The best use of corporate volunteers

  • Corporate volunteers donate their time and skills to charities during business hours
  • Team-building challenges can help organisations transform their surroundings.
  • We look at how skills-based volunteering can benefit organisations, charities and the volunteers themselves

Does your community centre or charity use corporate volunteers? From activity days to long-term skill sharing, organisations, charities and the wider community can really benefit from employee volunteering.

In the lead up to the 2015 election, David Cameron pledged his government would offer up to 15 million workers three days paid leave a year for volunteering. Experts warned that this could cost the public sector up to £1bn to cover staff absences.

These plans have since stalled, and a new government may have other ideas about how best to support charitable ventures. However, many organisations across the UK are nonetheless enthusiastic about staff volunteering.

Corporate or Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) programmes enable staff to donate their time and skills during work hours to local non-profit organisations.

Community Interest company Employee Volunteering has found that 89% of charities believe their work would not have been completed without volunteers and 97% of volunteers develop strong teams as a result of their charity involvement.

Employee volunteering helps businesses connect with, and contribute to, local communities, showing their commitment to community investment.

It also helps to build staff morale and develop skills. For charities, it can be a vital source of labour and expertise.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) researched the impact of employee volunteering. Its report Volunteering to Learn shares learning points for companies and recipient organisations to help them devise programmes that deliver results for both parties.

The report includes a skills matrix, which is a useful starting point for organisations starting to think about the types of roles they could offer.

Volunteering as team building

The common view of corporate volunteering is as a team building exercise. Traditionally, this involves a team doing something physically challenging, which actively makes a difference in one day. This could be renovating a garden, painting walls or clearing a towpath.

For charities with buildings that need maintaining, this support is vital. For example, the grounds and retail operations at Haven House Children’s Hospice benefited from the time donated by 262 volunteers from 18 companies in 2015. It actively promotes corporate team building days on its website.

Our own marketing team at Zurich recently helped local charity Path Hill Outdoors, with over 70 volunteers completing a variety of tasks, such as creating a sensory garden, painting outbuildings and building an outdoor seating area, hugely benefitting the charity.

Many organisations charge corporate teams for these events in order to cover their costs.

Skills-based volunteering

Volunteering programmes where staff from companies share their professional skills can be more time-consuming to administer, but can bring greater benefits.

Corporate staff lend their support over a longer period of time, using expertise from their work lives to support the charity. This brings in experience which would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

Volunteers may become mentors, run training sessions, or give pro bono support in business planning, HR, marketing, finance or on legal matters. Volunteers may give their time to support staff and/ or beneficiaries. This page from Community Links lists the types of roles they promote.

Organisations may also recruit trustees from their bank of corporate volunteers. This long-term commitment is an opportunity for the volunteer to give even more of their time and expertise to the organisation.

Recruiting volunteers

To recruit corporate volunteers, charities may join existing programmes (such as those run by Business in the Community or those run by large corporates themselves.

For example the Zurich Community Trust runs different programmes to help our employees give their time and skills to partners in the UK and India.

Charities may also recruit volunteers via their own direct relationships with local businesses or use a broker.

For example, Octopus Communities in London works with the Big Alliance to identify corporates who would be willing to share their professional expertise with community centres.

Through them, they have recruited volunteers who have worked as mentors and coaches. These volunteers have helped staff at the centres develop their processes and planning, and to look at sustainability and resilience.

There are a number of volunteer brokers across the country to help companies find the ideal charitable work for their employees and for charities to access additional help.

Promoting and thanking volunteers

Recognising and publicly thanking volunteers helps to build a sense of community.

St Hilda’s East Community Centre promotes and thanks its corporate volunteers on its website, and gardening charity Thrive includes quotes from previous volunteers on its site. Meanwhile, Haven House Children’s Hospice uses social media to thank its volunteers.

Many of the corporate volunteers want to share their experience too, as in this example on Twitter from Wates Group.