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Do you encourage your staff to volunteer?

By Jayne Morris, Chief Executive at TPP Not for Profit.

Charities are very good at encouraging private sector companies to give their staff time off to volunteer, but how many have their own policies in place to support their own employees in volunteering?  In this article, we look at the benefits of promoting volunteering to your organisation’s staff and the different ways in which you can support them.

Why encourage your staff to volunteer?

Charities may think that encouraging their own employees to volunteer may simply be taking them away from their desk for no real benefit, but this is far from the truth.

Your employees have chosen to work in the charity sector and obviously want to support good causes.   It is likely that many of them are already involved in some sort of voluntary activity.  By allowing them time to help other organisations, you are both supporting the sector as a whole and showing your employees that you value them and recognise the value of their volunteer work.

Giving a workforce opportunities for volunteering has been proven to improve productivity, morale, and retention.  This is as true for third sector organisations as for those in the private sector.  An occasional change of scene and a bit of variety in a role can make a huge difference in improving someone’s happiness, as well as giving them a new perspective and the opportunity to look at their current role in a new way.

Volunteering is an excellent and extremely cost-effective way for staff to develop new skills and learn from other organisations.  Charities are very good at sharing best practice, but there’s no substitute for being on the ‘shop floor’ of an organisation to learn how they really do things.  Some organisations even include volunteering done in performance reviews and promotion decisions.

Having your own staff volunteering policy in place could help support your argument when going to the private sector to ask for time or funding.  It’s a great way to demonstrate to companies that you truly believe volunteering is valuable.

How can you encourage volunteering?

There are various different ways in which you can approach volunteering in your organisation, depending on the size and make up of its workforce.  When choosing what to put in your volunteering policy, you need to balance the potential benefits of volunteering against any impact of staff being away from their desks.

As a first step, you could take a proportion of your staff out of the office for a short period of time to work on a specific volunteering project.  Many private sector companies approach these opportunities as team-building exercises.  However, these short-term projects can be difficult to organise and don’t always benefit the recipients in the long term.

You could find another organisation to partner with – perhaps a local charity or one with overlapping aims.  You could then ‘swap’ volunteer employees on a regular basis in a mutually beneficial arrangement; both parties learning from one another’s experience.

Probably the most flexible option is to allocate a certain amount of paid leave each year for volunteering.  Each staff member can then choose where, how and when they use their own volunteering leave, and an employee’s support for a charity can be sustained over the long term.

Rather than give paid leave for all volunteering, some organisations choose instead to match employees’ volunteering time.  So for every hour a member of staff volunteers in their own time, they receive a matched hour of paid leave, up to a specified limit.  This requires a bit more commitment on the part of your employees, but can be a less frightening prospect for smaller organisations.

So what next?

Once you have decided which option best suits your organisation, make sure you have a policy in place which is circulated to all employees (you can find an example policy template here).  Whichever option you choose, your employees will certainly be appreciative.  And remember, volunteering must always be optional and must be done for another organisation, not the employee’s own charity, or it is simply extra unpaid work.

TPP give all of our own employees 5 days volunteering leave a year, and many of our staff are trustees or regular volunteers for various charities.  You can find out more about the volunteering that our staff do on our website.

Find your nearest volunteer centre here:
http://www.volunteering.org.uk/where-do-i-start