More than half of British workers favour employers that support volunteering

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, have today launched new research into employer-supported volunteering (ESV).

The research found a lack of understanding between charities and companies about the costs and benefits involved in ESV, with some companies unwilling to contribute to the costs involved in hosting volunteers.

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Justin Davis Smith, executive director of volunteering at NCVO, said: “Employer-supported volunteering could potentially offer huge benefits for the voluntary sector and businesses alike – however, this research shows that without clear communication around expectations and the resources involved, many of those benefits could be lost. We need to recognise that volunteering isn’t free – there is a cost to the charity in terms of staff time, resources and supervision – yet the right kind of volunteering could outweigh those costs tenfold. 

“The government’s commitment to introducing three days’ volunteering leave offers a game-changing opportunity, but we will need to get the systems and processes in place to make the most of it. Resources will be required to create meaningful opportunities and to ensure that volunteers are properly managed and supported, so that placements are beneficial to everybody involved.”

Similarly, some of the businesses interviewed reported that charities often overlooked the additional benefits of a one-off placement, including the potential of sponsorship or support from the company in the future. 

Another barrier revealed by the research was that many charities benefit from skilled volunteering, such as help writing strategies, but feel that people are less likely to volunteer in their professional capacity than for typically unskilled volunteering tasks such as painting or gardening. The research highlights the significant gaps in employer knowledge about volunteering, and explores assumptions made by each sector that risk undermining the potential of volunteering initiatives.

The research, titled ‘On the brink of a game-changer?’ has been published to explore how better collaboration between business and the voluntary sector is key to achieving successful ESV placements. The Conservative Party’s election manifesto pledged to require large businesses and public bodies to offer employees three days’ paid volunteering leave, which could result in much higher demand for volunteering opportunities.

The findings of the research are supplemented by a new survey of HR professionals by the CIPD, whose results highlight the business case for supporting ESV. The survey found that 81 per cent of those who took part in volunteering reported increased community awareness, 65 per cent had increased communication skills, and 59 per cent reported an increase in confidence. There was evidence of unmet demand for volunteering opportunities; although 65 per cent of respondents would be more likely to work for an employer that encourages and promotes volunteering, 39 per cent said their employer did not support it.

Katerina Rüdiger, Head of Policy Campaigns – Community Investment at the CIPD, said: “Volunteering has been an important part of the political agenda in recent years, and the Prime Minister’s announcement ahead of the 2015 election – that staff at large organisations should have the chance to take time off to volunteer – clearly placed responsibility with employers. But what we’re unfortunately seeing from this research is a lack of understanding from many employers about why volunteering is important, and a lack of communication between charities and business about how they can work together. 

“Simply put, corporate volunteering can deliver big business benefits, not only through helping organisations build relationships within their local communities, but also by giving employees the chance to build new skills and capabilities that they can then transfer back to their day jobs. We therefore hope to see those responsible for ESV programmes using the recommendations from today’s research, working closely with the voluntary sector and helping employees to make a difference.”

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