With a new era on the horizon as the world opens up post-pandemic, one charity founder is urging businesses to harness the increase in community spirit and encourage volunteering.
Here Diane Vernon, CEO of EmployabilityUK, explains why despite the tragedies associated with Covid-19, there are plenty of potential positive outcomes.
“With restrictions now effectively gone from our lives, there’s been a real range of responses from the business world. There are companies now embedding the changes they were forced to implement at short notice – such as flexible and remote working – as part of their long-term strategies; and yet there are others rushing to return to life before the pandemic.
“The worry with that is we will lose many of the positives to come from the UK lockdowns, such as the increase in volunteers we’ve seen as people look to spend their free time in a productive manner. This increase is certainly something we’ve experienced at EmployabilityUK, the charity I launched back in 2014 aimed at improving career prospects, social mobility, and boosting aspirations and confidence among young people in some of the country’s most deprived areas.
“We recently won a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in recognition of the contribution of some 1,000 unpaid supporters (of which around 100 give their time regularly to the charity) – and we’ve seen a legion of new volunteers signing up over the past 18 months.
“I do fear that businesses will be so set on getting back to ‘normal’ that the extra time and freedom to volunteer which many have experienced will be squeezed out in favour of them being told to work 9am to 5pm – because of a mistaken perception that’s what’s best for business.”
How can businesses support volunteering?
“It’s true that actions speak louder than words, and there are a number of steps businesses can take to ensure their pledge to support volunteering isn’t just talk. One of these steps, which will have a great impact on charitable organisations and the individuals themselves, is allocating a portion of each employee’s time – over and above their annual leave allowance – specifically for volunteering.
“Another option, if financially viable, is allocating a small pot of money to each team member which they can use to kickstart a fundraiser. And of course, there are many skills within the business which could be shared with the third sector (and vice versa) – instead of simply making financial donations, those organisations which really shine when it comes to CSR are the ones thinking about skills sharing.
“This links well into allocating time for volunteering – while some may wish to get involved in the core activity (like our volunteer mentors who work directly with the young people we support), charities have pretty much the same set-up as a business, so your admin, marketing, IT and finance teams could all lend their particular expertise to the relevant team within the charitable organisation.”
The business case:
“Supporting your employees to give their time and expertise to a cause they believe in isn’t just a ‘nice thing to do’ – you’re going to reap the benefits as a business too. For one, volunteers will often find themselves picking up new skills that actually help them with their career – and it’s also proven to boost mental health, which in turn increases productivity and morale: a win for individual and company alike.
“If like many of the workforce, your team are working from home more often (and will continue to do so), then the social interaction and team bonding that may be missing as they work in isolation can be filled by volunteer work. Increasingly, we’re finding younger volunteers in particular are turning to EmployabilityUK (and other charities, I’m sure) in order to learn the sorts of skills they may have picked up in a shared workspace pre-pandemic. There’s something about working in a team which gives a boost to self-reliance, resilience, motivation and all sorts of other skills which radically increase performance at work.
There’s also a case to be made for supporting volunteer work when it comes to attracting top talent – a company’s social values are among the criteria job seekers are increasingly looking at when they decide which firms to seek employment with. Millennials (who will make up three quarters of the global workforce within the next four years) overwhelmingly agree that they want to work for a company whose values reflect their own.
“By implementing policies and practices which easily allow staff to fit volunteering into their schedules – and thinking about the time and skills the business can gift to a charity or charities of their choice, you actively demonstrate your CSR commitment and become a much more attractive prospect. And who doesn’t want a reputation for being a fantastic place to work?”
“Without collaboration between the private and voluntary sectors, we are going to struggle to harness this surge in volunteer time, skills and awareness so that the benefits can continue for many years to come. At EmployabilityUK, we have undertaken a great deal of work to make volunteering for us a fulfilling experience, overhauling our onboarding process, producing guides and policies, and even going through an organisational reshuffle.
“We’ve been able to make a real difference to the lives of many young people thanks to the hard work of our volunteers – those who have contributed to our IT systems, written content, and marketing strategies as well as those who have worked directly with the young people. But we know we’ve also given back to those volunteers: opportunities to learn new skills in a supportive environment, a sense of pride and self-worth and the social benefits of being part of a good cause. And we also know those who volunteer with us around their paid job have been able to use all of this and more to great effect within their career.
“The pandemic was of course a time of negativity and reflection, but it’s given us unprecedented levels of support across the board from enthusiastic young people to seasoned professionals who want to make a difference – but now we need the business sector to support us in keeping this wave of good will and community spirit going.
“The attitude of the private sector will determine whether people can continue to volunteer around their work – enabling them to work from home so they can utilise what would be time lost to commuting, or encouraging flexible working so they can volunteer in the morning and then work later in the day, for example.
“The term ‘new normal’ has been widely used in recent months– let’s make sure volunteering is part of that normality. The business sector has a real opportunity here to utilise the post-pandemic community spirit for the benefit of their workforce, and their company too – let’s not lose that opportunity by overlooking just how powerful a force for good volunteering is.”
About the Author:
Diane Vernon is the founder of EmployabilityUK, a charity dedicated to supporting young people from some of the most deprived areas of the country, giving them the skills, confidence and attitude to succeed in the workplace. More than 1,000 volunteers have supported the charity to date, and feedback shows 100% of respondents would recommend the charity – which was recently awarded a prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – as a great place to volunteer.
Their programmes include a variety of face-to-face and virtual sessions on everything from confidence-boosting to CV writing, and they’re also part of the Kickstarter scheme, as well as linking young people with businesses willing to act as mentors.