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The Bottom Line Benefits of Employee Supported Volunteering

By Sally Davis, social entrepreneur and Managing Director of Growing Ambitions - inspiring career talks for young people

March 12 2009 - In the economic downturn, advertising budgets are being cut, marketing departments pruned, but organisations still need to be raising their profile, attracting new customers, and differentiating themselves from their competitors. CSR in the form of Employee Supported Volunteering (ESV) can help.

Look at any CSR programme worth its salt and there you will discover an element of Employee Supported Volunteering or ESV: either as an endorsement of individuals' private volunteering or a more structured programme with formal corporate badging and resourcing. But what is the attraction? And what, if any, are the bottom line benefits?

Many companies limit CSR to simply 'being green', but it is more broadly about being responsible corporate citizens, contributing to the community in other ways than simply providing employment.

With many companies adding CSR responsibility to an existing HR role, how useful a tool is it?

CSR increases employee morale, performance and retention

Using your employees to invest in the community helps to identify employer values and foster individual commitment. Corporate volunteers become more motivated* and are likely to stay longer**. Centrica, for example, found that involvement in its Cardiff Cares volunteering scheme increased employees' job satisfaction (from 62% to 67%), improved retention (nearly 100% amongst participants) and reduced absence due to sickness.

These are tangible benefits to the bottom line. MORI found that nine in ten employees agree that a company that is seen to be active in the community is probably a good employer. This is especially true for graduates looking for their first job. This has obvious benefits for recruitment.

CSR is a staff development tool

Volunteering can help develop a variety of competencies, including teamwork, planning and implementation, communication, project management, problem solving, budgeting, listening skills and customer focus. Outside the 9-5 job, volunteers can be innovative, respect difference and increase their self confidence.

CSR brings brand and reputation benefits

Being seen to be active in the community not only wins brownie points with stakeholders but sets an employer - of whatever size - apart from the rest. CSR activities are useful PR fodder and material for annual reports, and as USA company, Business for Social Responsibility ( has shown, yields a 3:1 advantage in attracting investors, business partners, and new customers. That's worth having.

CSR increases customer goodwill and loyalty

What sets a company selling 'also ran' products and services apart from its competitors? Could it be the 'feelgood' factor that a brand delivers?

CSR improves relationships with the community

Activity in the community need not cost anything except for employee time. It can help enter new markets, reduce local regulatory obstacles, influence local politics, generate positive media coverage and increase company/brand awareness locally. Healthy communities benefit all the local employers, so investing in that makes good sense.

Business in the Community's ECI+ survey of its 700 members in the year 2000 suggested that employee volunteering was even then already becoming firmly embedded into HR policy:

  • 27% of respondents use employee volunteering as a real alternative to staff training
  • 18% use it as part of their Investors in People process
  • 20% use it support their Equal Opportunity and Diversity objectives
  • 24% train their graduates in the community
  • 53% have a time off policy
  • 69% formally recognise employees' efforts.

Today, these figures are likely to be far higher.

CSR in education - impacting the workforce of the future

One of the areas where ESV can make most impact is in education, investing in what is, after all, the workforce of the future. Young people often get a bad press but they are the future of the nation. When it comes to choice of career, for example, many have little idea of the choices out there.

Careers information in schools, colleges and universities has been under resourced since time immemorial and careers advisers and teachers struggle to provide the insights young people need into the world of work. They need to know what real careers are open to them, what real workplaces are like.

Knowing how business works, and the various skills that make for a successful business, how markets operate and the role they might play within it, are also hugely important. Understanding the difference between the public, private and voluntary sectors, and the roles and rewards intrinsic to those sectors should be part of all young people's education. These are all information gaps that employers can help to fill.

There are a number of excellent options available: from encouraging their staff to take part in enterprise challenges through their local Education Business Partnerships; offering work placements with organisations such as Trident; becoming school governors; and for those with the enthusiasm but little time, and not wanting long-term commitment, half-hour career speaking with non-profit Growing Ambitions.

* See research by The Corporate Citizenship Company

** See research by Walker Information



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