Look deeper into boosting volunteerism

As well-intentioned as the endeavour may be, giving civil servants a day off to volunteer at charities of their choice may not spark true volunteerism ("Civil servants get 1 day off to volunteer at charities"; last Friday).

Individuals already working with non-profit groups on a regular basis may not require such arrangements, and encouraging a culture of volunteerism has to go beyond one day of leave or the symbolic adoption of 50 charities.

It may be useful to first ascertain the state of volunteerism among civil servants. How many are involved in community service, in what capacity, and what is the frequency of their engagements?

A representative survey could be useful. First, samples could be taken from other sectors to compare the rates of adult volunteerism in the country.

Second, the effectiveness of this new initiative in raising the rates of volunteerism can be measured through longitudinal surveys.

Third, in a more substantive manner, explanations for the inability or unwillingness of individuals to volunteer can be aggregated, which could influence how future policies are crafted.

For instance, if the lack of time and the need for more family time are cited as reasons, service projects with non-profit groups could be designed with the family in mind, involving members in different responsibilities at the same time.

Synergies could even be developed with schools, where the Values in Action programme is emphasised.

If the lack of information or companionship is the reason, then service sessions could be organised within departments.

With the growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility, companies in the private sector have also executed one-day efforts in the past, such as beach cleanups, visits to children's or nursing homes, or mass gift distribution exercises.

Criticism of such private-sector activities usually centres on the lack of sustainability as well as the inherent lack of interest among employees. The same could be said of the potential initiatives from the public sector, too.

Perhaps the notion that volunteering happens very much on a voluntary basis remains accurate and, unless the right motivation is given, the endeavour to give civil servants an extra day off for community service may yield little.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2015, with the headline 'Look deeper into boosting volunteerism'. Print Edition | Subscribe