The culture of employee volunteering is “broken”, and unless it is fixed then little good will come from government plans to require businesses to offer staff three days' paid volunteering leave, a group of MPs and peers heard yesterday.
Linz Darlington (pictured), who founded Benefacto - an online brokerage to connect employees with volunteering opportunities, was speaking on scaling up employee-supported volunteering
Darlington was speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Civil Society and Volunteering, which followed announcements that the government will introduce three days of paid volunteering for all businesses with over 250 employees.
The proposals were first announced by Prime Minister David Cameron prior to May’s election, and confirmed by minister for civil society Rob Wilson during his first keynote speech of the new government last month.
Darlington said that employee-supported volunteering “provides an amazing exchange between different parts of our community, broadening the sector’s involvement, sharing skills and developing aspirations”. However, he said that, in his view, “employee volunteering is broken”.
He said that there are several reasons for this, one being that an estimated 10 million people are already given the time off to volunteer by their employer, yet there is only about a 20 per cent take up of this at firms that are seen as “best in class” when it comes to volunteering, meaning that 80 per cent of the support that is pledged by firms never reach the third sector. Darlington said that this could constitute “hundreds of millions of pounds worth of support for the sector”.
He also said that a lot of the volunteering that does go on is “more of a burden to the charities involved”. A lot of it is dictated by the needs of corporate firms, not centring round what the charity needs.
Darlington told the APPG that the government’s pledge of three days' volunteering leave in charities “is great”, but before its potential can realised, “we need to fix employee volunteering”.
He said one thing that is needed to make it work is volunteering options that corporate volunteers would find engaging and want to do, as professional people are “very busy and live in the world of the iphone”. He said it needs to be so easy for them to get involved, that “there is no reason for them not to be”.
He also called on more support from line managers in encouraging and supporting employees to volunteer to change the culture of volunteering that many businesses currently have.
Darlington said: “Unless we address these problems first, purely increasing the proportion of staff that are getting paid to have time off for volunteering will be nothing more than a platitude which will do little to actually increase the volunteering that charities actually receive.”
The discussions also focused on micro-volunteering. Anne Heal, who leads BT’s volunteering strategy, said that this form of volunteering, where volunteers contribute a very small amount of time to a project or task – often through the use of technology - is likely to be the future of volunteering, and that there should be more of a focus on volunteering tasks that can be done from someone’s own desk. She said that, unfortunately, the regular volunteering that charities most benefit from is harder for employers to provide, but micro-volunteering is a way to combat this.
Kate Van Der Plank, head of UK community investment at the National Grid, as well as recently appointed business engagement director at Step Up to Serve, also spoke on the panel. She told charities that they “need to learn to say to no” to offers of employee volunteering that are not directly beneficial to them, and instead say what it is they want to get from volunteers.
Nick Hurd, the chair of the APPG, said that the introduction of the three days volunteering leave, which he said is set to start in this government, is the brink of a “game changer” for employee supported volunteering.