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Put away the paint tins

By Olivia Martins

8 May 2018

Employee volunteering seems to be growing up, if the number of organisations offering to help employers create schemes is anything to go by.

While David Cameron’s 2015 announcement on introducing a mandatory 3 days volunteering leave has come to nothing, the culture of supporting employees to volunteer is well established – most large employers will have a scheme of some sort in place. According to Benefacto, an estimated 11 million people are offered paid time off to volunteer. But, while its reach is broad its depth is a different matter. Employers that get more than 10% of their employees taking up their volunteering leave are doing better than most.

That can be partly explained by the type of self-centred volunteering that simply refuses to die. The legend of the oft painted wall at a local school or community centre is very much alive and well.

All too often employee volunteering is a short sharp burst of energy (possibly based around an internal awareness or action day) – that lacks focus and any real measurable impact. Done right, employee volunteering has the power to engage and inspire a workforce, push forward an organisation’s core purpose and be of tangible benefit to the community.

So, how do you ensure you’re helping in the right place, and in the best way? And how do you engage staff with your volunteering programme?

Key to this is ensuring a focus for employee charity or community work that is fundamental to your organisation’s mission or values. The chosen focus for your good work should be sincere and should make sense.

Secondly, wall-painting (unless of course yours is a workforce of painters and decorators) is probably not harnessing your workforce’s unique and specialist skills to their full potential. Linking volunteering with specific employee learning and development can be a fulfilling and motivational incentive to get involved – and (slightly more cynically) can demonstrate your brand’s key skills and areas of expertise.

Consider providing incentives to stimulate greater involvement and reward. Incentives are mostly a standard part of the modern workplace, and so rather than straight performance based, think about a more holistic approach and include volunteering as part of the criteria. This demonstrates to your employees how important it is to the company.

At Forster Communications we’ve worked with a number of clients to rethink their employee volunteering programmes. We helped KPMG transform their volunteering programme through strategic and creative communications support – with 23% of employees going on to carry out volunteering.

We worked with DP World to promote and articulate their commitment to building a vibrant, secure and resilient society. As a key part of this, we championed their award winning, Global Education Programme, where employees visit schools to engage young people in trade and logistics. The programme aims to reach out to 34,000 young people (8-14yrs) by 2020.

For Astellas, we created and continue to run their volunteering programme ‘Changing tomorrow day’, as well as running their corporate partnership programme, Action on Fistula, which has changed the lives of over 3,000 women in Kenya. Both programmes have proven to be morale boosts for employees. With, 88% now saying Astellas is a better place to work after taking part in volunteering.

The benefits of employee volunteering can be boundless, both to the community and also in terms of how enthused and proud employees feel to work for your organisation. If you want employee volunteering to be a key element of a successful employee engagement programme, the answer is easy to write and hard to implement: have a clear focus, a measurable impact, channel your brand mission and values, consider incentives, and integrate team volunteering with career learning and development. But, most importantly, lead from the front – if your senior leaders aren’t volunteering, why should anyone else?