Why employer-supported volunteering?

The answer to this question is obvious – evidence and experience tells us so

It has a positive impact, for individuals, for businesses and for communities, benefits that should transcend party politics. Our chief executive has hit back at some of the criticism of the Conservative announcement earlier today.

Yes, of course you have to get the management and the structure of the scheme right but if you do it can have a significant impact. For more on the existing evidence, you will be able to read Andy Curtis’ round-up of what we know from the research and data on ESV (coming soon on this blog).

Let’s not forget in the midst of election fever that this isn’t new. The reality is that lots of businesses are already enabling and encouraging staff to volunteer in a range of ways and have been doing so for a while now. Some even look to multiply the impact, beyond just a contribution of time. Sainsbury’s for example operate a Local Heroes scheme that donates £5 for every hour volunteered with a local charity or community group. They are already involved because they recognise the benefits.

The top three benefits

1. Connecting businesses to the community

If we are to address some of the most significant challenges we face in our communities we need an approach that doesn’t see the boundaries between sectors. ESV is one way of helping to encourage more partnership working, and mobilisation of people’s skills, knowledge and expertise. Lots of schemes set up by businesses aim to do this.

Barclay’s 12,000 Digital Eagles is providing help in communities with IT. This is ultimately also good for their brand. The business is seen as being part of solutions to the challenges communities face, and as connecting directly with the customers in a relationship that is not about a financial transaction. A powerful thing and something that customers now expect from big business.

2. Developing future leaders

Supporting staff to volunteer can be an effective and economic way to develop emerging leaders in organisations. If you can’t offer them a step up in their current role, you can help them work towards it by enabling them to take on a leadership role as a volunteer. Trusteeship is perhaps the most obvious example of this and at NCVO we have seen the benefits of this directly through our Step on Board programme. There are of course other leadership roles that can do this too. Some organisations supporting young people, the Scouts for example, have a waiting list of young people who want to get involved but local groups are struggling to find enough adult leaders.

For the employee, volunteering experience puts them in an excellent position to go on to their next role. A CIPD survey asked HR professionals what the top three skills entry-level candidates with volunteering experience demonstrate. They said teamwork (82%), communication (80%) and an understanding of the local community (45%).

3. Giving staff a better experience

We know that volunteers experience a number of benefits; enjoyment, satisfaction and achievement, meeting people and making friends, broadening life experience, boosting confidence, reducing stress, improving physical health and learning new skills (Helping Out survey 2006/7). What employer wouldn’t want to provide their staff with access to this?

This better experience puts employers in a much better position with regard to retention and reducing sick leave.

If staff are keen to volunteer allowing staff to do is a way for employers to demonstrate they hold the same values they do and shared values is always a good foundation for effective relationships.

In the spotlight

All the discussion today has shined a spotlight on ESV and rightly so. With or without a change in legislation it will continue to be an important bridge between the private public sector and communities and an important part of the CSR strategies of businesses. I hope that at the very least the announcement encourages employers to reflect on their approach to volunteering.

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Kristen is NCVO’s Volunteer Management and Good Practice Manager. She’s interested in raising the profile of volunteer management as a profession, and the development of approaches which can help volunteering deliver for people, organisations and communities.

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