HandsOn, Volunteer Programmes that Employees Can Get Excited About
By HandsOn Hong Kong

Key Takeaways: 

  • Creating a culture that encourages volunteering can help organisations boost employee morale, enhance workplace atmosphere and enhance brand perception.

  • The HR function can leverage volunteering programmes to introduce additional employee engagement initiatives.

  • To initiate a culture of volunteerism employees can volunteer individually, as a team or as a whole company.

  • The chances of building successful volunteering programmes are increased when a cause resonates with employees.

Established in 2007, HandsOn Hong Kong currently works with more than 100 frontline charities and non-profit organisations serving a range of social issues and needs in the city. In addition to developing programmes and promoting activities, HandsOn recruits and manages volunteers, while working closely with partners to ensure that each programme meets the needs of those they serve.

"The best part of volunteering is that any business can participate – and size and industry is no barrier," noted Lisa Lam, Head of Corporate Programs and Development at HandsOn. Conveniently, employees can volunteer individually, as a team or as a whole company. Volunteer projects can be carried out as a one-time event or an on-going long-term basis. 

A recent HandsOn survey spanning volunteer professionals, students, families and retirees showed that repeat volunteering is on the rise (up from 35% pre-COVID-19 levels to 41% in 2022). Of those surveyed, 97%  felt they had a deeper understanding of community needs and 96% planned to volunteer in the year ahead–showing  strong community motivation to support local non-profits and strive for positive change.  Notably, 75% of respondents expressed a desire to involve their family and friends in volunteer work, highlighting the potential ripple effect that the “volunteer movement” can create.

Best Practices 

While volunteer programmes and opportunities vary, HandsOn has found the chances of building successful volunteering experiences are increased when a cause resonates with employees. Engaging in activities that align with an individual or team values and passions can create a deeper sense of satisfaction and meaning. There are several ways to make this work in practice, said Cath Dannaoui, Executive Director at HandsOn. One way, for example, is to create a corporate volunteer initiative from the bottom up, by giving employees an active role in shaping its focus and features and then bolstering their efforts with corporate support and structure. A simple approach can begin by inviting employees to establish a “Community Committee” comprised of one member from each department, empowering them to represent the community interests and concerns of their colleagues.

Dannaoui suggests staging a community “Lunch and Learn” and inviting people to learn about the missions of several charities. Following the session, staff can vote on which charities to support.  This avoids the cut-and-paste approach which can also cause a disconnect between a company’s mission and goals and its programme – and can be done efficiently even when staff are working remotely, Dannaoui advised. 

The range of opportunities HandsOn offers for companies and its volunteers include; 

  • Consultation services: working closely with companies to assess their needs and identify areas of opportunity for creating impactful social initiatives; 

  • Program design: helping companies design and implement their social impact programs that address the specific needs of their communities;

  • Employee engagement: such as workshops, training, and other activities tailored towards a company’s CSR or ESG goals; and

  • Impact measurement and reporting. 

From purpose come the benefits

Another aspect of working with HandsOn is the partnership and collaboration that it provides – simply connecting companies with other organisations, charities, and stakeholders to strengthen their social impact efforts and achieve greater results.

To initiate a culture of volunteerism, HandsOn encourages HR professionals to give employees space to explore their interests, by implementing and promoting paid volunteering leave. “HR teams can work hand in hand with their communications colleagues to increase awareness of such policies – as well as encourage their own leadership teams to lead by example, set the tone and inspire others to take a day away from their desk,” Lam explained. 

Knowing where to start can be the most challenging part, and HandsOn’s annual Community Service Week was created with this in mind. Through one week of volunteering across hundreds of programmes, Serve-a-thon shines a light on the diverse work of Hong Kong's various charities and empowers volunteers to support them and the groups they serve. Individuals can register as a HandsOn volunteer and choose from over 100 programmes on the service calendar. 

While few positives came out of the almost three-year disruptive influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, driven by necessity, HandsOn did develop new ways for volunteers to engage digitally and remotely. 

