It’s a risky move to gleefully emphasise how much you want to work somewhere else during company time in an interview, but it’s a gamble I was happy to take when I applied for my internship here. Knowing that I would be able to keep up my volunteering commitments was a real selling point for me and it is for many employees.
The morale boosting effect of being able to volunteer is a key benefit that employers need to keep in mind when considering the pitfalls of employee volunteering.
We’ve written before about how social investment is built into nfpSynergy’s structure, recently highlighting our free research ], and providing a variety of examples of how companies can enable social investment. You might have heard of our volunteering allowance from when we were encouraged to take time off to ‘volunteer’ by watching the World Cup. This was largely to highlight the flaws in government classifications of volunteering, but there is a more sincere use of our volunteering allowance that deserves some attention too.
Last year, nfpSynergy switched from a standard employee allowance of five days per year to a 100 day company pot for anyone to draw down from. A lot of people were reporting back that although they’d like to volunteer, they couldn’t find suitable opportunities that matched with the time available. And for others, they’d like to do a lot more, but five days wasn’t enough. So this more flexible scheme has a lot going for it:
Some roles, like trusteeships or youth work for instance, are designed around people working during the day, so employees would be unlikely to use that volunteering time. Additionally, some employees will simply not be interested in volunteering and any volunteering allowance would simply not be taken up, perhaps leading to an underused and eventually cancelled scheme.
One of our employees who volunteers once a fortnight for the Red Cross at one of their refugee advice centres would have used her entire five day allowance just training. Similarly, I could have managed committee duties at either NUS or Terrence Higgins Trust, but not both. I would have had no time left for the clinic work that followed with Terrence Higgins Trust without using all my annual leave, a prospect few employees would welcome.
Whilst we had uptake of our 5 day allowance, via employees volunteering at one day events such as the Feeding The Five Thousand and a capoeira demonstration, the full potential was never realised. The company pot method still enables volunteering for single day events – one employee is using her first volunteering day to supervise the Olympic torch relay event – but also enables the longer commitments that many roles require.
Employers may be wary of the idea of several employees taking a day off every fortnight, but the experience here belies that concern. Across a fortnight, or even a week, that volunteering day is easily made up. We find that the volunteering day is not so much ‘lost’ but redistributed; the regular volunteers here are conscious of their work duties and make certain to accommodate them.
These more committed roles also offer the chance to develop skills in a role vastly different to those used during work. My clinic work entails a lot of face-to-face interaction, explaining legal and medical complexities to service users and understanding their situation and needs. These aren’t things I do regularly as an analyst and researcher, but those developed skills are much appreciated when I do get to work directly with clients. Similarly, an employee working as a trustee gained great insight into the needs of smaller charities, leading directly to us producing our report on fundraising for small organisations (Gimme Gimme Gimme!)
A final benefit is that to employee morale. It would be remiss of me not to mention the enjoyment those who volunteer get from being able to contribute regularly and the thoroughly unquantifiable energising that comes from getting to work on causes we care about and not feeling that we’re letting the side down at work.
We’re a lot closer to using up our company pot allowance this year than last (and all without en masse ‘volunteering’ to watch the European championships) and there’s still room for improvement. A company organised volunteering day on a one day project could compliment the more regular efforts.
But ultimately, the company pot doesn’t need to be taken up. A healthy usage of that allowance is one that’s enabling volunteering minded employees to keep up commitments both in and out of the office – the important thing is to provide them with the option.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below.