Rob Jackson: Getting real about employee volunteering

Attention should be directed to maximising the benefit of corporate giving to fulfil an organisation's mission

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

Although it's been around for at least 20 years, employee volunteering is a divisive topic in many quarters. Three common views held on the subject are:

  • Employees who take time off work aren’t really volunteers because their employer is still paying them for that time;
  • Employee volunteering is more about the company and their corporate social responsibility goals than making any real difference to non-profits;
  • Employees having time off during the working day to volunteer is a great solution to the biggest barrier many people face when volunteering – fitting it around their paid work.

Whatever your view, employee volunteering is here to stay, evolving into new forms as employers look for new ways for their staff to have the opportunity to give time. A recent example is a new initiative from Starbucks in the US, which I explored in a recent post on my blog.

This scheme might be stretching the boundaries of volunteering but, as Meridian Swift points out in her recent article, there are going to be more of these innovations in future.

If we want to make the most of employee volunteering, I think we need to set aside our focus on purist definitions of volunteering. Instead, our attention should be directed to maximising the benefit of corporate giving to fulfil our organisation’s mission, ensuring that, as with any volunteering relationship, employee volunteering is mutually beneficial.

In the context of old-school team challenges, this means non-profits and businesses benefiting from having enough people turn up to engage in a task that needs labour in volume, such as clearing a waterway, park or beach.

The non-profit gets a task done and the business gets their staff working together in a different context and learning about community issues. Both parties might also gain the added benefits of good publicity.

With more skills-oriented employee volunteering, the business and non-profit should work together to identify skill exchanges, which can benefit both parties.

The non-profit might secure some dedicated time to develop a new marketing strategy, design a new website or develop a new HR strategy. In turn, the business provides attractive and impactful volunteer opportunities for employees, a key consideration for anyone recruiting millennials in today’s competitive job market.

According to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, a third of millennials surveyed said that their companies’ volunteer policies affected their decision to apply for a job, 39 per cent said that it influenced their decision to interview and 55 per cent said that such policies played into their decision to accept an offer.

To realise this vision for effective employee volunteering, time, effort and money need to be invested on both sides. Businesses are investing, but are we? If not, then, as Meridian Swift argues, business will simply find ways to work around us. I’d rather we were a part of the picture. Wouldn’t you?

For more in-depth information on employee volunteering, check out Jerome Tennille’s excellent two-part post on CSR and volunteering. Tennille has been a non-profit volunteer manager and now works in CSR for Marriott International. He has a good insight into making employee volunteering work for both parties.

Rob Jackson is a volunteer consultant

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