Putting volunteering at the heart of business

By Lauren Cunningham, Community Engagement Manager, Business in the Community

Lauren Cunningham, Community Engagement Manager, Business in the Community

Pre-pandemic life allows for many things we no longer take for granted. Precious moments with family and friends, working together in close quarters in office environments, and the ability to help one another out in our communities.

As we transition back to ‘normal’ life, the appetite from business to get more involved in the communities in which they live and work is soaring.

One benefit the pandemic did bring was the interest and involvement in volunteering. According to The Guardian, ten million UK adults volunteered in their community, and judging by the level of interest of those who say they want to continue volunteering, it’s a change that is here to stay. Good news for everyone!

It is important that businesses understand the benefits employee volunteering brings. Equally important, VCSE organisations should develop their knowledge about how they can  maximise potential support from business and how they can use business connections to raise the profile of the issues they are working hard to support.

Employee volunteering is a crucial part of any responsible business strategy. It represents a strategic form of community engagement that ensures the benefits are mutually felt both by the charity and the business alike. In fact, the benefits are wide and varied, as it:

  • delivers powerful community engagement, helping businesses to develop an understanding of the social issues affecting their staff and customers
  • enables staff to get away from their day to day desk and routine and participate in physical exercise, improving physical and mental health
  • provides cost-effective soft skill and team building development by encouraging staff to work together in a new environment
  • supports charities, increasing pride amongst staff and improving employee engagement
  • raises the profile as an employer committed to responsible business

At Business in the Community, we have a broad suite of community-based programmes that engage businesses in volunteering. These involve activities ranging from a team of staff going out to tidy the gardens and paint some fencing with Praxis supported living in Lisburn to an individual volunteer from one of our member companies supporting a community organisation with their marketing and social media strategy. What ties the activities together is their meeting of a social need – whether it’s helping to improve the environmental landscape or introducing a community organisation to new ways of communicating with their target audience about their services – both providing a valuable resource to an increasingly challenged charity sector.

These initiatives also provide a valuable resource for businesses that is increasingly changing the dynamic of employee volunteering. The ‘savvier’ business has woken up to this and volunteering is now embedded into organisations as a key staff development tool, method of community engagement, and an avenue for developing stronger customer relations. This is a key to success for VCSE organisations. A relationship with a business can be developed, and support provided, in the longer-term rather than just one-offs.

So what are the benefits?

Developing stronger customer relations: Volunteering in the local communities in which they operate provides business with a direct avenue of engagement with customers (and staff) in their own back yards. Your organisation can help inform business employees about key issues and needs.

Development of staff skills: Volunteering often puts volunteers in environments where they are dealing with situations and people that they might otherwise not be exposed to in their day-to-day roles, taking them out of their comfort zones. Your organisation can show business employees how you engage with people in your local communities, how you manage on a budget and how you tackle the difficult issues.

Effective team building: Team building activities no longer mean a visit to paint balling or go karting. Volunteering away days are increasingly being used as a way of getting colleagues together for a day out of the office or instead of a day working from home. This might involve a departmental away day or putting together individuals from different teams to develop relationships across the organisation. This time spent together face-to-face is increasingly important to consider as working from home and hybrid arrangements are set to continue for many business, or even become the norm.

Your organisation can benefit from employee volunteering by presenting a challenge or issue you are facing and asking a business to help you develop a solution.

Improves employee wellbeing: Businesses are always looking for ways to effectively engage with employees and improve their wellbeing. In addition to staff engagement, volunteering also provides an opportunity for employers to illustrate their commitment to social causes.

Your organisation is the expert in the issues you manage on a day-to-day basis. Use employee volunteering opportunities to help inform and educate those who volunteer about the issues and how they can help.

The traditional model of a team of business volunteers visiting a charity to carry out a day of practical volunteering will always provide an important function for charities, but it is becoming even more important for charities and businesses alike to consider a strategic approach and the full range of opportunities to work together. It’s no longer enough for a team of colleagues to parachute into a charity only once a year and paint a few rooms. This is something that we recognise and promote at Business in the Community and can be seen in the development of programmes such as Skills Match.

If your business would like support with effective employee volunteering, please email lauren.cunningham@bitcni.org.uk.