When it comes to employer supported volunteering, who should be in the driving seat?
I read an article recently that suggested that one of the ways employer supported volunteering could be more successful, is for the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector, to engage better with the trends of corporate social responsibility managers within businesses.
I don't agree.
ESV has been around for many years and the most regular comments I receive from employers’ is: “not many people use the days offered” and from the VCSE sector: “the support offered, isn't the kind of support we need.”
So, whilst I can understand the thinking behind the author's perspective and agree that there is room for improvement in this area, I think it's important to remember why employer supported volunteering exists to begin with.
Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) is when employers offer their employees paid time off to volunteer in their local community. It is becoming increasingly popular as employers recognise the potential to develop both their business and its staff while supporting and improving their community.
ESV originated with the aim of companies giving back to the communities in which they are based, supporting them to develop, grow and continue to do what they do best.
So where did it go wrong?
Whilst I want to stress that there are some great examples of genuinely successful ESV programmes around, they seem to be in the minority.
One of the reasons there may be less successful in this area could be due to the lack of structure. Employer supported volunteering has become increasingly popular and as employers seem to have been somewhat more proactive in seeking it out, it seems ESV has turned into an opportunity for a team-building day, doing a fun activity out of the office and has lost some of its original purpose.
I believe that employer supported volunteering and team building are different. Both have excellent benefits to an employer and their employees but they can have very different types of impact on the VCSE sector.
Say you are sat by the side of the road with a flat tyre and someone comes along and says: “I want to help you”.
"Brilliant!" you think, "I really need help right now" but the helpful person says: “I want to help you by washing your car.” Okay…so this is helpful and a generous offer! But it's just not what you need right now.
Throw in the fact that these offers usually come with a specific date, a large number of people to host and a specific outcome they would like to achieve and I'm sure you can see why this isn't working so well for anyone.
So what's different about Skill Givers?
The Skill Givers project is trying to do employer supported volunteering differently and flip the current approach on its head.
Group volunteering days work for some VCSE groups if they can think of a task and afford the time away from their day-to-day work to host, but for the most, it is difficult, particularly for groups who are wholly run by volunteers. Often the VCSE sector still host these days as they don’t want to say no and would like to build a more lasting relationship with the employer, though our experience suggests that this longer-term relationship rarely happens.
I believe that there is still a place for group volunteering and there has been an increase in more long-term partnership working but feel that there is still room for another way.
The Skill Givers project is asking the VCSE sector what support they want.
We have been working with groups to support them to identify short-term skills based tasks that they need help with that will make a lasting difference to them and the work they do. These roles are often behind the scenes to avoid the need for DBS checks or lengthy applications. They allow volunteers to complete short-term projects so they can see it through and how that specific piece of work supports the whole organisation and the work that they do. In terms of employers, we are working with them and their teams to use our bespoke online platform to search and register interest in these specific opportunities.
The aim is to create meaningful volunteering opportunities with benefits for all. There are some challenges still ahead as whilst a number of employers and employees have embraced the idea of skills based individual volunteering opportunities, there is still a lot of work to be done in changing perceptions about what ESV is and the massive potential it has to benefit the community, employees and employers.
It's been great to see how many enquiries the project has had over the past year and shows that employers really do want to offer a way to give back, we just need to work on the best way to do that. However, I strongly believe that it should not be at the cost of the VCSE organisation but for the benefit of them.
Skill Givers is a pilot project currently working in Manchester and Salford with VCSE groups who support the community to get active. You can find out more information about the Skill Givers project at www.skillgivers.org.uk
Or read this case study and find out how Skill Givers truly benefits both the organisation and the volunteer.
Hayley Lightfoot, Skill Givers Project Coordinator