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Quality vs. Quantity: Striking the right balance with employee volunteering

Quality vs. Quantity: Striking the right balance with employee volunteering

Expert opinion
Employee volunteering is not a new concept. Over three-quarters of large firms offer it which means 11 million days of paid time off are given each year. 
Staff participation is often the key indicator of employee volunteering success, but there is a danger that this means we focus on corporate benefit while overlooking the impact for the community and the volunteers themselves.
We recently met with a leading CSR practitioner from a big Accountancy firm with an established employee volunteering scheme and high staff participation. They have decided to stop organising large groups of volunteers and concentrate on more targeted and valuable volunteering – recognising that fewer people might get involved. Sacrificing quantity for quality is a bold decision but one which makes perfect sense.
Corporate companies interested in developing their employee volunteering programs need to think hard about the balance between quality and quantity and make a strategic decision about how they will measure their successes. 
Considering the impact of your program will show people where your company makes a difference and inspire more people to volunteer. 
Decide what you want to achieve and how to measure it
Think about the impact your staff can have on the ground and make targets that relate directly to beneficiaries – measure hot meals served, young people provided with interview advice or the number of isolated older people you’ve reached.
These sorts of metrics provide meaningful measurement of what you are doing and will help to connect your workforce to their volunteering. Such methods are very easy to share and celebrate. 
If you struggle to measure quantitative impact, consider qualitative methods: communicate regularly with your community partners and share feedback. Life stories, anecdotes, audio-pops have the power to inspire and help people visualise impact. 
Think about what skills you are suited to
When employees consider taking corporate volunteering days, they often look for opportunities that will transport themselves away from their day jobs and expertise. Corporates on the other hand see employee volunteering as a great team building opportunity.
The problem with these aims is that they don’t necessarily match with what charities need. In the wake of the recession our partner charities have highlighted the value and need for skills-based volunteering to deliver their services, not manual labourers or pro-bono back-office support. They are looking for individuals or small sized groups that can assist in the delivery of services directly not huge groups. At Benefacto, we work with around thirty small, wonderful and varied charities in London and we focus carefully on meeting their needs. 
We recently spoke to a company that had sent out hundreds of people over a five-day period to paint a community space. Such activities may look good on paper, but in truth, their time could have been better targeted. 
Think about the skills your workforce has, find out what skills charities are asking for and work hard to make valuable matches.  We also need to find the right balance between using ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills. Opportunities exist in the middle to get people excited about using softer skills that will also be transferable in the work place.
Provide the right mix of opportunities to encourage the right volunteering
Charity is personal. People engage with volunteering when they can identify with the cause. Make sure you’ve got a range of opportunities so people can connect with something that inspires them. 
If you have a large number of employees you want to get out together think about splitting the team into groups for maximum value and impact.   We recently had a group of around twenty –five out wanting to volunteer at one time.  This was a perfect opportunity to spread the value and impact of corporate volunteering – we split them five ways and sent each group to a different charity. They then returned later in the afternoon for a de-brief: another chance to share impact.  
Educate and engage your staff
Here are some tips to make giving personal, convenient and part of your culture:
  • Offer a wide range of causes with specific needs.
  • Listen to your charity partners.
  • Celebrate your successes in a clear meaningful way 
  • Explain the value of volunteering for employees – (if you’re still wondering check out this blog on the benefits of employee volunteering for your workforce ) 
  • Create a culture where people know you expect them to volunteer
These key messages can be communicated in various ways including social media and marketing, holding presentations, meetings or on an individual basis. Each of them is an article in their own right so watch this space…
If you’re still struggling to identify high-impact volunteering options for your employees, or would like some help structuring your program, take a look at – we are always happy to help!
Lucy Hayim works for Benefacto, a Community Interest Company that engages professional people with the community. Benefacto works alongside a number of small and wide - ranging charities in London, providing them with corporate  volunteers to help run activities or support their service delivery

This expert opinion is tagged under:

  • Big Society
  • Volunteering/trusteeship