How business can use volunteering to build back better

Business needs resilient and prosperous communities to succeed and grow. The two are intrinsically linked – it is where our employees come from, where our customers live, and it is the backdrop to our working lives.

Business in the Community’s mission is to create healthy communities with successful businesses at their heart. The coronavirus pandemic has thrust us into a world that is changing every day. Social distancing measures along with entire workforces now operating from home during lockdown, has forced businesses to be flexible and nimble in order to fight for survival. So, during #VolunteersWeek, we’re taking a closer look at what can – and should – your business consider when it comes to volunteering, and how can you use volunteering as a means of building back better businesses and communities.

Employer Supported Volunteering

Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) has been at the heart of BITC’s Community engagement programmes for more than 20 years. During 2019 we supported almost 100 companies to engage 2,500 employees to make a real impact on 150 local community groups as part of their organisation’s corporate responsibility (CR) strategy. Many companies recognise that supporting employees to get involved in the community is good for business, good for society, and good for the employees who volunteer.

The need to connect with communities has never been more important and ESV is one of the most effective ways in which business can invest in and gain insight into the needs and issues of their communities, during the pandemic, and as we emerge from it. So, here’s an interesting statistic. It has been recorded that 30,000 people have been placed on furlough in Northern Ireland during this period. What if each of those people had volunteered just one hour of their time? This would equate to 1,250 days’ worth of support for communities. So why not?

A Change in Approach

As with every aspect of our lives, the context for Employee Volunteering has changed. We have already seen that the world of work has changed with many people no longer able to work in offices alongside colleagues doing the standard nine-to-five. Before the pandemic we were seeing a shift to more people working flexibly in some form or another, such as job sharing or compressed hours. One of the biggest challenges and opportunities that has come speeding over the horizon is the rise of homeworking. This makes it more difficult to engage people as we need to find new and effective ways to replace the word-of-mouth buzz there is in the office.

What does that mean for ESV programmes and, in particular, team volunteering programmes? Will companies want to allocate time to team volunteering exercises if teams are virtual or transitory (with part-time, freelance or contractor staff)? Or will they become even more important?

We may find that demand for such programmes reduces. Or that more people want to volunteer outside of office hours or virtually using technology. This new paradigm presents an opportunity, as more people will be working on a daily basis right in the heart of the communities in which they live, so activity on the ground, in more community ‘pockets’ could actually be quite feasible. At Business in the Community, we are already changing our volunteering initiatives to offer flexible, virtual or micro ways of volunteering in person, from home, or at work.

Serious about wellbeing

As part of the changing context of ESV, there will be increased expectations on employers to place more emphasis on employee wellbeing and to have a values-based culture and ethos.

Wellbeing is crucial for the future of work. Volunteering can touch each one of the five ways to wellbeing developed by the New Economics Foundation. We believe that ESV programmes play an important part in being a good employer. As teams and working patterns change, it is vital to show current and prospective employees that you care about their wellbeing. One way to do this is by making it easier for them to be able to contribute to their local communities, whether through BITC programmes or via opportunities they have found themselves.

Developing skills

While many employers are using skills and experience in their ESV volunteering, there is potential for more. Many employees possess professional skills that are of value to community groups.

We need to be able to give employees opportunities to use their professional skills in ways that work for them and where they can see the impact they are making. Some skills-based volunteering opportunities need to be accepted more widely as a mainstream way for employees to develop and grow, and there is a challenge to get people to commit to long-term projects such as mentoring where they could add the most value.

Business in the Community current ESV offer

Although we’ve had to put our Team Action Days and face to face volunteering on hold for now, we have a number of online volunteering interventions have been fast-tracked in their creation as a response to the coronavirus crisis. These are outlined below.


DIGITALHELP is a new service offered by BITC members. Users (general public) will text ‘DIGITALHELP’ followed by their mobile number and a few words describing what they need help with i.e. Social Media, Skype, Mobile Banking etc. An available volunteer will give them a call and help users with their issue. To find out more click here


Skills Match is a digital platform that has been developed to match business volunteers with skills and expertise they’d like to offer to community, voluntary and social enterprise organisations in need of professional support. Also enabling business volunteers to be strategically matched with public sector organisations to provide co-design thinking, be involved in project teams and offer additional resources and skills from the private sector. For more information click here

Time to . . . – Education Programmes

We will be moving our suite of Time To programmes online for the foreseeable future and employees can still register via the website to let us know they are interested:
Time to Count
Time to Code
Time to Read

Maximising the impact of ESV

How could employees be better engaged and how can organisations make ESV more impactful?

Here are some things employers can do to increase employee engagement in ESV and maximise the benefit to those you are seeking to help:

  • Develop your volunteering policy and build in an amount of time employees can spend on paid volunteering a year. Many employers offer between 1 and three days per year per employee. Is this something your business offers, and if so, could you extend this?
  • Focus on hours rather than days to encourage employees to think about how they could use their time more efficiently, but not just concentrating on the numbers of volunteers engaged/hours volunteered but focusing on the impact and reach of the volunteering.
  • Listen to your employees to understand what motivates them and how you can create opportunities they want to get involved with and are of value to the organisations with whom you are working.
  • Building effective ESV programmes has to work as a partnership between the business and the volunteering organisations involved. It takes a lot of work to build relationships, trust and negotiate terms but this is key to delivering a programme which delivers results to both parties.
  • Keep ESV very much at the core of your organisations’ employee engagement strategy.

To find out more, click here


SPAR – Always there to volunteer for you 

The Henderson Group, and in particular it’s SPAR brand, has long been a supporter of Employer Supported volunteering and has provided valuable support to Business in the Community’s Cares volunteering campaign – both as a sponsor, and by actively engaging its team members in volunteering challenges. With a strong commitment through its Tomorrow Matters CSR plan, the Henderson Group ensures it is at the heart of communities across Northern Ireland with its focus on People, Place and Planet.