How to make volunteering part of your working culture 

group of volunteers working for a charity

Article by Sarah Friswell, CEO at Red Ant 

2021 followed the same trend as 2020 with reductions in charity donations and community organisations’ volunteer and fundraising work.

That’s why, even more so in these economically challenging times, being a responsible and ethical business means looking after our community and environment. A volunteering programme gives employees a chance to use their skills for good throughout the year while benefiting the local community and our planet. 

In just a few years, our volunteer initiative has evolved into an intrinsic part of our working culture. The PhilANThropy volunteering programme at Red Ant gives all staff three days’ paid time a year to play a part in making sure our business is a force for good and 98% of our Ants took part in at least one activity to support the community last year. From improving our community and the lives of people who live in it to fundraising for our chosen charitable causes, we provide this support around our client projects of course – but we fit it all in, because it’s important to us to make a positive difference. 

Taking a focused approach for support 

With so many deserving causes needing support, it can be hard to know which ones to choose, so it’s worked best for us to have some focus. At the beginning of this year, we agreed that the core focus for 2022 was to be promoting quality local education, good health, and wellbeing, which includes children, the elderly and vulnerable, and, most recently, supporting a fundraiser for Ukraine with matched giving. But we have the flexibility to ensure our year-round activities extend beyond these groups. 

We hold bi-weekly planning meetings so everyone, either at home or in the office, can be involved and activities are very varied so there’s something for everyone in the office to participate in – from physically challenging individual pursuits such as the London to Brighton bike ride, to a friendly (and competitive) bake-off, to rubbish clearing in community spaces, to foodbank donations to the Southwark and Waterloo Food Banks, helping local people in crisis. Our work for four local schools and colleges has included supporting a tech-based project at Bosco College, giving three days of virtual work experience, and delivering a business studies GCSE project. 

Recent activities have included a transformational clear-up at Living Space Community Centre for the Bankside Open Spaces Trust – making it safer and more accessible for the community to use. One of the most popular regular events is helping the senior members of the community by hosting afternoon teas at Blackfriars Settlement – let’s say our Bingo calling skills are improving! With a Jubilee bake-off fundraiser and food bank donations, and a team participating in the Royal Parks Challenge in August to raise money for Save The Children, this year’s chosen charity – it’s going to be a very active summer. 

In addition, a number of the team attended a mental health first aid course, which means they are trained to be vigilant to notice and provide first support to those who may be struggling, within and outside our working spaces. It’s part of an ongoing process where we ensure that as a company we’re a supportive group of people. 

How to get involved in projects to help the local community 

Here are some suggestions which we’ve found helpful in establishing a volunteering programme: 

  • Do your research – Researching the local community is the first step, as it’s important to understand how we fit within the fabric of our society and what’s around us. We haven’t created all our allegiances overnight. A small start will quickly build.  
  • Give the team time – It’s important to make a commitment to ensuring that everyone has the time and resources they need to work towards their collective goals for contributing to the local community and enhancing workplace wellbeing. 
  • Make it voluntary – Allowing our team members to self-elect at the project outset ensured that the group was spearheaded by Ants who were passionate about volunteering. As we shared our events and successes, this encouraged more people to get involved, especially as we made sure our activities allowed everyone to play to their strengths.  
  • Be flexible – With a hybrid workstyle, we’ve adapted our volunteering activities to give everyone the freedom and time to get involved in ways that worked for them. Giving your time is by no means easy, balancing this with client deadlines and colleagues needing time, so we’re proud of our team for maintaining their support.  It’s great to be able to say that we’ve still had a huge team collectively supporting the in-London activities.  
  • Every contribution matters – There’s no set persona within the office team that supports – it’s something everyone likes to do. Some prefer to offer support through making donations, whether that’s clothing, food or money, while others are happy to host events and interact with the community, and we make sure they are able to get involved in a way that suits them.  
  • Start today! – It’s never too soon to start supporting. Each hour you can give makes a difference to people who really need it, and there are many online resources to help you get off the ground. 

Building a strong workplace culture

Almost the entire Red Ant team are actively involved in contributing something, and it’s now considered a part of our identity. Volunteering enriches our culture, it also provides unique opportunities for social and personal development, helps build better teams and adds a new dimension to each of the team’s purpose in their roles. Bottom line, volunteering makes work feel more worthwhile. In fact, 85% of our staff believe that PhilANThropy has a lot of impact and 92% agree our initiatives make them feel proud to work at Red Ant. 

I love that there’s a levelling out with volunteering and we get to know each other better whatever role we may have in the company, which promotes more effective collaboration for client work. it’s one of the reasons we were certified as a Great Place To Work this year, and now regularly comes up in both job interviews and client pitches. We’re connecting with and supporting our local community, ensuring our business practices are responsible, and building a workplace culture we’re truly proud of. 

About the author

Sarah FriswellAfter beginning her career in account management, Sarah followed the client relationship ladder all the way to the emerging digital landscape in Dubai, where she led major projects for leading global brands including IBM and Volvo. On her return to the UK, Sarah joined Red Ant where she applied her extensive experience of networked and independent tech-based businesses to drive the company forward in its pioneering work with high-profile brands such as Charlotte Tilbury, Furniture Village and Chalhoub Group. As Red Ant’s CEO, she is responsible for driving and guiding the business, from ensuring the company is run in a sustainable and ethical way to heading up talent selection and overseeing project progress and delivery to clients. She is particularly passionate about diversity, equality and encouraging the progression of women in what can be a tough industry, and has been instrumental in ensuring positive measures are part of Red Ant’s policies.   

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