What is the reality of a Volunteering Day?
We work with charities every single day and are always seeking new ways to engage with them and support them. Volunteering days are a popular request as a way for companies to support Charities.
To date, we haven’t undertaken Volunteering days, opting for a different approach, the level of interest however, has led us to have a think about the pros and cons of volunteering days, and what ourselves and other well-meaning companies should be considering, before embarking on any charity support work.
- What are the Stats?
According to the UK Government, as at September 2016, there were 30,585,000 people in the UK of working age and actively employed.
According to the UK Civil Service Almanac annual volunteering days by companies were 7.4% in 2016. That equates to 2.3 million Corporate volunteering days last year! – that’s 6,200 people volunteering at a charity every single day of the year. Hmm.
According to nfpSynergy, there are over £160k charities in the UK, although the general impression is we don’t actually know and some people think it’s closer to 400,000!
Either way, a large proportion of these charities will be very small and unable to accommodate volunteers. So if we look at those charities earning an annual income over £100k, then using statistics from the charities commission, we have c.33,500 charities potentially able to accommodate volunteers.
Using the stats above, fitting 2.3 million volunteering days into 33,500 charities would look something like;
- each Charity accommodating 75 volunteering days each – on the assumption that every single one of these charities had a volunteering opportunity available.
- If we make an assumption that perhaps only 60% could accommodate volunteering days – perhaps due to the nature of the work they do with vulnerable children or scientific research, then we’re looking at 20,100 charities, accommodating 114 volunteering days each.
- What is the tipping point?
ie when does a volunteering day flip from helpful to unhelpful
The above statistics, sound like a lot of work for each charity, and we wondered at what point the organising of Volunteering Days becomes counterproductive to the charity. That is, at what point are you just helping yourself rather than the charity.
The point of a volunteering day is to assist a charity, but these statistics pose the question of how onerous a volunteering day may actually be on a charity.
Having spoken with several charities, they were keen to assure us that they are incredibly grateful for support, but they were also able to list many challenges with arranging volunteering days.
The most common of which included;
- Having to find and sometimes create jobs, in which unskilled workers are able to work
- Finding Charity staff with the correct skills to supervise the work, and consequently therefore taking them away from their usual work
- Managing the impact on the charity service users
- The frustration that there are other more urgent things they need, but which don’t lend themselves to a volunteering day
When there is a specific task, that fits perfectly to a volunteering day, then that is great. However, when a charity is having to shoe-horn a request for a volunteering day, then it becomes counterproductive and essentially a waste of everyone’s time and money.
I recall a specific example of a children’s charity who have had their hall painted twice a year for several years now, by well-meaning volunteers. While it has been great to have beautifully fresh walls, it has a large impact on services users (who can’t access the hall at this time), plus there were many more things they needed, such as equipment for their sensory room or wheelchairs for service users.
It is likely that if the volunteers knew this, it would be very demotivating, as it is assumed that the drive of the volunteering day, is a genuine desire to help. The charities are reluctant to say no, as they want to build relationships with supportive companies and to not appear ungrateful. Is it a case of a lot of typically British manners, getting in the way here?
- What about other Social impacts of Volunteering Days?
Another consideration of a Volunteering day is that you may inadvertently have a negative social impact on local small businesses. For example, if you go and paint a children’s centre or tidy up their garden, then you’re taking work away from professional painters or gardening services in your area – who to be honest, will probably do a better job! (no offence!).
Surely it’s better to leave the work to the ‘professionals’?! Why not take on one of our ‘Alternatives to Volunteering Day’ options listed below, and raise money to fund a gardener for a year?
- Why are companies so keen on Volunteering Days?
Volunteering days can be a lot of fun and they give you a real sense of achievement, when the task selected is well matched to your skills and directly benefits the charity. They are also seen as a cheaper way of supporting charity, which is obviously appealing to businesses. Volunteering days can be run on a whole team basis, or employees are given a certain number of ‘volunteering hours’ to go off and make their own arrangements to support a charity. For example, Waitrose donate 75,000 paid hours a year for staff to give their time and skills to charity. The below quote shows just one reason why team volunteering days are so popular.
We could have simply had a whip round in the office and donated money to charity. But we wanted to use our creative skills to bond as a team, have fun and do something to make a big impact somewhere nearby that really needed it.
CEO of Southerly
*Source: Volunteering – The Business Case (City of London 2010)
Either way, having just looked at the stats and the issues charities face, businesses should be thinking very carefully before embarking on a volunteering day, seeking guidance and giving consideration to other options. In some cases, we are seeing that is better for the charity if you do nothing, rather than a counterproductive volunteering day, where the only winner is your business. Don’t despair though, if the charity you want to support cannot meaningfully accommodate a volunteering day, then there are many other ways you can support.
- What are the alternatives to Volunteering?
There are many alternatives to Volunteering days, and to a degree, that will depend on what your business and your team want to get out of the experience.
- Sponsored Events – take on a local 10km – train together as a team – meet some service users to get a real feel for the people you’re helping and use that to motivate yourself and the people you seek sponsorship from.
- Run a fundraising event! Get creative and host your own event. Invite the Charity and if appropriate, their service users along. Have a family fun day, with a BBQ, bouncy castle and live music – sell tickets.
- Support the charity’s fundraising events, by offering yourselves as volunteers to man the stalls, sell tickets, run a beer tent and so on.
- Use a specialist company, who will have a great relationship already with many charities. They will already know what specific things the charity needs, whether that be a volunteering day or specific equipment. By using a company like this, you can find creative ways for your business and team to support the charity without placing excess demands on the charity and ensuring that your time, money and good intentions are truly well spent.
Feeling inspired? Then you might like to take a look at O3e’s current ‘Charities seeking support’ list.