​As originally published in Foundation Magazine.

It takes more than inspiring speeches and altruistic plans to make an impact. Genuine change – the kind that betters lives and builds communities – requires people who are willing (and able) to commit their time, resources, and talents to making that change happen.

The importance of volunteering is not lost on Canadians. In 2018, Statistics Canada took a snapshot of volunteer activity in the country and found that almost 8 in 10 Canadians (aged 15 and older) volunteered and gave five billion hours of their time to make the country a better place. As Social Impact Leader with KPMG in Canada, I have witnessed colleagues across the country dedicate their energies to social justice initiatives, charitable fundraisers, and life-changing community programs. Their work varies greatly, but these individuals share a common understanding that change can only happen with people who are willing to put in the work.

Organizations also thrive in a culture of volunteerism. In my experience, people who feel empowered by their employers to make a difference in their community experience personal growth by learning new skills, forming new community relationships, and gaining diverse perspectives on pressing issues. As a result, they come to work with a greater sense of place and purpose, serving as sources of inspiration and morale among their peers. Moreover, volunteers are the beating heart of an organization's community ESG commitments, and instrumental in forging community relations at the ground level. For these reasons and more, KPMG's Social Impact Strategy is designed to create a purpose-led and values-driven culture for our people, one in which individuals can find the inspiration and supports to make a difference in issues and causes that matter most to them.

The case for volunteering has always been clear. But the reality of the last few years has made traditional volunteering very difficult. Much has happened since Statistics Canada conducted its volunteer survey in 2018. That includes a global pandemic which put a quick and decisive end to in-person volunteer activities on its arrival and continues to make it difficult for former volunteers to return. As referenced in a 2021 Foundation Magazine article, studies like Human Resources Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian Charities and Nonprofits (by Charity Village and the Portage Group) also show that two-thirds of charities and nonprofits (64%) surveyed have experienced a decrease in the number of volunteers since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, and 26% of these lost over 75% of their volunteers in a year.

KPMG is not immune to this trend. Over the past two years, our volunteers have also been challenged to maintain their community work amid public health restrictions, economic pressures, and shifting priorities. So while I am extremely proud and grateful to report in Our Impact Plan: Canada that some 1,180 Canadian team members dedicated more than 36,000 volunteer and pro bono hours in 2021, I know growing that impact will not come easy. To that end, I believe anything an organization can do to promote and empower volunteerism among its ranks will benefit all.

Lighting the spark

Volunteerism thrives when people have support to explore their passions. Organizations play an important role in providing that support; and within our halls, KPMG has found the following strategies to be the most impactful:

  • Flexible workdays. Volunteering takes time, and for many people, finding the extra hours outside of a typical work day can be tough. Here's where organizations can ease the crunch by enabling people to negotiate work schedules that allow them to volunteer while still delivering on their responsibilities.
  • Financial incentives. There are different ways an organization can financially support its people's volunteer work. For example, through KPMG's Financial Support for Volunteering program, our people can apply for a donation to a Canadian not-for-profit or charitable organization as recognition for the hours they volunteer.
  • Pro bono. KPMG is investing $500,000 in pro bono services to support projects led by Indigenous organizations that will have an impact on the protection of nature and biodiversity. These projects will be supported by KPMG people by using their skills and passion.
  • Continuous learning opportunities. In addition to financial incentives and support, there is value in providing volunteers with additional training and education resources. Learning about the issues and the tangible impact of their volunteer work inspires volunteers to do more and derive more meaning from their efforts.
  • Internal opportunities. Provide ways at work for people to apply their skills and passion while also advancing the firm's social, environmental and Inclusion, Diversity and Equity commitments (e.g., participating in KPMG's Green Champions Network, Leaders of Tomorrow Circle, Sustainability Committees, People Networks, etc.).
  • Using technology. Volunteer platforms can make it easier to coordinate, track, and measure volunteer activities across an entire workforce. We’re implementing an application that will help to connect our people with volunteering opportunities and provide deeper insights on activities across the country. It contains a hybrid of in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities in a variety of community organizations and causes, as well as opportunities to volunteer for internal social impact and environmental committees, and information on sessions to learn more about community issues and organizations.
  • Team building. For some, volunteering is more fun and approachable in numbers, particularly as employees are coming back to the office. Over the years, our firm has found that using volunteer activities as team-building events gets people interested in volunteering or opens their minds to volunteer opportunities they had not considered.
  • Shining a spotlight. Part of supporting volunteers is celebrating their work. We have experienced success doing so in our annual KPMG Impact Awards. In 2022, we presented 47 national and regional awards to more than 160 individuals and team members across our firm, and donated $70,000 towards the award recipients’ charities of choice to help advance their mission.
  • Sharing stories. Sharing volunteer stories and successes (e.g., internal communications, town halls, newsletters, and social platforms) drives volunteer engagement and inspires other team members to follow suit, as well as inspire others outside our firm.

Organizations can also lay the groundwork for volunteering activities by forming national or local community alliances. In 2019, for example, KPMG joined forces with Food Banks Canada to pilot volunteer tax preparation clinics in which KPMG people help food bank users file their taxes and obtain available government supports, as part of the Canada Revenue Agency’s Community Volunteer Income Tax Program. In addition, KPMG teams did pro bono work to help streamline the tax filing intake process and created the technology platform to accommodate virtual volunteering for KPMG people and community volunteers, which was particularly beneficial during the pandemic. Meanwhile, 2022 marked a significant year for this program. Through our support of the initiative, tax clinics in Saskatoon, Mississauga, Windsor, and White Rock, returned $18.2 million to people in the local community ꟷ and completed 4,492 tax returns, doubling the impact from 2021.

Another example is KPMG’s Greater Vancouver Area office and First Book Canada working together for the Family for Literacy program in which firm volunteers gift a book to every student at a participating elementary school and join them for a day reading in their classrooms. Initiatives like these and others throughout our more than 40 offices across Canada are making real impacts, and they all began with identifying a social need and matching it with our people’s skills or passion.

Each journey is unique

The upsides of volunteering are hard to dismiss. Even so, creating and maintaining a workplace where people are inspired and empowered to make a difference outside of their jobs is no small ask – especially in a time when finding individuals to fill paid job positions can be a challenge unto itself. I hope that by sharing our volunteer stories and engagement strategies, I can help effect change beyond KPMG's doors.

Heather Baker, FCPA, FCA, is Canadian Managing Partner, Quality and Risk Management and Social Impact Leader, KPMG in Canada.

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