Dave Thomas, Volunteering Development Officer at NCVS writes...
For many years, some employers from all sectors have been willing to give their staff paid time to take part in volunteering. Some voluntary and community organisations have embraced this and have involved volunteers effectively in this way. Others have found it very difficult, or even impossible, to engage with this kind of volunteering.
It’s a real shame that Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) isn’t universally seen as an integral part of the overall volunteering picture because those of us who haven’t embraced it really are missing out on long-term relationships that can offer skills and experience that last far longer than a day’s volunteering by a team of people.
But the fault isn’t only with those of us in the voluntary sector. So many teams of potential business volunteers get in touch at the last minute and want to turn up in a few days’ time with a large team.
Perhaps this is the key message that we need to get across to potential employee volunteers. We will be more likely to be able to involve volunteers if we are given enough notice.
When we develop a volunteer role, we have taken the time to work out all the details of how many bodies we can cope with, the tasks, the resources needed and the support that we can offer, etc. So a last minute request to accommodate 30 people to do – “well, anything really” – is unrealistic.
Or is it?
If we have a wish list of short-term or quick tasks that would be nice to get done, but not essential, could we pull out one of these when that last-minute offer comes in?
Team challenge or skills exchange
The one-day team volunteering event has long been the default model for ESV, but the employees will have skills from their jobs that may be of far more value to us in the voluntary sector than the value of that person picking litter, digging a garden or painting a wall.
Getting an accountant to look over our budget, an IT engineer to install update anti-virus software or an architect to come up with a redesign of a garden could give real impact in very little time. Could this kind of idea go on that wish list?
When an individual wants to volunteer with us, we ask about their skills. Why not ask employee volunteers the same questions?
One of my catchphrases is “Volunteers are not free”. We invest time, money, equipment, desk space and more in each volunteer role and in each individual volunteer. We also evaluate whether that investment is worthwhile. If it isn’t, we probably don’t offer that volunteer role.
ESV isn’t free either.
I recently learned that one organisation in Nottingham calculated that setting up a team volunteering day for a group of employees from an external organisation cost in the region of £300. So, should we expect that the organisation or the team that wants to volunteer meets that cost? It may come as a shock to them the first time they are asked, but do we, as a sector, need to stand firm on this?
Another of my catchphrases is “What’s in it for me?” from the volunteer’s point of view. A member of a team on a day out from work almost certainly has different motivation from an individual volunteer. Also, the employer has a reason for offering their staff some volunteering time. One such reason could be meeting a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goal.
If we in the volunteering community are meeting the needs of the employer and employees by offering a volunteering day or project, isn’t it reasonable for us to balance the value of their contribution of time and effort against the costs that we have?
Over to you
I’d love to have your thoughts about this area of volunteering. If you have positive experiences of corporate volunteering, or if you haven’t, if you’ve never tried or have always rejected the idea, or if you’ve been on the other side of Employer Supported Volunteering, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07564 040767