How are your volunteering figures for the first three months of the year? Has engagement gone through the roof or have things been a bit sleepy so far?
What does this tell us?
In simple terms, this data shows us that people like to volunteer at different times of the year.
We work with 25 pro-active, hard-working CSR teams across a range of professions; this aggregated data shows that even averaged across different businesses, there’s a clear level of seasonality when it comes to getting people out of the office.
We have two significant high points, (and these will come as no surprise to you) during the summer period and then in the run-up to Christmas.
July and August are traditionally quieter times for financial and professional services firms.
I also think it’s understandable that people want to escape the office when the sun shines. In the week of writing this article (w/c 18 April) we’ve had the first glimmer of spring and our inboxes have come alive with would-be volunteers!
December is the second-biggest month of the year for us and whilst this certainly has something to do with the spirit of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, it’s also worth noting that we tend to make a big push in the run up to the end of the year. We run ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ campaigns at a number of our firms and it’s amazing how many people don’t want to let their volunteering allowance go unused.
The chart below shows volunteering numbers at one of our companies – it more or less tracks the average for most of the year, but the December campaign has really pushed engagement through the roof, doubling the Benefacto average.
Our quietest periods are the January – March Quarter and the September – November stretch. These are both typically busy period for business: the flurry of activity that a new year brings, and the focused ‘back-to-school’ period following long summer breaks.
Any guesses why we see the lowest numbers in March? Perhaps a combination of the run up to the end of the financial year and the bad weather put a bit of a dampener on people’s enthusiasm.
So what this data shows us is that some points of the year are always going to be a battle – whether to do with busy times in the office or bad weather. If you’re struggling in March, don’t beat yourself up. Perhaps these fallow months could be well-used to focus on other parts of the corporate responsibility, diversity and inclusion eco-system or in preparation for other campaigns.
It also shows us when we can make the best of those times of year when volunteers are naturally inclined to head out into their communities, focusing energy and promotion around key times in the year.
On the flip side, it is worth questioning, how much are these numbers chicken and egg? The ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ chart shows just how easy it is to manipulate the numbers and drive engagement. There is definitely a danger that we could be re-enforcing our assumptions about when people like to volunteer. Could we be doing more to stimulate interest at quiet times? Certainly we’d love to hear about your numbers and whether they correlate to ours or not.
As with all CSR activity, the agenda must always return to the impact we’re having on our communities. I think this data really begs the question of how local charities might feel about the contrast in support they receive across the year, and how easy it is to cope with the eight-fold contrast between March and August.
Do you think as CSR and voluntary sector practitioners we can aspire the regular flow of volunteers year-round, or is seasonal fluctuation a reality we just have to work with? Let me know your comments – I will be fascinated to hear your perspective.