Hong Kong Study: Volunteering Improves Wellness, Self-esteem and Productivity

In a world of a health crisis, social unrest, and general every-day pressures, mental health is a global concern, and in Hong Kong, it's at its worst level in nearly 10 years. HandsOn Hong Kong and consumer research firm Nielsen undertook a study to examine what impact volunteering may have on well-being. Of the 524 volunteers surveyed, 82% reported reduced feelings of depression after volunteering and 86% of working respondents felt corporate volunteering "helps bind teams together".

While 70% of working respondents' companies organize volunteering for their employees, our audience expressed that staff awareness levels of these initiatives are often low. Michael Lee, Managing Director of Nielsen Hong Kong, advocated a top-down approach to promoting these programs where senior management leads by example. Download the research findings.


Crowdfunding in a crisis: Lessons learned

Full transparency: pre-COVID-19, HandsOn Hong Kong had pretty modest success with online donation appeals. In hindsight, we probably never embraced the collective spirit and conveyed the sense of urgency needed for successful Crowdfunding. Our appeals were usually quite vague and lacking a plan of action.

At the end of April HandsOn launched a COVID-19 appeal raising funds for relief Care Packages for vulnerable families and individuals including children with disabilities and their families, low income elderly, people with mental illness, vulnerable women, and other groups. Please click here to see the page. Service was of course at the heart of this effort with each pack ultimately being delivered or distributed by a caring volunteer.

We met our target within five days and by the end of our two-week campaign, we raised US$35,769 online plus an offline donation of US$96,153 from a foundation. Exceeding our original goal by 933%.

We learned many lessons along the way! We hope others may benefit from these too:

1. Focus on relief for the community—forget overhead's. Almost all charities are struggling and relying on donations, and many of us are also asking for these. To stand apart, focus your Crowdfunder 100% on relief—this will spotlight how critical your organization’s work is and ignite the interest of other funders. We adopted a 'build it and they will come' attitude with this campaign, trusting that the community of volunteers, corporate partners and foundations we fostered over the years would come through with the other kinds of funding support our team needs. For us, this seems to be the case.

2. Be incredibly specific. Our goal was to raise funds for at least 315 relief Care Packages for low-income households, based on those we knew needed immediate help. Each pack costs US$45 and is substantial enough for one week. We listed every single food and hygiene item we were including so donors could calculate the value for themselves. Interestingly, many donations came in these increments: $45, $225, $450.  

3. Have a plan of action. We had already lined up five partner charities with disadvantaged service users in need of food assistance and hygiene items. We also knew need how many packs these households needed right away. All this information was published on our Crowdfunding page and in our eDM appeal. As soon as our first packs were ready to be distributed we immediately began recruiting volunteers, including our donors.

4. Run your campaign for 2-4 weeks. Industry-standard for Crowdfunding appeals is four weeks but this is a crisis and needs are critical and immediate. For an appeal providing immediate sustenance, it might seem odd to run for longer than 2 weeks—if you need to raise funds covering rent for a shelter then 4 weeks makes sense.  We received donations throughout our 2-week campaign, peaking at around 1 week.  Using Stripe as our payment platform allowed us to receive funds and start purchasing relief items while our campaign was still running.

5. Thank your donors. Every single one of our donors received a carefully-crafted, personal email thanking them, sharing our progress and reminding them of the impact they were allowing us to make. We added them into our donation tracker sheet and the directors in our team took turns to send a batch of emails every four days. 

Photo credit: Kat Yukawa


Safely serving during a health crisis

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, communities have been struggling to provide protection and services to the disadvantaged groups they support due to limited staff and resources and the physical barriers of self-isolation and social distancing. This has left their service users without basic necessities and essential hygiene items and often quite literally isolated. More than ever, volunteers are needed to support the community's vulnerable but how can we empower them to play this role while ensuring their own safety?

1. Introduce virtual volunteering opportunities. Be creative to provide online service to people who are in need of mental, educational, or social support. HandsOn Hong Kong has utilized technology to connect our volunteers to people who are isolated--by the phone for vulnerable and Zoom to provide visual storytelling for hearing impaired children.

2. Provide skills-based volunteering as a way to serve remotely. With many people spending more time at home, it's valuable to connect skills-based volunteers with short-term projects that they can work on remotely. HandsOn Hong Kong put additional emphasis on our recruitment of volunteers with specialized skills, as a way to support nonprofits working through COVID-19 crisis-related planning, communications, or other projects while serving from home. We suggest 3-5 hours per week as being optimal for these opportunities. Please click here to see the recruitment page.

3. Encourage drives to raise basic food necessities and essential hygiene items.  Be a platform for sharing the community's needs with the people who want to help. When the crisis hit Hong Kong, we contacted our 100+ under-resourced charity partners' to establish their immediate needs and published these emergency itemsTends of thousands of these items have been directed to these charities. 

4. Develop a volunteer safety policy for in-person programs. Develop your volunteer safety policy based on local health authority guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Consider inviting medical professionals such as Medecins san Frontieres to review and input on the policy -- they were very happy to do so in Hong Kong. Here is HandsOn Kong's volunteer safety policy.Then implement all the off-line programs with your well-developed volunteer safety policy in place, strictly following several key points:

  • Limit the number of volunteers per program to allow for maintaining appropriate social distance
  • Conduct temperature checks on all volunteers
  • Provide masks for volunteers and distribute upon arrival, insisting that all comply
  • Invite volunteers to wash hands upon arrival and provide hand sanitizer for frequent cleaning throughout the program
  • It may seem obvious, but insist that volunteers do not attend if they feel sick or have a fever

2017 STUDY: Appealing to emotions to trigger repeat volunteering

1,000 Hong Kong citizens aged 15 to 54 took part in this October 2017 survey, sharing their views and habits regarding giving time. 70% of respondents said they would like to volunteer but less than a third of them had actually done any volunteering in the past 12 months. Michael Lee, MD of Nielsen identified 'time' and 'wanting to see my impact on society' as the biggest barriers and opportunities for driving participation. Carving out time for employees to volunteer during working hours would help address this as would showing people how their volunteering contribution can help affect change. Download the research findings.