Employee volunteering proposals would be good for business

It’s a shame to see the Conservatives’ proposal for employee volunteering leave has been bashed by the Institute of Directors, but I’m pleased the CBI among others have been more thoughtful and welcomed the idea.

Far from being a burden on business, supporting staff to volunteer has substantial benefits for employers, as more and more are realising. We’ve seen a near doubling of the number of employees taking advantage of employer-organised volunteering schemes in recent years, as they are offered by a growing number of businesses.

Forward-thinking businesses recognise the benefits to their own bottom line that volunteering schemes can generate. Staff gain new skills and confidence from their time volunteering. Whether it’s doing something completely different to their day job and gaining energy and enthusiasm, or using their professional skills in a new context.

Surveys show, understandably, that work commitments are the biggest barrier to people volunteering. But many charities desperately need more volunteers, and it would be good for us all if more of us were able to volunteer. The Scouts, for example, have waiting lists of children who would like to join, but do not have enough of the volunteer leaders needed to accommodate them.

Skilled volunteering

Employee volunteering needn’t, and often shouldn’t be, about spending skilled employees’ time on painting a community centre, as the cliché goes. Our own scheme launched last year to match high-flying employees with charities who need board-level trustees has already placed dozens of employees from Barclays, Mischon de Reya and others with charities in need of trustees. These companies buy in because they recognise the benefits to be gained.

Extra help for the public sector, not a drain on it

As for the proposals being a burden on the public sector – again, they’d be a boon. We need more and more people to volunteer in our public services if we’re to expect the same, or better, standards of services that we’re used to, while faced with restricted spending and growing needs. Around 80,000 people volunteer in acute hospital trusts alone in England. King’s College Hospital in London is often cited as best practice here. Its hundreds of volunteers support patients during their stay or in their homes and free up clinical staff time. We need to see such schemes expanded, and anything we can do to support that will help our public services.

Many public sector employers already support staff to volunteer because they recognise the benefits it can bring – staff development, job satisfaction, and closer links with local communities are just a few of the advantages.

An opportunity for businesses

So I hope businesses will take this as an opportunity to do something positive – link with a local charity to get employees volunteering and see how much there is for them to gain.

(In the interests of full disclosure – NCVO staff get five days of volunteering leave, which I encourage them to take. I use mine to volunteer for a charity that works with London’s football clubs to support young people in their local areas.)

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Stuart Etherington Sir Stuart Etherington has been chief executive of NCVO since 1994.

2 Responses to Employee volunteering proposals would be good for business

  1. Rob Jackson says:

    Yes, this would be good for business. But only if the scheme, should it be introduced, recognises that employee volunteering needs proper brokerage and good volunteer management, none of which is free.

    The danger is that on the one hand employers will start looking for group volunteering opportunities with charities and, on the other, that charity managers will take these offers onboard with little or no concept of how much work is involved in delivering a good volunteering experience in such initiatives. This was pointed out recently in an excellent article from the Boston Globe.

    Local infrastructure provides a key brokerage role for ESV initiatives but have been chronically under supported by the last government. Many are simply unable to deliver these services anymore.

    Without proper investment in good quality volunteer brokerage and management this is an idea that will never realise it’s full potential. I sincerely hope that the newly rebranded, even more pro-volunteering NCVO, will point this out to the Conservatives so that, should they win the election, we end up with a scheme that will actually work not be doomed to failure.

    • Karen Weaver says:

      Completely agree with you Rob; I heard the interview this morning with Eric Pickles and had exactly the same thoughts. Everyone is keen to jump on the volunteering bandwagon as the solution to so many of the challenge we face but hardly anyone is prepared to pay for it. It is not just a “supply side” issue it is an infrastructure issue and volunteer centres across the country are seriously under-resourced and under pressure. We must use this opportunity to make a better case for core funding or this will just be another garden clearance/shed painting gimic.