When should you give your staff time off to volunteer?

Expecting staff to work for their own charity on top of their usual hours is tantamount to blackmail, says Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q. As a charity, should we allow our staff time off for volunteering or public duties?

A. How interesting - at a time when we are all doing our best to encourage companies to allow staff time off to volunteer, it makes sense to review or develop our own policies in this area.

Let's start by mapping out some of the issues, beginning with the nature of the activity. Volunteering could mean giving time to support a local community event, helping an individual in need or being a trustee of another charity.

It might also refer to activities such as taking part in a challenge event or helping out with a collection. Yet another scenario could be volunteering for something indirectly related to the employing charity, such as someone who works for RNIB acting as a guide for a blind person at weekends. Public duties might include those where there is a legal right to time off, such as jury service, or those where there is a right to a "reasonable" amount of time off, such as being a school governor or a local councillor (see www.gov.uk for details).

Next is the issue of whether the activity is paid. Some public duties, for example being a magistrate, are not paid roles, but there is compensation for loss of earnings - although the amount is often going to be much less than the person's usual salary.

Others, such as being a non-executive director of a health board or trust, are paid, and potentially at a higher rate than the person's salary.

Finally, who is getting what out of the arrangement? Being a trustee of another charity or having a board-level role in, say, the NHS can be an excellent opportunity for personal and professional development. Other roles can provide insight into a potential beneficiary group, or simply into what competitors are doing.

My view is that allowing some time off, in a structured way, will bring more benefits than disadvantages to a charity. Although not a substitute for training, it can, if managed well, deliver training objectives cost-effectively. At a time when we are all competing for good staff, this could give your charity the edge.

If staff are being paid their usual salaries for volunteering, or public service, we have a responsibility to demonstrate value for money. Equality comes into play if staff are given paid time off. The opportunities should be open to staff at all levels, and they should be encouraged to take advantage of them.

But expecting staff to give up time on top of their usual hours to work for their own charity is not volunteering - it is tantamount to blackmail and misunderstands people's motivations for supporting charities. Giving time off in lieu for such activity is fine, but it is still not volunteering - it is simply part of the job.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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