ESV research – reflections from the Corporate Volunteering Network

The Corporate Volunteering Network (CVN) is a peer-to-peer networking group for individuals who work for charities and manage employee volunteering opportunities with their corporate partners.

As part of the Corporate Volunteering Network (CVN), we had the opportunity to contribute to the recently published NCVO research on employer-supported volunteering (ESV) (PDF, 1.5MB). This year, our members formed a research group to work alongside NCVO and bring additional insights and experience to their timely research piece. Volunteers from Guide Dogs, Shelter, Scope, Macmillan Cancer Support and One Westminster led the contributions, but all of our members and their networks played a role.

The report, which builds on NCVO’s Time Well Spent research, contains some interesting findings which we wanted to highlight and offer our perspective on.

Promoting a greater understanding of volunteering

The research found that charities and brokers need to support corporates to identify and address their primary motivations for ESV. Requests for resource-heavy and low-impact volunteering often stem from a lack of understanding of what volunteering is (it is frequently equated with teambuilding type tasks).

The CVN has often discussed the challenges around assisting with the types of practical or team volunteering corporates request and how sometimes charities need to have the confidence to just say ‘no’. However, through this research we can see that promoting a greater understanding of volunteering could help to change the perceptions of what’s involved, and therefore the types of requests received.

This could be done through educational pieces, thought leadership, working alongside corporates and their employees to better define ‘volunteering’, and understanding what counts as volunteering and what counts as teambuilding.

Building a more positive ESV culture

From influencing senior leaders to managing resources effectively and promoting a greater awareness of ESV, the internal processes and challenges across charities can make it very difficult to successfully deliver on ESV.

In our experience, case studies shared via internal comms are a fantastic way to build awareness, as is getting colleagues to think about how a company can support them in their work through volunteering. The research also found that for achieving a positive ESV culture (for charities and corporates), buy-in at multiple levels is a key feature, as well as having a committed lead who understands ESV.

Focusing on shared values driven by a strategy

The research recommends more time needs to be invested into charities and corporates finding common ground, learning where they can add value to one another. Corporates and charities need to work together to identify capabilities and skill gaps. Writing an ESV strategy that focuses on shared values will help to ensure that opportunities are impactful – the research highlighted that charities with an ESV strategy in place were 11% more likely to report positive impacts from such activity. However, this is something that should be approached collaboratively, involving stakeholders across the charity and relevant corporates.

The CVN have produced guidance on writing a strategy around ESV. Find them here:

Overall, it is important to have honest, upfront conversations between charities and companies. More specifically, charities should be clearer about what support they need to achieve their goals.

Rethinking measures of success

This has been a topic we have spoken about at length at CVN meetings with our peers from across the sector. The report suggests that challenging current impact reporting measures will help to refresh the way that the success of a volunteering programme is determined. For example, some companies have stopped reporting on volunteering hours as they found it superficial and unhelpful.

The report also suggests it’s a good idea to look at multiple types of impact – not just recording numbers but also making sure to showcase impact in other ways, eg through case studies and stories. Getting creative on the types of outcomes you to measure is likely to help bring programmes to life. Finally, more collaboration and support within and between sectors is critical; NCVO has seen some interest in developing an industry standard on the value of ESV, which the CVN would love to see.

What we’re planning next

This piece of research will be hugely valuable to the CVN and its members. It will help us to structure conversations in future meetings, and more practically in our roles and delivering on ESV day to day. Section 8 of this report provides some key recommendations on how charities, brokers and corporates might prepare ESV for the future and help to increase engagement. This is something the CVN will be exploring in more depth.

At the next quarterly CVN meeting, we will be discussing the key findings of this research further, what it could mean in practice and how we can help each other to begin to put in place key recommendations. If you’d like to attend a future CVN meeting, please visit our website and sign up to our mailing list.

We’re also ready to hand the reins over to the next generation of budding researchers to form a new CVN research group, so if this is something you’d be interested in please let us know by contacting Alex Feeney on


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