Employer-Supported Volunteering: What can research tell us about Election 2015 policies?

Over the next few weeks the NCVO Research Team plans to look at election policies relevant to the voluntary sector and volunteering, then blog with any relevant research and evidence.

We’d been waiting for a major sector-related policy announcement. Lo and behold, last week the Conservatives announced a commitment to boost employer-supported volunteering.

So, finally, the NCVO Research Team can launch its series of election policies blogs…

What is the employer-supported volunteering policy announcement?

The Conservative Party have announced plans to give people three days’ paid leave a year for employer-supported volunteering. The details are still a bit sketchy. The Conservative Party manifesto states:

‘…we will make volunteering for three days a year a workplace entitlement for people working in large companies and the public sector. People could, for example, volunteer for a local charity, or serve as a school governor.’

Significantly – bearing in mind the stats on low rates of employer-supported volunteering in small businesses below – the policy will only apply to public and private organisations with more than 250 employees.

So, what exactly is employer-supported volunteering?

Volunteering England (now part of NCVO) defined ESV in the following way (PDF, 218KB):

‘Employer-Supported Volunteering provides employees the opportunity to volunteer with support from their employer, whether this is in the form of time off for individual volunteering or in a programme developed by the employer such as a team challenge event or ongoing arrangement with a community partner.’

At NCVO we get five days a year to do this. What is your own organisation’s policy?

What’s the evidence of ESV’s impact?

We have previously researched individual ESV schemes, including the BT Troubleshooters programme (PDF, 245KB) and the Barclays employee volunteering programme (PDF, 282KB).

More generally, our colleague Kristen succinctly highlighted three main benefits of ESV: connecting business to community, developing future leaders, and giving staff a better experience. A recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report (PDF, 402KB) also explores ESV’s value for employees and employers.

One way of assessing the impact of a company’s ESV scheme in the UK is the London Benchmarking Group (LBG) model (see McBain and Jones, 2005, Employer-supported volunteering – the guide). The model explores the impact on three areas – charity donations, social or community investment, and commercial initiatives – allowing a monetary value to be placed on the ‘input’ cost to the company and the ‘output’ to society from the scheme.

Challenges around ESV include: the time it can take to facilitate, loss of working time, and the resource requirements on those organisations providing the opportunity and infrastructure organisations brokering the opportunities (if applicable). For example, the conclusions of a recent CSV report (PDF, 335 KB) included that ‘increased communication and understanding is needed, for example, regarding expectations and realities of [ESV]’. Gaps in current provision and the importance of infrastructure were also outlined in a recent NCVO guest blog.

How many people currently participate in employer-supported volunteering?

Now that’s an interesting question! It is hard to identify precise recent figures, but it appears to be somewhere between a quarter and a third of employees. Going back a few years, according to previous IVR research, participation grew from 16% in 1997 to 36% in 2007 (PDF, 825KB). Around the same time the Citizenship Survey (PDF, 1.93MB) contained questions on ESV. It indicated that in 2008/09 a quarter of employees were offered a scheme by their employer, with 43% of those offered a scheme taking part (at least once in the last year).

Overall, previous work by NatCen and the Insititute for Volunteering Research (PDF, 825 KB), and the CSV report referenced above, suggest that:

  • approximately 70% of FTSE 100 companies already have an ESV programme (see Rochester et al, 2006, Measuring the impact of employer supported volunteering, an exploratory study)
  • 23% of private sector organisations overall have an ESV scheme
  • 20% of employees of medium and 14% of employees of small businesses have an ESV scheme
  • 33% of public sector organisations have an ESV scheme.

Another analysis of the Citizenship Survey (PDF, 195KB) suggests that people from higher socio-economic groups and with higher incomes are more likely to participate in ESV schemes, although people from all backgrounds participate if offered the opportunity.

But what about more recent, post-downturn and post-cuts data? Initial analysis at NCVO of the Community Life Survey (as part of its annual Almanac) indicates rates of ESV have increased over the last five years.

You’re going to say it needs further research aren’t you?

How did you guess? There is plenty of research out of there, although some of it is pre-recession and pre-public sector spending cuts, so it will be interesting to see what the current landscape looks like.

In addition to the ongoing analysis of the Community Life Survey data at NCVO, the Institute for Volunteering Research (part of the NCVO research team) has also been commissioned by CIPD to look at ESV. We’ll be particularly focusing on where we think the gaps in research are, such as the experience of small to medium enterprises, and also the experience of businesses/host charities outside of London. We’ll be publishing the results in the summer, so watch this space…

Additional material provided by Matt Hill and Gareth Lloyd.

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Andy Curtis Andy Curtis is senior research officer at NCVO's Institute for Volunteering Research. Andy has worked in research roles in the education and non-profit sectors for over ten years.

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