National Volunteering Forum: Employer-supported volunteering

A successfully-managed employer-supported volunteering (ESV) programme can be a fulfilling experience for everyone. This could be an employer encouraging their own staff to volunteer in their own time, or providing volunteering leave so that staff can volunteer in work time. It might be a formal ongoing partnership between a business and a charity or it might take the form of a one-off corporate team day.

But what does ‘good’ look like? How do we avoid the ‘bad’? How do we provide a meaningful volunteering experience that benefits all? What are the options, and what might the way forward for your organisation be?

On 23 October we brought together dozens of speakers and delegates from our sector and beyond to discuss all this and more at our National Volunteering Forum in Leeds.

Time Well Spent focused report: Employer-supported volunteering

To start the day, Véronique Jochum, NCVO’s head of research, presented the key findings from the Time Well Spent focused research report on ESV. Véronique’s presentation was jam-packed with interesting insights that challenged and inspired us in equal measure. You can read the full research report on the NCVO website and check out NCVO research manager Amy McGarvey’s blog post summarising what we learned.

Volunteer-involving organisations’ experiences of ESV

For the second session of the day, we heard from speakers from four volunteer-involving organisations, all with distinct approaches to ESV. Therri Tait, partnerships manager at Young Citizens UK, told us about how her organisation partners with corporates to recruit volunteers who give their time in schools as legal, media and economic experts. These volunteers work with small groups of young people to facilitate debate and discussion.

Tina Shelton, from North West Police Forces then spoke about the employer-supported policing (ESP) scheme which sees employers give paid leave to their staff who are special constables and police support volunteers. According to Tina, policing cannot be done by the police alone; it needs the involvement of local people and communities which is why ESP brings a distinct value to the police’s work. There are currently 310 employers participating in ESP and one in eight special constables give their time through the scheme.

We then heard about Leeds-based charity Hyde Park Source’s ESV projects: they work with over 300 volunteers each year across 30 projects. Pete Tatham, project co-ordinator, told us that one key challenge was that employer-supported volunteers often come with the expectation that their volunteering will be organised like their work life. However, Pete said that this attitude has actually helped them to improve the way they create their volunteering experiences.

Jonathan Williams of FareShare Yorkshire said that ESV has become an integral part of his organisation’s growth plans but made clear that to be a fulfilling experience overall, ESV has to work for both partners; the charity and the employer. According to Jonathan, one of the key benefits of ESV is that it brings together people from different backgrounds, people who may not come into contact with each other in day-to-day life.

Employers’ experiences of ESV

After lunch, two private sector employers told us about their experiences of ESV. Ian Allard from Mace Group told us how his company decided to get involved partly because construction as an industry has one of the lowest levels of employee wellbeing on average. Mace have now been involved in several ESV projects including helping a small charity in Tottenham to build a playground. All the materials used to construct the playground were surplus from nearby building sites and employer-supported volunteers from Mace provided the labour.

The second employer, Southern Water, engages with ESV in a range of ways. For example, volunteers have been involved in community gardening and helping out at a local hospice. Alex Willumsen, community and engagement officer, said that when asked about how they hope to engage with ESV, many of Southern Water’s employees say they hope to do something ‘meaningful’. However Alex told us that as an organisation they never attempt to curate what is meaningful for the employees as what is meaningful to one employee may be meaningless to the next.

Brokers’ experiences of ESV

For the final session of the day, three brokerage organisations described their experiences of being involved in brokering employer-supported volunteering roles. Gary Blake from Voluntary Action Leeds said they had become involved in ESV primarily to bring additional skills, capacity and experience to the voluntary sector. He said one of the main challenges was that well-intentioned companies sometimes get in touch wanting to help the community, but expect charities to subsidise the costs for them and only give very short notice.

We then heard from Ben Darlington from Benefacto. He told us that they support small charities with ESV and support companies to understand charities and encourage them to get their employees to volunteer. One interesting takeaway from Ben’s presentation was that he grouped employer-supported volunteers into three categories:

  • ‘Grafters’ who help with food banks, community gardens and soup kitchens
  • ‘Charmers’ who engage with social clubs and in front-of-house roles
  • ‘Coaches’ who are involved in roles related to employability, IT and languages

Finally, Chelsie Riley from Business in the Community gave some pointers about what she think makes an effective ESV partnership. These included:

  • having ground rules that are understood by both partners
  • a safe environment for operating in
  • managed expectations
  • clear responsibilities.

See you next time!

Thanks to all the speakers and delegates for a lively and productive day of discussion, learning and networking. If you would like to share any of your own experiences of ESV then we’d be delighted to hear from you. You can get in touch with me at Charles.Gillies@ncvo.org.uk .

You can access all the slides from the day via Slideshare and make sure to check out the hashtag #VolForum to see more of what was discussed on the day.

We run our National Volunteering Forums three times a year across England. You can see previous topics we’ve covered here. The next forum will take place on Monday 9 March 2020 in London – the theme for this forum is yet to be decided. These events are always really popular and sell out quickly, so make sure to sign up to updates from the volunteering team so we can let you know when tickets have been released.

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Charlie Gillies Charlie is a trainee volunteering development policy officer at NCVO, supporting NCVO's volunteering policy work. He has been volunteering since childhood in various roles, including at a community development charity working with the eastern European Roma community in Glasgow, as an adviser at a Citizens Advice bureau, and as a Scout leader.

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