With the EU referendum dominating political discourse and activity for much of the year so far, the Conservative manifesto pledge to introduce a mandatory three days’ volunteering leave at companies of over 250 people has taken a bit of a back seat. With the shock of Brexit, CSR practitioners have asked whether the policy will be shelved.
In the week after Brexit the update from the Cabinet Office is that the three days policy is still on the agenda. Watch this space for latest updates on the policy here and at Benefacto we feel it is really important to articulate some of the views and concerns of both companies and charities as government begins shape the policy.
This spring we ran a survey with 50 London-based companies to explore their reactions to the proposed policy. Largely we spoke to Corporate Social Responsibility practitioners, and largely the respondents represented companies over the 250 employees threshold.
Interestingly, 70% of the firms we surveyed already had some sort of volunteering policy in place, and 28% already gave three days volunteering leave or more.
The general response to the proposed policy is largely favourable.
It is insightful that our CSR respondents were quite clear that the policy would be a good thing, a red-light for us is the perception of luke-warm support amongst senior leadership. I feel we missed an opportunity to ask about middle management appetite too.
The question of management interest around volunteering is important because, when it comes to engagement, company culture around volunteering is much more important than mere policy. There are no end of companies out there already with volunteering policies in place where engagement is at dismal levels.
There is a strong message here for policy makers: companies will need support to engage their people in volunteering if this policy is to have a positive impact on the actual number of volunteers who get out there and help charities.
“The voluntary sector will need support to build capacity to ensure the value of the extra volunteers involved.”
David Adair, Head of Community Affairs, PwC
“Businesses at the forefront will need to help the voluntary sector absorb the increase in volunteers in a way that helps the sector drive positive social outcomes. They will also have to be vigilant to ensure their own programmes respond to the needs of the voluntary sector without creating work and costs.”
Linda Wickstrom, CSR Specialist, Accenture
One of the big challenges of the proposed policy is how CSR coordinators and charities will be able to organise enough meaningful, high-impact charity days to meet an increase in demand for volunteering.
We asked respondents who haven’t yet begun an employee volunteering program what sorts of volunteering they want, and the results show how demand does vary across the different types of volunteering, with skills-based and mentoring activities at the forefront.
This adds another layer of complexity to the challenge as, whilst this is what charities increasingly tell us they need (as opposed to more manual volunteering) for skills-based volunteering to be genuinely useful and sustainable it requires case-by-case management between stakeholders to identify and hone the best way of working in each case.
Worryingly, our results also show that despite the growing understanding that groups days are more of a burden than a benefit for charities, 53% of companies continue to seek ‘team challenges’.
When asked about the sort of volunteering currently happening, only 11% was made up of big team challenges. The short-fall between demand and supply reinforces our belief that small charities (which make up nearly 70% of the sector in the UK) really struggle to cater for this sort of engagement.
“I think the government will need to back this up with more support for the voluntary sector: specifically supporting volunteer brokers and encouraging cross-sector collaboration.”
CSR Manager, Professional Services
“There is potential for a large number of volunteering brokerages to pop up, charging companies large sums of money for their services and not always offering a high quality service.”
CSR Manager, Law
Much has been said about the ‘potential deluge’ of volunteers that would come about from the introduction of the policy.
Whether this came to pass or not, there is a clear need for investment in infrastructure to provide efficient, safe and accountable channels for volunteers to access the third sector. These frameworks could be developed within companies, charities or through third-party volunteering platforms like Benefacto.
Of the respondents already running some sort of volunteering program today, only 34% currently use a brokerage, but 69% believe corporate volunteering brokerages would be necessary to help companies build relationships with the third sector if the policy came in.
Of all our respondents a resounding 74% supported the need for brokerages.
The importance of robust infrastructure boils down to making sure that proper safeguarding is in place and that neither service users, charity staff or corporate volunteers find themselves in positions of vulnerability. We didn’t collect quantitative data on this aspect of the policy, but a considerable number of respondents’ comments did highlight the fundamental importance of managing a growth in corporate volunteers in a responsible way.
Brexit has shown us that Britain is a society divided; that many communities have suffered in Austerity Britain. The role of the voluntary sector is more important that ever, both as the front-line services who support vulnerable people, but also as the glue that connects different parts of society. This is especially true in the field of employee volunteering, where we need to re-emphasise the value of bringing together professional people with those on the fringes of society.
Cameron may be on the way out, but his policy is more important than ever. With the support of the CSR community we are now looking forward to the next steps on the government’s volunteering policy.
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