Guest AuthorHema Ravichandar

Giving with ease

Source | Hema Ravichandar (The Mint)

Employees need organizational support to be able to help out in times of national disasters. Should companies facilitate them?

The joy of giving is much eulogized. But for organizations, the challenge remains as to how to stoke the giving motive among employees so as to get a groundswell of donating going, especially in times of national or natural crisis. Last week as we looked at what needed to be done to get employees to participate actively in company response to disasters, we dwelt on the importance of organizational Clarity regarding causes supported, Consistent and precise messaging, Campaigns that are designed with care and deployed with military precision, Closure with demonstrated results on the ground and finally Celebrating significant achievers and their achievements. While these are all necessary conditions to get the organization aligned to the cause of giving, this week we touch on the act itself. How do we make the giving inclusive? What is the support that organizations need to provide to facilitate employees contributing with ease? And finally, the importance of selecting the Conduit wisely—the channel responsible for ensuring the Contribution reaches the Cause quickly and without any unwarranted leakage.

Contributions, of course, could come in many shapes—money, kind and that most precious of all, father time. The important thing to assess is how to make them the most effective and significant while maximizing the quantum of course.

One way of doing this is to ensure that they are sought from those who have the most connect. “Money may come from everyone, but time and effort may come only from locally based employees. But for a national cause like Kargil, all units may be fully engaged. For example, the northern units may be heavily involved in the Himalayan tsunami relief work, whereas the Hyderabad or Bangalore offices may be involved in relief work for disasters or calamities which could predominantly impact the south. There is nothing wrong in adopting either strategy,” said the HR head of a pan-India organization.

Putting the “how and where to contribute” decisions into the employee’s court is a great move too. “Run a ‘how to help’ suggestion campaign. I have always seen that people are more likely to act on their own ideas than ones given to them,” said a veteran campaigner to me. “It is not the management, but the employee community that makes the difference. We encourage them to come forward and initiate relief and support mechanisms. The organization then facilitates this support by leveraging existing infrastructure and facilities. Adding families to the volunteer mix, adds an extra zing.” So while some may decide money is the way to go, others may choose to sponsor travel, think discounted air tickets or run relief programmes for special groups like senior citizens. Inclusiveness in key decision making seems to always pay.

The next step is to augment employee contributions with strong organizational support. If the contributions are monetary, does the company respond by matching the sigma of all individual contributions, or double it; maybe a hefty Forex contribution from international headquarters? A strong technology backbone provided by the company could give employees an elegant and simple solution to choose their contribution options —half, one or more days’ wages; or, if anonymity is preferred, a designated account which is only a click away. What about ensuring that the solutions offered to the affected are sustainable—maybe organizational sponsorship to rehabilitate victims, provide education or even jobs for a few families?

When contributions are sought in kind, the devil literally lies in the detail. Organizations must clarify what are “acceptable” donations—medicines, clothing or food, collection points and frequency of collection of supplies and the corollary despatch to the front. “I found that our contributions were only being picked up weekly from the company premises by the agency. Outside though, they were collecting and dispatching daily. I opted for the latter therefore. Wanted my contribution to reach ground zero at the earliest,” was the feedback from one discerning employee.

And finally, that most elusive of contributions—time. The real difference (impact) happens when organizations come forward and offer talent, time and existing infrastructure to deal with disaster management, relief and rehabilitation work either directly or through relief agencies. Medical personnel, civil engineers, logisticians to man and manage the procurement and distribution of supplies, IT experts and electrical engineers who can develop specialized software or restore much needed power supply, could all come in handy. When speed is of the essence, smart companies leverage existing volunteering programmes under the corporate social responsibility (CSR) umbrella, to tee off campaigns and act as the first port of call.

But again, employees need organizational support to support such causes. Taking time off to work in relief camps should be encouraged, not cold shouldered. Research shows additional “social” leave or sabbaticals, provision to utilize existing leave to their credit to volunteer, or even “donate” it to co-workers are interesting options worth exploring. What about additional insurance cover to protect employees from unforeseen hazards; also logistics and accommodation support at the outposts? Or more proactively, training employees in advance of an emergency through specialized agencies to be able to swiftly respond to disaster relief? All of which essentially points to the premise that companies need to look at the whole aspect of volunteering holistically and beyond business as usual.

Once the contributions are flowing in thick and fast, is not the best time to think about the conduit. That decision should have been sown up well ahead. The important thing is to choose a safe and reliable conduit with care—the relief agencies, the support providers. Vet them carefully, again preferably with employee support to identify ones that are recognized and have a strong track record of driving initiatives successfully, act with integrity and most importantly local reach. “Else cynicism will set in and that is a death knell for future contributions”, is the refrain. Establish long-term relationships with trusted partners for greater employee comfort and where possible have assigned points of contact both within the organization and the conduit to facilitate and build robust communication pipelines. Clarity of what is being offered and what is required is imperative.

“We had collected the money but our project succeeded only because we identified a credible relief organization to partner with us,” are famous last words, one hears again and again—reinforcing the imperative of establishing a strong connect between the cause, the corporation, the contributor and the conduit. Aptly put by Herman Melville (the American writer best known for the novel Moby-Dick), “We cannot live for ourselves. A thousand fibres connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibres, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects”.


Hema RaviHema Ravichandar is a strategic Human Resources Consultant and a HR Thought Leader. She is  a renowned Leadership Coach and serves as an independent director and an advisory board member for several organizations. She was formerly the global head of HR for Infosys Ltd.

First published in The Mint. 


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