Employees want to participate in volunteering schemes

If you read nothing else, read this . . .

• Volunteering days are becoming an important part of employers’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes.
• Employers should set goals for the organisation before embarking on a volunteering programme.
• A broker can help employers find the most worthy cause and best cultural fit for the organisation.
• Longer-term partnerships with community organisations will be more fulfilling for both parties.

As more employees are keen to take part in volunteering activities, employers have much to gain from launching schemes, says Tom Washington

Corporate social responsibility comes in many forms, but there’s nothing like employees physically going into the community to make a difference themselves. Volunteering days, unlike other initiatives, such as fund-raising, enable staff to come face-to-face with the cause they are supporting.

Beverly Frain, director at volunteering and training charity CSV, which acts as a broker between organisations and corporate clients, says volunteering is escalating in popularity. “We have previously always worked with large organisations such as blue-chip utility firms, but this year we have lots of different types of client coming to us from varied industries,” she says.

The catalyst for employers getting involved in volunteering can arise in different ways. Frain says that at many organisations, staff proactively ask their employers to set up such a scheme. “Graduates and other young employees now expect to work for an employer that engages with the community, whether through charitable giving or an actual volunteering scheme,” she says.

Gennie Franklin, employee volunteering director at Business in the Community (BITC), says volunteering schemes enable employers to motivate staff and help them learn new skills in a different way. “It’s a fun thing to do,” she says. “We know it improves loyalty to employers and improves perception of the organisation in its local community and in the job market.”

In some circumstances, employers even opt to get their clients or supply chain involved in volunteering in order to build better relationships.

At law firm Eversheds, staff take part in a wide range of volunteering activities. Margot King, the company’s head of corporate responsibility, says: “Volunteering is very much encouraged, but we don’t mandate it. Each lawyer is given 50 hours a year to either volunteer in the community or offer pro bono legal advice during work hours.”

Give and gain

As part of BITC’s Give and Gain Day, which is held each June, 330 Eversheds staff took part in volunteering internationally.

“The majority of people volunteered either at community organisations or took part in environmental activities,” says King. “One team in London helped at a nature conservation project and were involved in cleaning out a pond to make it more environmentally sound and encourage wildlife. Our team in Ipswich cleaned a mile-long stretch of beach and cleared 55kg of rubbish.”

Franklin and Frain agree that it is vital for employers to set some internal goals before launching a volunteering scheme. What kind of charity to support, how many employees to involve and how many days a year it will take up are all questions that need to be discussed.

Frain says: “When I first speak to clients, often they don’t really know what they want other than knowing it would be a good thing to be involved in. So often we’ll run maybe one or two events and they get a feel for what it is like. Over time, we will work with them to develop the programme they want.”

King says building long-term relationships should be the top objective. “We have long-term relationships with local schools where staff regularly support reading as well as careers activities,” she says. “This way, you really get a mutually beneficial relationship and you can offer more.”

Read more on volunteering schemes for employees