Employee volunteering: How can you engage your staff?
An Employee Volunteering Scheme (EVS)* is where an employer actively supports its staff to give unpaid help to a voluntary organisation.
When done well, an EVS should provide positive results for the business. These range from developing your team’s skills and experience to increased brand awareness in the local community.
However, recent research from the NCVO has found that there is often a disconnect between the three parties involved in an EVS: The employer, the voluntary organisation and the volunteers themselves.
Key findings include:
- Staff volunteers are less engaged and positive about their volunteering experiences than ‘traditional’ volunteers. (56% non-EVS volunteers report being ‘very satisfied’ compared to just 39% of staff volunteers.)
- Over a third (34%) of staff volunteers stated that their employer encouraged them in their volunteering ‘not very much’ or ‘not at all’.
- There is a mismatch between the support voluntary organisations need and what businesses provide. 52% of voluntary organisations create opportunities based on what their corporate partners want to do, rather than their own needs.
Today, we’re focusing on just one of these points: Disengaged staff volunteers
Barriers to engagement
There are several barriers to engagement highlighted in the NCVO’s report.
- Low awareness. Staff may not be aware that volunteering opportunities are available.
- Lack of encouragement across the business. Staff may not feel supported enough to spend time on voluntary activities.
- Inflexibility. Existing commitments or timeframes may prevent staff from volunteering.
- Lack of personalisation. Employers may not offer staff relevant or valuable opportunities.
- Mis-managed expectations: Are staff volunteers prepared for the opportunities on offer?
As an employer, how can you address these challenges?
How to engage and empower your staff volunteers
Based on the above challenges, there are steps you can take to improve staff participation and engagement with volunteering opportunities.
Promote opportunities effectively.
Use a multi-channel approach to ensure volunteering opportunities are communicated to all staff in an accessible way.
If possible, appoint internal ‘Volunteering Champions’ who can support you in spreading awareness and positivity about your EVS in the workplace. Ambassadors should exist at all levels across your business for inclusive messaging and engagement.
Consider running a drop-in clinic where staff can ask questions about volunteering opportunities. Open a discussion around the skills your team feel comfortable donating, or if there are areas they would like to develop through volunteering.
Promote the voluntary organisation itself, alongside volunteering placements. Remind staff of the core cause you’re supporting.
“Employers reported that skills-based volunteering in particular can feel exclusive, and suggested that opportunities could be more inclusive if a broader range of skills and experiences was recognised.” – NCVO, 2019
Encourage staff to volunteer.
Ensure support for an EVS is recognised across the business, particularly amongst senior stakeholders.
Promote both the benefits to the business and the benefits that employees themselves can experience. Foster a culture of positivity; share success stories from staff volunteering across your organisation.
Be clear on how you will measure success. Will it be in the number of placements made, or the development of skills in your workforce? Is it quantifiable by hours donated, or a monetary equivalent (i.e. if the voluntary organisation had to outsource and pay for the skills they require)?
Engage Line Managers directly and discuss their potential concerns. Explore cross-departmental volunteering teams so the impact of people out of the office is not felt solely in one area of the business. Consider pairs of ‘volunteering buddies’, so during particularly busy periods team members can swap in and out without leaving the voluntary organisations without support.
Provide clear and consistent guidelines on how you operate staff volunteering. How much work-time can your staff spend on volunteering initiatives? What takes precedence during busy times? How can staff share concerns or conflicts around their volunteering placements?
Offer flexible opportunities.
Often time constraints or workload can be real barriers to staff volunteering.
Promote digital opportunities for staff to participate in. The most commonly used skills among staff volunteers were cited as Management skills, Communication & Marketing skills and Administrative & Secretarial skills. If similar skills are needed by your charity partner, it’s likely many of them can be delivered by your staff online. In fact, 20% of staff volunteers said they carried out activities ‘exclusively online’ when surveyed (compare this to just 4% of ‘traditional’ volunteers).
Online work can help ease the impact of staff volunteers being out of the office and may make longer-term placements more sustainable, as opposed to off-site activities.
We touched on it previously; creating cross-department volunteering teams or buddy systems may make the balance between volunteering and work more feasible.
Discuss too with your charity partner whether they can be flexible on timescales and the duration of certain projects to help ensure your staff can continue to volunteer whilst working.
“Making volunteering more flexible is likely not just to remove practical barriers to participation for potential volunteers, but also provide a better experience for those already participating, reducing the feeling or their volunteering being formalised, bureaucratic and work-like.” – NCVO, 2019
Personalise volunteering experiences.
How does your EVS work – are volunteers encouraged to volunteer only for your organisation’s ‘chosen charity’, or is volunteering at self-selected causes also encouraged?
If your team cannot choose their own cause to support, try to explore a diverse mix of activities with them.
Where possible, have a conversation about what they want to achieve – let’s say strengthening a certain skill. Match that objective with the needs of the voluntary organisation; is there a good connection there? If there is not a relevant placement, explore whether the employee could be empowered to choose an alternative cause.
Consider linking staff volunteering to employees’ PDR or annual appraisal. Can their voluntary experience support some of their objectives or development targets?
Ask employees to provide feedback on their volunteering placements. Embed volunteering into your organisation’s discourse; once a placement starts, it isn’t a done-and-dusted job. Instead, encourage staff to share their experiences (perhaps some will become Volunteering Champions) so you can understand what they’re benefiting from and where they may be having challenges.
Manage your employee’s expectations.
Your Volunteering Champions can be instrumental in sharing their experiences.
Whilst it’s important to frame your EVS positively, encourage your Champions and team to share both the highs and lows of volunteering placements. This can be particularly important if staff are supporting vulnerable individuals or are volunteering in a different or potential difficult environment.
Consider inviting the voluntary organisation in to talk to your team, perhaps as an interactive Q&A session, so staff can get a real feel for the cause. You could also organise for employees to visit the charity’s site or headquarters to learn more about their work.
Understanding your employees’ motivations.
The NCVO research found that the most important motivation for staff volunteers was wanting improve things or help people.
Tap into this motivation. Understand what drives your people to volunteer; what do they hope to get out of their volunteering placements, both professionally and personally? And what impact do they want to make in their community or for that cause?
“Volunteering that is (and feels) truly voluntary is one of the basic cornerstones of a quality volunteer experience.” – NCVO, 2019
Again, this idea of personalisation is key here; talk with your staff about why they want to volunteer, who they want to help and what they want to do.
Flexible, inclusive and personalised volunteering opportunities are key to engaging your staff.
Discover more: Download your Guide to Staff Volunteering
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* Also known as Employer Supported Volunteering or Corporate Volunteering