conference: Building & Sustaining Child Friendly Communities. Canberra.
Murphy, J. and Thomas, B. (1999) The Role of Business in Community Development.
Community Quarterly, No.50. June.
Murphy. J. and Thomas, B. (1999) Partnerships with the Business Sector in
Addressing Social Exclusion: A Community Development Approach. Australian
Association of Social Workers National Conference, Brisbane.
Murphy, J. and Thomas, B. (1999) Partnerships Between Business and the
Community. New Zealand Institute of Social Policy, Victoria University, Wellington
Murphy. J. and Thomas, B. (1998) Corporate Sector Support for Neighborhood
Services. Paper presented to the Fourth Australia and New Zealand Third Sector
Research Conference, Melbourne.
Murphy, J. (1998) Partnerships Between the Business and Community Sector.
Paper presented to the Community Partnerships Forum, Wellington New Zealand.
A small selection of the above publications can be found at the NSW Government’s
JOHN MURPHY Bachelor of Social Work (Hons) PhD
John is responsible for the operations of Mornington Peninsula Community
Connections. Community Connections is an independent, non-profit and free
management advisory service for small, non-profit community groups on the
Mornington Peninsula. The project aims to contribute to the strengthening of
communities through promoting and supporting citizen participation. John worked
for 10 years in the printing industry prior to obtaining a Bachelor of Social Work with
Honours in 1981 and a PhD in 1992, both from Monash University. John’s social
work background was in child and family services and community work.
He worked for seven years as a lecturer in the Department of Social Work and Human
Services at Monash University where he taught management and community work.
During this time he maintained a close association with local communities and
worked in a voluntary capacity in a number of grass-roots community groups.
Mornington Peninsula Community Connections was established by John and Barrie
Thomas in 1997 while they were volunteers on a small community group’s committee
of management. Initially the project was funded by The Body Shop and is now
funded by a private foundation established by Barrie.
BARRIE THOMAS Dip. Tech. Soc. Work
Barrie graduated in social work from the South Australian Institute of Technology in
1973 and moved to New Zealand where he worked for three years in the drug and
alcohol field before returning to Adelaide. After working with the South Australian
Royal Commission into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, he travelled to England in
1979 where he commenced a new career in franchising. He returned to Australia in
1981 and with a business partner took on the head franchise for The Body Shop retail
chain in Australia and New Zealand.
In November 1999 Barrie disposed of his interests in The Body Shop in Australia to
further develop his interests in The Body Shop in New Zealand.
Barrie’s background in social work and business gives him a strong belief in the
social responsibilities that corporations should bear, and he is Adjunct Professor
attached to the Corporate Citizenship Research Unit at Deakin University.