Looking at the future of employer-supported volunteering

Today, as we celebrate the corporate, skills-based and employer-supported day of Volunteers’ Week, we’re launching our NCVO research report on employer-supported volunteering (ESV) – or corporate volunteering as it’s also known. This is the first of our focused reports that dig deeper into some key themes from Time Well Spent, our major piece of research on the volunteer experience. For this report, we were delighted to work in partnership with the Corporate Volunteering Network (CVN), a peer network of charities and brokers involved in ESV.

A few months back, I wrote a blog post about some of the findings from Time Well Spent which had sparked our interest in looking further into this area, and what we were aiming to find out. Since then, we’ve done further analysis of the Time Well Spent data to look deeper into the volunteer perspective. We’ve been reading what some of the literature has to say and, importantly, speaking to a variety of volunteer-involving organisations, employers and brokers about their experiences of ESV.

Why now?

We know that much has been said already about ESV, so our report aims to build on previous research in two main ways:

  • Giving an updated picture of ESV: a flurry of research was done around 2015, when it drew more political interest, but how have things progressed (or not) since then? What are the effects of the changing volunteering landscape and wider societal shifts (for instance, more flexible working)? And if things haven’t changed, what are the barriers to ESV moving forward?
  • Shedding light on the volunteer perspective: previous research has tended to focus more on the relationships between the organisations involved in managing and delivering ESV, and their experiences, but what about volunteers themselves? Drawing on our Time Well Spent research, we wanted to see things from a 360° point of view, making sure to include the volunteer’s perspective.

What we learned

We learned more than can be fit into this short blog post, but a few key things stood out:

The need for greater focus on the volunteer

It is apt that we launch this report in the week that we’re focused on recognising and celebrating the invaluable contributions of volunteers. Our findings suggest that the volunteer experience in ESV plays a key role and needs to be considered more. We see from successful examples of ESV that investing in the volunteer experience leads to benefits for the organisations they help and their beneficiaries, employers who support and encourage them, and the volunteers themselves.

Yet, we see that ESV volunteers don’t just report lower levels of satisfaction, they are also more likely to feel like their volunteering could be better organised, is too bureaucratic and feels too much like paid work compared with non-ESV volunteers. While there are likely to be several reasons for this, the findings indicate that one may be that volunteer-involving organisations need to re-direct more of their focus – which has typically centred on employer-relationships – to ESV volunteers themselves. Employers could also do more to be less prescriptive (eg about how employees give their time) and enable volunteers to participate in ways that feel more personal and more meaningful to them.

Motivations matter

The findings on the experience of ESV volunteers highlight how important motivations are. As the starting point of involvement, motivations can also determine whether ESV flourishes or fails.

Looking at motivations from the perspective of everyone involved shows that all have a common aim of wanting to make a difference. However, volunteers, volunteer-involving organisations and employers also have a range of other individual motivations which can shape the way they participate – and what they prioritise. This can lead to tensions and negative perceptions, and instances of high resource/low impact ESV (still too commonly reported). However, where there is focus on common purpose and shared values, ESV works best.

Addressing internal challenges

Our findings highlight that it is often internal challenges within organisations (whether volunteer-involving organisations or employers) that pose the biggest barriers to moving forward. It also shows that many of these barriers are shared across all organisations – for instance, ESV is rarely considered a priority.

Much of the work in making ESV successful is about volunteer-involving organisations and employers working together, but our findings suggest that perhaps the first step is to ensure ESV has a place and a purpose within their own organisations. This might be through volunteer-involving organisations identifying their own needs, employers promoting a clear understanding of what volunteering is and isn’t, or for both organisations, ensuring the measures of success focus not just on numbers, but on impact too. Ensuring that ESV is driven by a dedicated strategy, is supported by organisational structures and has buy-in at different levels is also essential in helping it to move forward.

What’s next

The full findings from the report can be found on our main Time Well Spent page. At the end of the report, we have included a table of questions for organisations to consider to help prepare ESV for the future. In the coming weeks, there will be a series of guest blogs responding to the findings from the Corporate Volunteering Network and from the employer perspective. We’ll also be considering what the implications are for policy.

The next in the series of focused Time Well Spent reports will be on volunteering and public services, which will be published towards the end of this year.

For any questions or comments about this ESV report or next research on volunteering and public services, please email me at amy.mcgarvey@ncvo.org.uk.

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Amy McGarvey Amy works as a Senior Research Officer and is leading on NCVO’s major piece of research about the volunteer experience. She also contributes to other parts of NCVO’s research programme on voluntary sector and volunteering.

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