Charities and companies 'failing to maximise benefits of volunteering'

Mismatched expectations are preventing charities and companies from securing the full benefits of employee-supported volunteering activities, a new report says

Charities and companies are failing to make the most of employee-supported volunteering because they lack understanding of how to make it work most effectively, according to new research.

A report published today by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations  and the Institute for Volunteering Research, says that charities and companies often have mismatched expectations of volunteering activities.

It says that companies are often unwilling to reimburse charities for the costs associated with corporate volunteering activities, and that they often arrange activities at short notice.

At the same time, companies involved in employee-supported volunteering say that charities often overlook the potential benefits associated with a one-off placement, such as the possibility of securing future sponsorship or other support from the business.

The report says that charities are often keen to promote their employee-supported volunteering activities and partnership with companies – which often wanted to be discreet about the work.

"Companies did not want to be accused of developing the volunteering solely for the publicity it could generate, but there were voluntary organisations interviewed who had found it frustrating they could not publicise the involvement of the company, which they felt could help raise their profile," the report says.

It notes that the pledge by the government to require large companies to offer their employees three days’ paid volunteering leave a year could significantly increase demand for volunteering opportunities.

It says that using a broker to arrange placements could help develop more productive relationships: "It appeared possible that some of these misunderstandings and tensions could be minimised by the companies and voluntary organisations taking time to understand the motivations of each other."

Recommendations in the report include that charities and companies should work in partnership to understand each others’ motivations and goals, with activities developed collaboratively rather than one side driving the process.

Companies should also provide as much notice as possible to the charity about a possible volunteering activity, and encourage employees involved in the activity to revisit the organisation so they can see the long-term benefits.

The report is based on a workshop involving companies and one with voluntary organisations, plus 12 telephone interviews. These all took place in the spring and early summer of this year.

Justin Davis Smith, executive director of volunteering at the 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 CIPD’s head of policy campaigns, community investment, Katerina Rüdiger, said: "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."

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