A Quarter Century Of Corporates Giving Back To Communities

19/10/2016 14:54

25 years of volunteering. A million hours of employee time given by 160,000 employees. £40 million of company time invested in high impact social action volunteer programmes, helping 192,000 beneficiaries.

So, those are the raw numbers behind the 25 years of employee volunteering by Volunteering Matters and our corporate partners. The volunteers work in teams, and on a one-to-one basis, to support disadvantaged people across the UK. The beneficiaries include school children being tutored in English and Maths, unemployed people receiving training on CV writing and interview techniques, and disabled people being offered work experience opportunities at a range of national organisations.

But those impressive numbers don't tell the whole story. What they don't show is the benefit to the individual employees who have given their time, effort and commitment. Because employee volunteering doesn't just benefit the recipient, it benefits the volunteer too. When I led BT's volunteering programme, time and again I heard from employees who had achieved far more than they had expected through volunteering, and who had learnt new things and broadened their horizons as a result.

Nor do those statistics show the real and varied benefits to employers. Even leaving aside any possible reputational impact, employers discover that when they run an active employee volunteering programme they end up with highly motivated employees and, often, ones with new and relevant skills too. It is very much a part of building an employer brand and a company that can attract top talent - somewhere people want to work. Employee volunteering enables a company to make a tangible impact in the communities where they operate, and this is something that really appeals to prospective employees.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Volunteering Matters is an enthusiastic supporter of the three day volunteering leave Conservative Party manifesto pledge. Encouraging companies and public sector organisations to offer this experience to their employees is an excellent idea. In fact, we would go further and say that even smaller organisations should consider it as it can offer so many positive results for staff and society as a whole. As an aside, at Volunteering Matters we have just increased our volunteering leave allowance from two to three days. So we are putting our money where our mouth is, not least because we see this as a small but important part of the package we offer our employees.

Volunteering Matters is also an enthusiastic supporter of the Skills Exchange programme, led by the Office for Civil Society and with a remit to get more skilled volunteers linked with charities. In fact, just last month we launched our new employee volunteering programme Talent Matters. Talent Matters is a skills-based volunteer programme that matches talented individuals with smaller charities, and enables the volunteers to offer specialist support over a period of months. We know from experience that these skills-based placements can bring about excellent results for the volunteer and the charity.

I think the important thing for companies is not to get too hung up on what they offer. Giving your employees the choice of which charity they support, and then giving them time to do that, is at one end of the spectrum. Running a programme to encourage young and aspiring leaders to become trustees and seeing volunteering as a part of the formal corporate development process is probably at the other. Somewhere in the middle, of course, is the old faithful idea of communal shed painting or ditch clearing.

Many SMEs who do run some sort of volunteering programme find it has sprung almost naturally from their strong links with their local areas. This makes it even more of a potent force. I don't believe there is any 'right answer'. There should be as many different employee programmes as there are companies. A company and its people need to find one that is right for them, however large or small they are. Finding the answer is a part of the process that shows what sort of an employer you are, and what kind of an employer you aspire to be. My only advice to employees and employers is to just go out there and do it - and see what a difference you can make.