What does corporate social responsibility and volunteering look like in a virtual world? Tara Vance, corporate citizenship lead at Accenture, shares her experience.
Tara Vance is Accenture’s corporate citizenship lead, based in Dublin, with responsibility for areas such as strategy development, environmental improvement and engagement activities, as well as the company’s Skills to Succeed programme.
A large part of her role involves driving local community investment and building strong connections with key stakeholders, including business leaders, policy makers and Accenture’s community partners.
Here, she talks about pivoting Accenture’s volunteering efforts online in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Whether it is face-to-face or virtual volunteering, the same principles apply’
– TARA VANCE
Has it been challenging to pivot to remote or virtual volunteering in recent months?
Initially, one of the biggest challenges was to understand how we could best support our community partners and their beneficiaries. Many of them saw a big increase in numbers trying to access their important services and they needed to respond quickly.
For many of our community partners, overcoming technology challenges and understanding how best to engage with their service users were top of the agenda. We put a call out to our people for virtual volunteers and were fortunate to be able to leverage their skills to lend support to our partners.
What does virtual volunteering typically entail?
It really does depend on the nature of the volunteering opportunity. For instance, once-off micro-volunteering opportunities like undertaking a mapathon for Missing Maps, where virtual volunteers assist international and local NGOs by helping to map the world’s most vulnerable and forgotten places, may only involve an hour of a volunteer’s time.
Other opportunities like supporting a community partner to virtualise a learning programme or helping to design a digital marketing and communications approach may involve a team of people volunteering for a few hours each day over the course of a week or two.
What have been highlights of virtual volunteering so far?
For me and the team, it has been rewarding to have been able to adapt quickly and help our community partners – and in turn, their beneficiaries – in a time like this. One that stands out would be a recent virtual volunteering opportunity we organised with Third Age, a national voluntary organisation that champions older people and whose services have, understandably, been in big demand in recent weeks.
A team of Accenture volunteers were thrilled to offer their support to help Third Age enhance their marketing and communications strategy, ensuring that those who need them most are aware of how to access their vital services. One such service is Senior Line, a confidential listening service for older people provided by trained volunteers.
We have also been active in helping Inner City Enterprise (ICE), a not-for-profit charity that helps unemployed people in Dublin’s inner city to set up their own businesses or create their own self-employment.
We’ve also continued to arrange lots of volunteering opportunities that would have previously taken place in person. Turning these into virtual opportunities so that our people can continue to volunteer and feel a personal impact has been really rewarding for us and our community partners over the last few months.
Do you think virtual volunteering will continue even after Covid-19?
The last few months have really shown us how much we can achieve through volunteering virtually and I think that will continue into the future as our community partners recover and rebuild to support their service users.
Whether it’s online mentoring or engaging in workshops to help community partners work through their organisational challenges or using our deep experience and skillset to help community organisations virtualise their offering, we’ve realised what a big impact we can have.
I think the challenges of the past few months have made us all more aware of helping others, and now that people are more conscious of all the ways they can help virtually, it will continue to grow in popularity.
What advice would you give to a company or an individual who has never virtually volunteered, but would like to start?
I think that whether it is face-to-face or virtual volunteering, the same principles apply. It is crucial to take the time to consider what your organisation wants to achieve. Do you want to set up an ongoing relationship with a charity or would a once-off volunteering event be a better fit?
Equally important is to consult your employees early to see if they are interested in volunteering or what they would like to gain from the experience. Are there particular charities or causes which they would like to support? Our employees have two paid volunteer days every year, so they are free to volunteer with charities or causes that are close to their hearts. This way, the whole experience is more meaningful and has a greater chance of success.
What resources or tools make it possible?
We are lucky to be surrounded by an abundance of online resources, from using Microsoft Teams to deliver virtual workshops with our partners to virtual volunteering online with the likes of humanitarian causes such as Missing Maps and eco-volunteering with Zooniverse.