The Right Deed for the Wrong Reason?

One of my daughter’s current favourite reads is the utterly brilliant Clarice Bean series by Lauren Child. In the third in the series, Clarice and her friends are asked by school to go and visit the old people in the home where Clarice’s mum works. Clarice’s friend Karl Wrenbury refuses, and when Clarice asks him if it’s because he doesn’t like old people, Karl responds that he does like old people a lot, but he doesn’t like being made to feel that he has to visit them.

I could sympathise with Karl when I read about the publication of a new CIPD report entitled “Volunteering to Learn – Employee Development through Community Action”. It’s a part of the entirely laudable programme the CIPD are running to encourage employers and HR professionals to tackle youth unemployment. But I really do have concerns when I read phrases in the report from companies such as ‘We are using community action as a recognised tool for personal development.’ ‘Volunteering activities are effective in boosting employee morale’ or (for me the worst) ‘Clients are asking more and more about our social contribution.’

Now there may well be some charities (including some of my current clients) who may say “we don’t care about the individual’s motivation for volunteering – they are doing good by doing it”. And it’s certainly true that by volunteering individuals can gain or develop skills they might not get elsewhere, which they can then bring into the workplace.

But the point of volunteering is that it’s voluntary. It’s not something you feel pressured or coerced to do (which was one of my many objections to last week’s craze for Ice Bucket Challenges). And if employers want to support employees who want to fundraise or volunteer, great. But I do find it suspect when employers are using the mask of “corporate social responsibility” as a tool for cutting training costs or enhancing their own business prospects.

Social entrepreneur Liam Black once wrote a powerful post entitled “The Poor Are Not The Raw Material for Your Salvation”. They aren’t the means to your promotion, a cheap way to develop staff, or a brownie point for a new client either.

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