Cameron’s Corporate Volunteering Pledge: Could it work?

A mandated three days a year for employees to volunteer – the Big Society rears its head again and, actually Dave, it’s not such a bad idea.

If David Cameron gave 15 million people in the UK three days of paid ‘corporate volunteering’ time, it could mean £2.8 billion pounds worth of time reaching our communities – even if valued at UK Living wage.

The big backlash in the media today has been on the cost that such mandatory volunteering will have on big-businesses and the public sector organisations that are eligible.

We believe these worries are unfounded.

The business case for corporate employee volunteering is clear: learning and development opportunities, improved staff engagement and enhanced brand sentiment.

Even if there was comprehensive uptake by staff, the benefits in added productivity would well outweigh the costs in lost time.

As good as this sounds on paper, Cameron’s plan is just another worthless pre-election platitude unless clear action is taken to engage professional people in volunteering.

We’ve been banging on about this for ages at Benefacto, because the truth is, 3 million Londoners are already given time off to volunteer (and no, their parent companies aren’t crumbling under the strain). The sad reality is that only a tiny fraction ever makes time to volunteer.

Many firms already offering volunteering have incredibly low staff participation – often under 20%.

Eric Pickles tells us that “nobody is forcing anyone to volunteer and no one is forcing companies to organise this volunteering if it causes problems to the company”

Whilst he’s right in essence – this isn’t the sort of thing a government should or can regulate for effectively – there are steps that need taking to help more people give time.

A critical obstacle is corporate culture. It’s all very well if you’ve been given a day or two to volunteer but if your line manager isn’t on-board it will never feel like the right time to actually get out of the office.

These programs need buy-in across the board but particularly amongst middle management who ultimately answer for deadlines, targets and staff costs.

Another barrier to entry is convenience. Professionals are busy, charities are too: there needs to be systems in place to help match corporate volunteers with third-sector organisations where they can make an impact.

Finally, we need to ensure the third-sector is in a position to benefit from this type of support.

Our experience working with 35 charities in London is that they need support to enlist, brief and effectively apply volunteer support.

A chorus of voices today has criticised short-term volunteering as ‘tokenistic’. This is short-sighted. Professional people have a broad-range of soft-skills that can be effectively matched with many charities, even on a short-term basis.

It’s not the only contribution that we think big corporates should be making to communities, but for charities with services that can be easily extended by extra pairs of hands (homeless shelters, education centres, old people’s groups) a flow of enthusiastic, energetic, easy to apply professionals will be invaluable.

Beyond that there’s a significant cultural impact. Taking suits out of Canary Wharf and introducing them to life on the margins of society promotes a cross-pollination of understanding and compassion that our society desperately needs.

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Ben Darlington looks after new partnerships and possibilities at Benefacto. He has been involved with the project since its inception back in 2012, building the website and developing the graphic design. He is always looking for ways for charities, businesses and social enterprises to work together. If you'd like to work with Benefacto talk to Ben at