“Virtual” or “remote” volunteering brought greater flexibility to the world of volunteering, allowing individuals to volunteer anytime and anywhere, making it an ideal option for those with busy schedules and teams based across multiple locations. Previous research conducted by HandsOn and Nielsen has shown that lack of time and not knowing where to start are among the biggest barriers to volunteering. However, by providing more accessible ways to engage, organisations can help to overcome these barriers and encourage greater participation.

For instance, HandsOn has seen success in offering online tutoring and mentoring, caring calls to isolated elderly individuals and storytelling sessions with students who have hearing impairments. Many of these activities continue to be an important part of HandsOn’s offering, demonstrating the benefits that innovation and accessibility have brought to the organisation and the communities it serves.  “Other benefits to virtual volunteering include lower cost, a safer and more convenient environment, and the potential for greater impact due to the wider reach and scale of virtual projects.” noted Dannaoui. 

While there are plenty of benefits that virtual volunteering can bring, there are also  challenges to consider. As an organisation that is passionate about connection and bringing people together, Hands On believes that a significant value of volunteering is the opportunity to interact with others in person and build relationships. Virtual volunteering provides limited social interaction and can be isolating for volunteers. 

For those looking to integrate remote or virtual volunteering into their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, HandsOn recommends a few key tips to ensure success. First, it is important to clearly define the goals and objectives of the virtual volunteering programme and ensure they align with the overall CSR strategy of the organisation. Second, organisations should engage volunteers in the planning and design of the virtual volunteering activities, to ensure that they are meaningful and engaging to the volunteers. Third, organisations should provide training and support to virtual volunteers, to ensure that they have the skills and resources to successfully complete the tasks. It is also important to establish clear guidelines and policies for virtual volunteering, including data privacy and security protocols, to ensure that the programme is conducted in a safe and ethical manner. Lam also recommends measuring and evaluating the impact of the virtual volunteering programme. For instance, do employees feel a sense of connection? Have their knowledge and awareness of community needs improved? Are they motivated to continue? 

Expanding horizons

Volunteering opportunities such as those that HandsOn offer open new paths for employees to explore their talents, improve and even learn new skills. If employees engage in volunteer work there is the potential to gain leadership, problem-solving, teamwork relationship building, organisation and communication skills – all of which are beneficial for any job role and can be easily transferred. Whether employees learn new skills or enhance current talents, they take this new-found expertise back to their organisation along with higher self-worth alongside a deeper connection to the organisation. 

Importantly, in the same way that individuals want to work for an organisation that positively impacts the world, today’s job candidates prefer supporting organisations and brands that are proactive about their corporate social responsibility initiatives. According to the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial survey, for millennials and Gen Zers a sense of purpose is critical — along with a positive work-life balance and pay — when choosing new employers. Relevant to employers, nearly two in five of the younger generations, and nearly half of those in leadership positions, have rejected a job because it failed to align with their personal ethics.  In addition to boosting productivity and improving employee engagement, studies have shown that volunteer programmes help to improve hiring and retention.

Prioritise meaning

Volunteering offers a wide range of benefits for the volunteers themselves, making it a great tool to promote a healthy work-life balance and foster a culture that supports employee well-being.  Multiple surveys have found that volunteering can positively impact physical and mental health, alleviate stress and experience increased life satisfaction. At the same time, volunteerism can help tackle some of the most common workplace problems, such as high levels of disengagement, poor performance and high turnover rates.  In other words, people who volunteer tend to be happier.  The observation seems to resonate with the findings of the recent HandsOn survey. Respondents reported that volunteering enabled them to switch off from the pressures and stresses of daily life (80%), feel grounded and present in the moment (87%) and in sleep-deprived Hong Kong, 64% reported they sleep better at night.

In the corporate world, with organisations no longer responsible only for the economic growth in their communities, but also the drivers of social change, volunteer programmes provide a win for employers, employees and the causes they support.

For further information: HandsOn 

HandsOn, Volunteer Programmes that Employees Can Get Excited About
PR 2 May, 2023