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Three tips for encouraging employees to volunteer

Jennie Colville, head of sustainability here at Capita, gives her top tips on how to engage employees to volunteer.

For one reason or another, we all seem to be time poor. We have work commitments, family get-togethers, catch-ups with friends and, in between all of this, we try to find time for ourselves. It’s therefore little wonder that companies sometimes struggle to get their people to take time out the office to volunteer. At Capita, we recently ran a ‘Go Local’ week across many of our sites, encouraging everyone to volunteer at local charities and community centres. We organised a range of volunteering opportunities, from teaching young people the importance of presentation and communication skills at a high school in Cape Town, to sorting and weighing donations at a food bank in Glasgow. We were delighted at the response we got from our people to get involved and were over-subscribed on many of our days. So, how did we do it?

1. Make it easy

At Capita, we allow all our people one paid day a year to volunteer during working hours. The day can be taken to support any local charity and community group, as long as the time out the office doesn’t impact a person’s work and is approved by their line manager. As far as possible, we encourage people to share their skills in the local community such as helping a charity to develop a social media plan or helping a student prepare for work experience.

Giving people the ability to use their work time to volunteer increases the likelihood of employees getting involved. But, we have also found that setting up a series of volunteering opportunities for people to choose from, makes it that much easier to use their volunteering day. It means they don’t have to phone around various charities to see whether they need support and then the additional hassle of ensuring the charity has the correct insurance and risk assessments. So, we made sure that, across many of our sites, enthusiastic colleagues pre-organised a range of opportunities for people to sign up to. We advertised these opportunities through our internal communication channels and made the sign-up process as easy as possible. We also made sure that, before the volunteering event, all volunteers received a briefing pack with details of what they would be doing, what they needed to wear, where it was and what times they needed to be there.

Take the hassle out of volunteering, and the employees will rise to the occasion.

2. Describe the bigger picture

Many people struggle to see the value of volunteering, or think it has no relevance to the company and, instead, we should all be focussing on what we have been paid to do. It is therefore crucial that when engaging with employees, you clearly explain why you are encouraging people to volunteer.

Firstly, without a thriving community, many of our businesses would not be here today – so businesses and their employees have a duty to ensure that our communities and local economies stay buoyant. As an organisation we need to understand what the local community issues are and use our skills and experience to address these issues. In one town, homelessness could be an issue and there is a plethora of charities that do amazing work to support homeless people that are crying out for volunteers. Another town could be blighted by litter, so having 20 volunteers out for one day doing a neighbourhood clean-up could make a world of difference.

Secondly, volunteering is not just good for business, it is also good for our people. Much research has been conducted on how volunteering can help an employee’s personal development and harness skills such as team work, communication, leadership and time management. Being able to stand up and present to a group of 30 fifteen year-olds is a great way to boost your confidence in public speaking! Evidence also shows that helping others can have a positive effect on your own mental health and wellbeing – it can reduce stress as well as improve mood, self-esteem and happiness.

Thirdly, bring to life the issue that you are addressing and why it is relevant for your business to be part of the solution. For Capita, our stakeholders have advised that youth unemployment and the rising digital skills gap should be a key focus for us – after all, we are a technology and data driven company with a strong presence in the education sector. We therefore try to partner with charities who support young people progress into the world of work or offer digital skills workshops to the elderly.

3. Keep your volunteers and the charities happy

Charities need volunteers and, in fact, some rely wholly on them but, having a group of 15 people turn up to help requires time and resource on an already-stretched charity. Make sure you liaise with the charity well in advance of your volunteer day – ask them what they want and need – don’t think that because you are offering a group of people that this is necessarily what the charities want. It is sometimes beneficial to go through a volunteer broker like Benefacto, CC Works, Neighbourly, or One Westminster who already have well-established relationships with many charities.

Some charities may ask for a donation towards the day, especially if it is a team event – be prepared for that and ensure you have budget to cover the costs, or get the volunteers to fundraise for the money – this will make your volunteers more invested in the charity.

You may argue that volunteering should not be fun – this is not a jolly after all – and the company is paying for our time to support the community. As much as I understand this sentiment, from my experience, to ensure that your employees continue to volunteer and spread the message about volunteering, you need to make sure that your volunteers get the most out of the day – and that includes enjoying their time out the office. Make sure they are well-briefed, well-fed and have the opportunity to celebrate their achievements on your internal communication channels – everyone loves a bit of recognition.

For us, Go Local was a fantastic week where over 200 employees volunteered their time across 17 cities and we believe it was thanks to following these three tips that we had such great engagement.

Photo of Jennie Colville

Jennie Colville

Head of Sustainability, Capita

Jennie has 20 years’ experience in the sustainability field having worked in both the private and public sectors. Since completing an MSc in environmental management, Jennie has implemented a global law firm’s first ever ISO 14001 Environmental Management System; supported over 500 small and medium businesses improve their environmental performance and managed an award winning charity partnership increasing volunteering by 20%. At Capita, Jennie is refreshing our approach to addressing relevant sustainability issues and looks forward to encouraging our people to share their skills in local communities through volunteering.

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