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How Small and Medium Enterprises Engage in Employer-Supported Volunteering: Q&A with Katherine Scott

By Volunteer Canada at 11:05 am Wednesday, May, 18 2016 • 0 Comments

Katherine Scott is the Vice-President of Research and Policy at the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD), a not-for-profit organization that partners and collaborates with all sectors and communities to advance solutions to today’s toughest social challenges. She will be at the In Good Company community building forum, on June 9 in Toronto, to moderate a panel on how small and medium sized enterprises (SME) define employer-supported volunteering (ESV). The panel will include representatives from a SME and a non-profit organization to discuss how they have achieved a partnership for successful community engagement.

Leading up to the Forum, Volunteer Canada asked Katherine about the different challenges SMEs face when engaging in ESV, and how their approaches to ESV differ from larger companies.

Q: How do SMEs define ESV? Does that definition differ from what we traditionally understand ESV to be?

A: Much of literature on ESV does not capture the experiences of SMEs in any systematic way. Indeed, some in the SME sector don’t consider support for volunteering or corporate giving as a separate activity. Rather they see it as a part of their day-to-day activities and management of the business. 

Concepts like “caring”, “integrity” and “engagement” have greater resonance with small and medium-sized firms. One key informant said: “If you talk about the content of a socially responsible business – integrity, reputation, caring for employees, building relationships, community engagement – that is [understood as] an everyday part of SME life.”

Q: What are the primary challenges faced by SMEs wanting to engage employees in volunteerism?

A: Following up on the previous point, language can be a significant barrier, first, to getting a good sense of what is actually happening at the community level among SMEs, and second, to connecting with SMEs to support and deepen their community engagement work.

Furthermore, most of the existing tools and guidelines are designed for large business organizations and are of limited relevance to SMEs. There is a lack of readily available information on ESV or other corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities among SMEs and the potential impact of this work for their operations and the larger community.

Q: Are there any advantages to ESV programs enjoyed by SMEs that larger companies may be missing out on?

A: While large firms tend to pursue more formalized approaches to ESV, the pattern among SMEs is more ad hoc and sporadic. SMEs are often moved by particular events or circumstances or the specific concerns of an owner or manager.
The up side of this approach is that SME can be nimble and quickly respond to community need. They don’t have multiple layers of bureaucracy in place.

However, because SMEs are covering off business tasks with fewer staff, they have less time and fewer resources to dedicate to community engagement in the first place. It can be a real challenge to carve out company time and resources for community investment activities.

Hear more on the topic of SMEs and ESV programs at
In Good Company: A Community Building Forum For Businesses and Non-Profits 
June 8-9, in Toronto, Ontario.
Register today at: