Running a Volunteering Programme at a Tech Company

Running a Volunteering Programme at a Tech Company

Doug Chang | 8 June 17

The balance is shifting. More and more top graduates are joining tech companies instead of long established blue chips in the world of finance and law.

This shift comes from a change in attitude of young people. These days, what mainly attracts top young graduates isn’t simply money, it’s the working culture and lifestyle on offer at a company.

Tech companies’ rapid expansion plans require a torrent of new starters to come into their organisation. It’s often a friendly office environment, good work-life balance and a range of personal development opportunities that attracts them.

An effective volunteering programme can add another angle to a well-rounded workplace, enabling employees to pursue their own social interests whilst collectively increasing the contribution a company gives to the community. Studies also show that modern young professionals hold companies “giving back” in high regard when choosing an employer.

Combined, it’s easy to see why tech companies are adding volunteering as string to their broadband.

None-the-less, establishing and boosting a volunteering programme at a tech company presents its own unique challenges. To help those who are starting out or want to give their programme a boost, we’ve spoken to two innovative community investment thinkers at tech companies to share their tips on how to make it a success.

Zoe Cunningham (Softwire) | Sally Tromans (GoCardless) | Using Work Culture to Build Culture | Benefacto Video Game Campaign

Zoe Cunningham, Softwire

Zoe Cunningham is the Managing Director of Softwire, a UK based software development company. Softwire was founded in 2000 and almost exclusively hire recent graduates. The average age of employees is 27.

Softwire have an open culture in which employees are always encouraged to voice new ideas. Community investment projects, including their volunteering programme, are no exception to this.

“We’ve always been an employee-led company. This means that our giving programmes mostly come from employees, whose ideas are then put into action.”

After their first foray into community investment around five years ago, Softwire came up with a great strategy to foment further employee-led community investment projects: “Tea and Cake” sessions.

“Tea and Cake” sessions are the organisation’s monthly get-together where employees share latest advances and ideas to do with CSR.

The sessions keep everyone up-to-date and engaged in Softwire’s latest programmes, provide a platform for new project ideas and demonstrate to newcomers how their ideas can turn into action. It’s a fantastic example of a company promoting their culture through community programmes.

This approach to starting new programmes allows employees to take personal ownership over projects, making them far more likely to succeed.

“It’s all to do with how much employees want it and how much they push it.”

Zoe often heads out to volunteer at the programmes herself, showing her support while encouraging others to get involved. Through her active involvement, Zoe is showing employees that Softwire’s management is committed to the programmes and to giving back to the community.

“People respond to what you do, not what you say,” she says.

This mantra not only applies to supporting the programmes, but holds true for company culture too. By acting on employee’s ideas and providing the opportunity for them to start their own programmes, Softwire has boosted their culture more effectively than any paragraph in a handbook could ever do. The “Tea and Cake” sessions have played a key role in the success of Softwire’s community investment programmes. Seeing the achievements of one programme has built participation and encouraged more to spring up, creating a virtuous circle.

Since they began, the number of employee-led community programmes has organically grown year on year. They’ve been embedded into the daily life of working at Softwire, with plenty more in the pipeline for the future.

Sally Tromans, GoCardless

As of 2016, GoCardless offered employees three volunteering days a year.

It was the first time volunteering had been done at GoCardless. While employees had a real appetite to help in their local community, the only difficulty was understanding how best to fit volunteering into their working week.

“Tech companies are always going to be fast paced environments, so the biggest hurdle was people feeling like they’ve got enough time to volunteer,” said Sally Tromans.

Luckily, a member of the management team and a few colleagues picked up the volunteering days and ran with them from the get-go. These initial members brought back stories and pictures of their volunteering and presented them in the company’s weekly debrief. Seeing colleagues volunteer helped debunk the myth and prove that there absolutely is enough time to volunteer, in fact, it can even improve productivity.

GoCardless, alongside many other tech companies, is a very target driven work environment.

“We are extremely goal oriented company. Every project has a goal”

So the CSR team integrated this culture into their volunteering and set a target of 30% of people to have booked volunteering by the end of Q1.

By setting a target for the entire team, employees were encouraged to volunteer without it feeling as overbearing as setting personal targets.

“We’re a very collaborative bunch and you could see people saying ‘this is the target, come on guys, we need ten more bookings’.”

One day, the GoCardless team found themselves with a nearly new coffee machine going spare in the office.

“We needed to give this coffee machine a new home somehow. I thought we could use it as a chance to boost volunteering and help hit our Q1 target.”

Sally sent a message saying volunteers will be entered into the prize draw to win the machine. Unsurprisingly, GoCardless saw a huge spike in volunteer bookings.

The coffee machine was the last nudge for those on the brink of volunteering who hadn’t yet booked.

“We heard a lot of people saying ‘I’ve been meaning to book this for ages.’ It was the final push that some needed to go and volunteer for the first time.”

Adapting the target driven, collaborative approach of GoCardless to encourage employees to volunteer has helped form a volunteering culture that is embedded in GoCardless’ work environment.

GoCardless is growing at the rate of knots. Sally wants to use volunteering to help integrate old hands with the new recruits. They are planning on randomly matching employees who have been at GoCardless for a long time with new recruits so they can volunteer together in small groups.

Using Work Culture to Build Culture

By using existing work culture to promote volunteering, Softwire and GoCardless have both increased participation and promoted the companies’ ethos. Their volunteering programmes are inextricably linked to their work culture, with success in one area enhancing and boosting the other. If you want to find out how to start a volunteering programme using

If you want to find out how to start a volunteering programme using Benefacto contact doug@benefacto. Benefacto always try to do marketing a little differently. Check out our latest Video Game campaign below – we think the theme is perfect for Tech Startups.

Benefacto Video Game Campaign

Benefacto always try to do marketing a little differently. Check out our latest Video Game campaign below – we think the theme is perfect for Tech Startups.

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Doug is Benefacto’s Manchester Manager. His aim is to increase the amount of meaningful employee volunteering being done in the city. By working closely with charities, companies and employee volunteers, Doug is always keen to find new ways to encourage more people to help out in the local community. Contact doug@benefacto.org If you’d like to have a chat about volunteering and find out more about Benefacto Manchester.