Employee volunteering is broken and needs to be fixed before charities will be able to fully capitalise on the government’s pledge to introduce three days of paid volunteering leave, a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering heard yesterday.
The meeting, which was on the subject of employer-supported volunteering, heard from Linz Darlington, chief executive of Benefacto, an online employee volunteering brokerage social enterprise, who said that an estimated 10 million people in the UK were already given paid time off to volunteer but the proportion of the workforce who carried it out was "woefully low".
He said that a large proportion of employee volunteering was more of a burden than a benefit to the third sector organisations it was designed to support.
"Employee volunteering is often very much dictated by the corporates’ needs and wants, rather than those of the charity," said Darlington. "For these charities, laying on events for corporates requires preparation, supervision and clean-up, which is often a distraction from their core activities."
He said that before the Conservative Party could realise its vision of three days of paid volunteering leave – which would be granted to the employees of every company with more than 250 staff and every public sector worker – employee volunteering needed to be fixed in three ways.
First, he said, in order to minimise the administrative burden on charities, a mechanism should be created to allow charities to enlist and use short-term volunteers where and when they were needed.
Second, he said, corporates needed support to develop a culture in which people both wanted to volunteer and felt supported to do so.
Finally, he said, prospective volunteers should be provided with engaging options that were quick and easy to access.
"Unless we address these problems first, increasing the proportion of UK staff entitled to take time off to volunteer will simply be a platitude that will do little to increase the value the third sector receives from the initiative," said Darlington.
Nick Hurd, the former Minister for Civil Society who co-chairs the APPG, having been elected to the post last month, said the pledge meant the sector was "on the brink of a game-changer".
Asked when the pledge would be implemented, he said: "It’s coming but will require some changes to employment regulations to happen first. The government hasn’t said when it will be happen but it will be during this parliament."
Andrew Pierce, consultant editor of the Daily Mail newspaper, last month told the annual conference of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations that the volunteering plans would not happen because David Cameron, the Prime Minister, prefers to avoid clashing with his MPs.
He said the plans would be unpopular among Conservative backbenchers.
"They think it’s a tax on business," said Pierce. "They don’t think it’s the job of government to tell people to volunteer. Let me tell you, that policy won’t be happening."