Crash course in: Getting your staff to volunteer

This year seems a good time to give something back and get employees to offer their services to the community. So how do you set about a volunteering programme?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Why do it? 'Having a strong community for your employees to live and work in matters, and of the 20,000 volunteers we work with each year, 95% think it is important that their company does this,' says Gennie Franklin, director of the employee volunteering campaign at Business in the Community (BITC). When times are hard and budgets are tight, it's a cheap way of generating some 'feel-good factor'.

Work out your objectives. 'Consider how your employee volunteering programme will help meet your organisation's business aims or strategic objectives,' says the National Centre for Volunteering's guide for employers. Examples of objectives might be helping personal development, boosting morale, transferring business skills, or improving your profile in the community.

Choose an activity. 'There's no one-size-fits-all solution to setting up volunteering,' says Franklin. 'The more choices you offer, the more people get involved.' Opportunities range from regular work like reading with schoolchildren to the 24-hour 'blitz', such as digging a garden. Look around your area to see who's in need. Alternatively, a broker such as BITC can help find partners for you - then you need to talk to your own people and the partner to identify beneficial activities.

Kick start it. A company volunteering day can be a great way to get people involved and find out who's really up for it. Give & Gain Day on 18 May is BITC's national day for employee volunteering.

Give people a time limit. A key part of your policy is telling your employees how much paid time during working hours they can give to it. 'I give all my staff five days a year,' says Helen Walker, chief executive of volunteering charity Timebank. 'For us it's a question of walking the talk, but you must have the parameters in place.'

Put in resources. If you want your volunteering effort to be successful, you must make sure it's funded and properly planned, says Walker. 'If it's going to work you need to do all the things like health and safety checks, setting up the challenge, and managing the expectations. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to take part,' she explains.

Use it to develop skills. 'Volunteering is a very good way to develop team-building, decision-making, influencing and leadership skills,' says Franklin.

Play to your strengths. Offering professional services such as legal advice to community organisations can be far more valuable to them than painting their office. Not all your people will want to carry the day job into their volunteering, but in a different context it can offer a fresh challenge.

Do say: 'We want you to make a positive difference in our community - who's up for it?'

Don't say: 'If you want to be a goody two-shoes, do it in your own time.'

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