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IT volunteer group offers support for corporate social responsibility

IT4Communities, which last month celebrated five years of helping IT professionals to volunteer their expertise to local charities, is seeking to boost its activities by encouraging more corporate involvement.

Launched in November 2002 by the Information Technologists Company with the support of Computer Weekly, IT4Communities acts as a clearing house and a source of advice for IT professional volunteers and the charities they help. It has brought much needed structure to the process of volunteering, and several hundred projects have been successfully completed, with the help of 4,800 IT volunteers.

IT4Communities is looking to offer the benefits of its experience to encourage IT directors and their corporate IT departments to extend their team-building and corporate social responsibility activities.

"By encouraging employee volunteering, there are many general benefits to companies," said John Davies, programme director at IT4Communities. "By volunteering their IT skills to local charities and community projects, staff get to experience very different organisational cultures.

"Research suggests that employee volunteering is at least as effective as formal training in developing communication skills. Working with a small charity where staff have no technical background provides a real-life test of an employee's ability to listen to and communicate in a working environment."

Davies said staff also gain experience in developing the big-picture perspective. "Many IT professionals spend their working lives focusing on small elements of large projects. Working with a charity on a project where the volunteer is responsible for everything from the initial statement of requirements to the final sign off, gives employees a perspective of the overall project, which can enhance their effectiveness in their everyday work," he said.

Other corporate benefits for encouraging IT volunteering include improving staff morale and positive public relations for organisations.

Since its launch, IT4Communities has grown steadily in the value of its services, which currently contribute skills that would otherwise be costing charities £660,000 a year.

"Without the help of IT4Communities these organisations would have to pay professionals to provide IT services. This helps the charities to operate more efficiently, which in turn ensures that a greater proportion of the funds raised go directly to their intended beneficiaries, rather than being spent on administration," said Davies.


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