Why staff volunteering is more vital now than ever

While charities are facing increased demand, their funding is taking a hit. Businesses can provide the answer in a way that’s mutually beneficial, say Steve Butterworth and Chris Hillman

There has been a fantastic response to the coronavirus crisis from a range of companies across the UK and Ireland. Businesses of all sizes have contributed vital funds, products and services to get urgent support to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. But with the effects of the crisis continuing to cause hardship for people across the UK, and the strain on charities, we cannot afford for this community spirit to stop now. 

Despite the increased demand for the essential support that charity and community services provide, many are struggling with funding. And, according to a recent survey by Neighbourly, more than half would benefit from the help of virtual volunteers, as they face a reduction in face-to-face volunteering and manpower. 

Volunteering from home offers a simple, safe and flexible way to make a big difference to good causes across the UK and Ireland. By matching a wide range of employees’ relevant skills with charities’ needs, businesses can support essential services at a time when they are needed more than ever. 

Neighbourly is helping companies such as Danone partner with a range of volunteering opportunities. One of the benefits of this type of volunteering is that employees can support good causes wherever they might be based – all while at home, fitting around other time commitments. The ways employees can get involved include: 

  • Marketing, communications and fundraising: helping charities with their online fundraising, whether that’s setting up fundraising pages, or creating a fundraising campaign – as well as practical skills support on areas such as social media engagement.  
  • Employability mentoring: running workshops with young people looking for work, including CV writing tips, how to get into a career and interview practice – which offers a great fit for the skills of HR teams.
  • Letter writing companionship: writing letters to isolated people at risk of loneliness, who would greatly appreciate a letter to help provide companionship and comfort.  
  • Administration and IT support: with charities stretched for time, providing administrative support to help update their websites, databases or security settings can be a huge help.

Danone employees have responded extremely positively to this new volunteering opportunity. Colleagues have helped a community kitchen in London set up processes to support their emergency food distribution and volunteer rotas. Elsewhere, staff have taken part in a virtual webinar with school children interested in the grocery industry. 

It’s not just charities that benefit. Volunteering is proven to have wellbeing benefits for the volunteers themselves. By taking part, employees feel engaged and rewarded – all important to staying connected and motivated while working from home, or furloughed. In previous Neighbourly research, 80 per cent of employees who took part in volunteering said the experience made them happier, and 100 per cent said they felt proud to work for their company as a result.

Summer is usually a peak time for volunteering, especially with Volunteers’ Week taking place in early June. And while social distancing will mean a reduction in face-to-face volunteering this summer, employees all over the UK can still provide valuable remote support. To get their organisations started, employers should:

  • Identify the most relevant opportunities for your employees – what are the areas that you specialise in, and what skills can your employees offer from home?
  • Establish how and when – how much time do your employees have to commit, and when? Can you make volunteering time formally available and encouraged, if you don’t already?
  • Reach out to charities and community groups – start by engaging local organisations you have existing relationships with to understand where they need help. 

We all have a crucial role to play as we collectively rebuild from the crisis. By channelling your teams’ skills into local organisations that are already doing vital work, we can help to ensure the right support reaches the most at-risk people in the coming weeks and months.  

Steve Butterworth is CEO of Neighbourly and Chris Hillman is head of sustainability and social innovation at Danone