By Joanne van der Walt, Sage Foundation Programme Manager for Africa
There’s a familiar vibe in the air as December draws closer, work starts calming down and families head to the beaches for their year-end holidays.
If you’re one of the few skeleton team members left behind at the office to man the fort, you’ve probably already decided which TV series to binge on to pass the time.
Yet, for many non-profit organisations, December is anything but quiet. It’s a stressful time of year when budgets have run dry and their own volunteers are on vacation. It’s also the time of year when more beneficiaries seek assistance, companionship or a small taste of the happy holiday feeling.
Organisations are good at the latter. Corporates often use their allocated volunteer days to paint walls and plant vegetable gardens at their local charities, or to fill Santa shoeboxes for children who would otherwise go without this Christmas. While these are noble efforts, the impact can be short-lived – and it also requires team members to step away from their desks for a day or two, which could impact business operations.
As we celebrate International Volunteer Day (5 December), we’re reminded of the challenges experienced in our communities and how we can help. Volunteering and social engagement programmes give people and even small businesses the opportunity to give back to society.
The quiet weeks of December offer the perfect opportunity for businesses to really make a difference, without staff needing to leave their desks.
For example, at Sage, we’re using our Sage Foundation Volunteer Days – of which colleagues get five a year – to help the Khulumani Support Group capture thousands of outstanding membership applications. The Group helps victims and survivors of Apartheid-related human rights violations to rebuild their lives through agricultural and entrepreneurial projects.
But until the backlog of 30,000 applications is captured, the voices of many survivors remain unheard. By capturing these applications, our teams not only efficiently use the quiet December time but they also get a sense of purpose and humility knowing that they are making a long-lasting impact.
This type of volunteering gives our colleagues another option to make a difference without leaving their desks.
Here are a few other deskbound volunteering ideas for your small business:
- Reach out to local charities and ask if they need help with admin, such as typing, transcribing or answering emails.
- Think about how your core business offerings can help charities and how you can provide those services without leaving your desk. For example, a PR agency can draft and distribute a press release to raise awareness about the charity’s work; an accounting company can assist with bookkeeping and offer free advice.
- Investigate other deskbound volunteering opportunities, such as helping the Panthera Camera CATalogue identify wild animals to improve conservation initiatives.
The children of skeleton team members often don’t have anywhere to go while their parents work, so it’s not uncommon to see children of all ages hanging around the office during December. This is a perfect opportunity for children to job shadow their parents’ colleagues and gain experience that will come in handy when they need to find a job.
Often described as ‘dead time’, the last few days of the year should be reframed as prime time, not only to positively impact the work of charities but also to give children a head start on their futures.