Top tips for getting started with employee volunteering

Last week, volunteers from global company Edenred spent the day planting hedges and cutting back overgrown nettles in Southwark Park nature reserve. Although all the volunteers work in the same building, a few had never actually met before. By the end of the day, they were happily chatting and working together as a team.

This demonstrates how fantastic volunteering can be at helping to build teams. Research shows that employee volunteering also helps staff develop leadership, decision-making and negotiation skills. It has important business benefits too, such as boosting morale and improving staff retention. It encourages engagement and social awareness across your organisation and has a vital role to play in change management, enhancing internal communications and demonstrating active citizenship. Volunteering offers all of this while also making a big impact in the community; it’s a win-win.

Over the last 15 years TimeBank has become expert in connecting workplaces with communities, offering a specialist and professional brokering service to make sure employees get the very best and most enjoyable volunteering experience possible. It delivers employee volunteering that really works - engaging staff, helping them develop confidence and skills, and making them proud to be part of your organisation and tell your story. We introduced the enormously popular idea of Christmas Party volunteering – getting together with work colleagues for a few hours volunteering in the community before heading off to a work social with experiences to share and stories to tell.

With the Government’s commitment to employee volunteering, now is the time to prepare and develop your employee volunteering programme. 

Having worked with companies as diverse as EE, Google and Balfour Beatty and with Government departments including the Cabinet Office here are our top tips for ensuring effective employee volunteering:

What do you want to get out of it?

364 Think about what you as an organisation want to get from volunteering. We’ve worked with companies that want to become more cohesive after merger, build teams, bring together people at all levels or develop staff. You may have seen a need in your community that staff would love to help out with. You might want to grow your public profile – if you’re an energy company for example you might want to be seen as green and promoting energy efficiency. So give careful thought to the key areas you want to enhance and promote and how employee volunteering aligns with your business priorities.  

What do your staff want?

It will be important to think about what your employees want to do, too. They might like to use their professional skills to help others, by helping older people get to grips with technology, mentoring young people in interview skills or preparing a CV. One of our clients, a design company, wanted to use their creative skills to help a neighbourhood school and successfully transformed a drab corner of the library into an inspirational reading corner.

366 But other employees might want to do something completely different to their day jobs – and we’ve set them to work clearing an adventure playground or planting a community garden on a housing estate.  Consider a staff survey asking them if they would be interested in volunteering and if so what kind of volunteering they’d like to do – they may come up with new and interesting ideas that can benefit your organisation.

At TimeBank, we offer an interactive, two-hour workshop that provides your staff with insights into current volunteering opportunities and the different ways they can give their time and share skills with the community.  Delivered at your place of work, such a workshop can provide your organisation with the foundations to starting your own employee volunteering scheme.

Budget for volunteering

For it to function well, volunteering needs just the same sort of organisation, management and support as paid work. Remember that charities invest substantial resources in their volunteers and there may well be the cost of tools and materials to take into account too. If you use a broker like TimeBank, bear in mind that there are of course costs involved in providing this service. TimeBank has to pay its staff to research and source volunteering opportunities, to organise the day and be there to coordinate the activities.  We will work with you to arrange a date, make sure health and safety checks are in place including a risk assessment if needed and provide your team with all the information they need for the day.

What do charities need?

And finally, do think about what the community needs and how your organisation can make a difference. It’s important to consider not only what you want to accomplish, but also what the charity needs are and how these two aims can be combined most effectively. That’s the most important part of a successful employee volunteering programme.

It will be vital to talk to prospective charities, to be honest about your organisation and what you’d like to achieve. And remember to ask the charity what it needs and what your volunteers can help it accomplish.

Discuss how many employee volunteers you have and how many the charity can take. Allow enough time to put your plans in place. It can take a while to match your employees with the best and most appropriate volunteering experience to ensure they have an enjoyable and rewarding experience. We’ve had companies come to us and say they have 200 employees looking to volunteer in their community next week. That’s an offer that no matter how welcome, can be overwhelming to a small community organisation facing the challenge of hosting so many enthusiastic but untrained helpers.

What next?

Many organisations find it difficult to engage with the communities they’d most like to support. Often small charities and community organisations just don’t have the resources to provide an effective, properly structured volunteering experience.

Outsourcing can be a helpful solution for many businesses. And that’s where TimeBank comes in, offering a cost-effective brokering service to provide the skills and expertise to make successful employee volunteering happen. As a volunteering charity, one of TimeBank’s aims is to encourage people into volunteering. If they enjoy their first experience of volunteering and find it has been managed well and professionally, they often go on to volunteer for a wide range of causes.

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