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Encouraging employees to volunteer in the local community can be a great way to build and develop social and professional skills. However, you should first consider what you can offer to charities, as well as what you hope to gain.
Research by employee volunteering research firm ThreeHands has shown that the most common type of support given by corporates comes in the form of unskilled team projects (think beach clean or painting a wall at your local school). Even though no hard skills are required, this form of volunteering is still marketed as a human resources tool and low-cost option for staff development. Some skills developed through this kind of volunteering include: people skills (team-work, negotiating etc.), organisational skills, prioritisation, time management, and communication.
However, charities are not blind to the fact that one of the motivations behind unskilled employee volunteering is to develop core competencies of staff (some have even described the practice as passing on staff development costs to the third sector). While it is still a valued form of volunteering, ThreeHands’ research has shown that the majority of charities prefer volunteers that can contribute more specialised knowledge and skills, such as help with accounting or pro-bono consultation.
CSR professionals should think about any instance of employee volunteering on a scale ranging from unskilled (developing soft-skills) to skilled (utilising specialised skills to make a bigger impact). Every company and every employee is different, with a range of skills to offer and to gain. A successful employee volunteering programme should therefore aim to develop core skills where required, but also utilise specialist knowledge as much as possible as a way to give back and maximise community impact.
The true challenge lies in incentivising and guiding your employees to volunteer in a way that is most beneficial to their own development, while keeping the interest of the wider community in mind. One way to do this is through leading by example, which we’ll be exploring in the next piece in this series.