Why aren’t our staff volunteering? The three reasons why

Linz-Darlington-of-BenefactoLinz Darlington, chief executive of Benefacto, founded the Community Interest Company in 2012 while working as a consultant at Accenture. The sole aim of Benefacto is to get more professional people to take up their employee volunteering days and contribute time to the community. It is currently supporting around 35 small London based charities by providing them with volunteers enlisted from a number of corporate firms.

Solving the right problem

I get to see every day how employee volunteers can add weight to the services the third sector delivers to the community, so my heart literally skipped a beat when David Cameron pledged to offer 15m professional people time to volunteer.

But the reality is, even if the Prime Minister follows through with his promise, he’ll be solving the wrong problem.

Lots of corporate firms already recognise the business case for volunteering and collectively already give millions of workers paid time off to volunteer. The problem is that people aren’t participating in these schemes – last year the London Benchmarking Group reported that for their member firms the average staff participation in volunteering was 24%.

Another way of looking at it is that if 24% (and our experience is that this number is often much lower!) of people are volunteering, that means the squeezed third sector is failing to receive 76% of the valuable employee time which is being pledged by corporate firms.

What’s going wrong?

Since starting Benefacto I’ve spoken to well over one hundred corporate social responsibility and human resources practitioners across London and three common themes appear as obstacles to inspiring a workforce to volunteer.

Choice

People get inspired by charities and causes they can empathise and connect with – charity is a personal thing. At least as important is the variety of capacities in which staff can help out – not everyone feels confident volunteering to assist with team building or standing up in front of a class of kids.

This doesn’t mean a company shouldn’t have a charity of a year partnership, but if it wants engagement to rise it should supplement these flagship engagements with a broader range of opportunities to pique the interests of its workforce.

Convenience

We live in a culture that engenders long working hours and professional people are often very busy. The issues are finding opportunities to volunteer that fit around professional life, and addressing the high-friction process of organising volunteering.

Living in the age of the smartphone, we expect instant gratification from apps and online services. Finding and choosing volunteering opportunities needs to be as quick and easy as buying something on Amazon or ordering a takeaway on a Friday night. And critically opportunities need to be possible at short notice.

Culture

If only encouraging staff to volunteer in the community was as simple as sending a few emails.

In order to get people volunteering, they not only need to know how to volunteer and where they can help out, they also need to be aware of the difference they’ll make, the skills that they’ll develop and that they’ll be supported by their boss.

A big nut to crack is middle management. It is accountable for targets and loses staff to volunteering. But you’ll need to achieve buy in of both senior management and line managers if you want your workforce to feel comfortable leaving the office to volunteer.

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