It’s not surprising that at the heart of the discussion of an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) held earlier this week on Employer Support Volunteering, at which Benefacto Founder and CEO, Linz Darlington, was invited to speak, was David Cameron’s three days’ Paid Volunteering Leave pledge.
Joining Linz in the debate was Katherine Rudiger, Head of Skills and Policy at CIPD, Anne Heal, MD Strategy and BT Volunteering and Kate Van Der Plank, Head of Community Investment at the National Grid and Business Engagement Director at Step Up to Serve. In the chair was Nick Hurd, former Minister for Civil Society and now MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner.
Cameron announced in April that he wanted to allow all Public Sector employees and those companies with over 250 employees three days’ Paid Volunteering Leave. Although the policy is yet to be revealed in detail, there was a consensus amongst the panel that the proposal is a good thing. The chair of the APPG, Nick Hurd commented that we are “on the brink of a game changer”. However, Linz expressed that for the policy’s potential to be fully recognised, “we need to fix employee volunteering first”. He recommends the following:
1) To enable charities to enlist short-term volunteers to support areas of need within their organisations.
2) Engender a culture whereby people both want to volunteer and feel supported to do so in the workplace.
3) In order to engage corporate volunteers in the ‘world of the iPhone’, we need to provide them with varied opportunities that are quick and easy to access.
CIPD, National Grid and BT all have impressive employee volunteering policies in place, and have incorporated the subject of volunteering into their recruitment process as a way of recognising important ‘soft skills’.
The engagement of BT staff is particularly impressive, Anne Heal stated that 26% of BT staff are currently volunteering with the hope that by 2020 two-thirds of employees will be engaged with volunteering activities. This would be an outstanding achievement and contribution to the third sector.
Anne brought under discussion the value of micro-volunteering, whereby volunteers dedicate a small amount of time to a task or cause most through the use of technology. She said micro-volunteering has the ability to unlock peoples’ interest and can be the first step into charity participation.
Kate Van Der Plank acknowledged the business case for employee volunteering and the positive impact this can have on a workforce as well as the corporates reputation. She emphasised that when done well, volunteering can benefit the “individual, charity and society as whole”.
However, Kate did shed some light on the challenges Cameron’s pledge will have on small charities as they might not be ‘volunteer ready’ or know how to articulate their needs. The focus of many charities is to keep on top of their day-to-day role and activities.
She emphasised that “charities need to learn to say no” to corporates, when volunteers aren’t needed to prevent volunteering from becoming a burden.
The panel’s discussion opened the floor to interesting questions from the audience that further emphasised the balance of corporate—charity relationship and the role of brokers in organising those volunteering opportunities. The operational needs between local and national charities were also discussed.
Although the outcome of the Cameron’s three days’ Paid Volunteering Leave pledge remains unknown, there was consensus amongst the panel that this will impose a ‘right to request’ time off to volunteer following the argument by Kate that “volunteering must be voluntary”. One can assume that the pledge will require getting line managers on board to support their staff in taking time off.
While the details of the legislation are yet to be unveiled, in Katerina’s words the pledge is “a step in the right direction”.
To stay up to date on Cameron’s Paid Volunteering Leave Pledge see here.
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