So why should anyone get involved in ‘social good’?

Social Good Themes

The aim of the company I work for is “. . . to use profit and innovation for social good”. Great thoughts, but what does it mean in reality? With this in mind we did a project through the iLab to explore how we can increase the social good that staff undertook. So we wanted to investigate what social good is, why do some people get involved and why some people don’t. From that, is there a role for an organisation to play? We were working on the hypothesis that volunteering is recognised to improve personal well-being and the well-being of the community (Volunteering – The Business Case) and therefore the organisation too.

And what we found from all the research was not surprising, when we really thought about it. What did we do? We conducted quite a few 1:1 interviews with different people in our organisation and found out how amazing so many of our colleagues are. They not only donated money regularly through direct debits to their favourite charities, but they also organised the mini’s at the local football club, made the cakes for the school fete (every year for year after year after year…), trained and ran in the local half marathon for charity, sat on the committee of their local rowing club, gave up their weekend to travel to Yorkshire and organise a festival with friends for charity, built up their flexi-time at work so that they could have some time off during the working day to read to children at the local school, drove out of their route to buy a sandwich and fruit to give to a homeless person they saw on the street and more and more and  more.

So in actual fact we may not need to increase what staff do. Perhaps we simply need to recognise this great work that is already happening. This may encourage others. Is that enough? Possibly not. So let’s continue to research what social good is and what motivates people to get involved.

We found that Social Good involves bringing benefit to the Community. Volunteering is only one method of delivering social good. Other ways include donating funds, using your skills for others, or simply being neighbourly. By communicating clearly to staff what is meant by ‘social good’ and the organisation can set clearer expectations from their staff.

People are motivated to get involved in “social good activities” through personal interest. This can be a hobby, e.g. volunteering to teach rowing, or something of personal relevance, e.g. monthly donations to a cancer charity. By far the major influencer is the family, e.g. becoming secretary at the local youth football club because your children want to join. There was an understanding that some people felt it was the norm to do social good, because it was how they had been brought up. Many individuals recognise that they do social good activities because it benefits themselves, e.g. it is viewed positively when on a CV or your personal sense of well-being is improved when you volunteer. This idea of personal gain sometimes means people feel guilty for wanting to do an activity. A key motivator for sustaining involvement in social good is the recognition individuals receive e.g. a smile from a beneficiary, or a ‘thank-you’ from peers or others involved. Because the major motivators are personal interest and family, it needs to be recognised that involvement in social good will change as people develop new interests or as they move through different cycles of life, e.g. single student to married worker with 3 children under 16 to retired divorcee with ill health. A sustainable model of social good needs to be built with a longer term view of change in an individual’s motivation.

The major Barrier to individuals taking part in social good is the perception of lack of time. Everyone felt that they are busy enough juggling their different roles (employee, parent, family member, friend etc.) to add another task to the list. However, when social good can be linked to personal activities e.g. the family, or if they are easy to perform, e.g. a monthly donation to a charity through your payroll, then this barrier can be overcome. Some people didn’t want to be involved in activities (particularly volunteering) through fear of over-commitment. There was a worry about being taken advantage of or feeling obliged to be involved, so they would rather not start activities at all.

So, the role for the company is to understand and recognise the great social good that employees are already doing, to identify the skill set of their staff and to then facilitate implementing social good by the staff, e.g. encouraging managers to let staff use their flexi-time for social good activities. Feedback from staff, Board Members, the general public and from desktop research all recognised the opportunity for a win / win / win situation for the organisation, employees and the community.

Barbara Cairns – @BarbaraCairns


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