How Auto Trader Built Their Volunteering Programme

How often do people talk about volunteering in your office?

This question is a good litmus test of your company’s volunteering culture. Whether it’s included in meeting agendas or being discussed while making a brew in the kitchen, the more volunteering gets mentioned, the stronger your volunteering culture is likely to be.

This is important: a strong volunteering culture makes people feel like they’re supported when going to volunteer, a weak one discourages people from signing up.

From the comms you send out, to visible support from senior leadership or tweaking your company’s day-to-day processes, there are many ways to build up a volunteering culture in your office.

Auto Trader have managed to do this with astounding speed since becoming Benefacto members in 2017. To help you make an informed decision on where to focus your efforts, we’ve taken a look at a few of the tactics which have been critical to their success.

Auto Trader Volunteering in Numbers:

  1. 500 employees in Manchester
  2. 120 employees in London
  3. Two volunteering days a year
  4. Small pockets of unrecorded, ad-hoc volunteering before Benefacto membership in March 2017
  5. 132 Benefacto volunteers in 2017
  6. 321 Benefacto volunteers in 2018

Start off on the right foot

Auto Trader launched their Manchester volunteering programme in July 2017 with a high-energy campaign called the Volunteer Buzz.

Centred around the city’s bee symbol, the campaign ran for ten weeks and included stripy Volunteer Buzz socks, badges, a colleague dressing up in a bee costume, intranet articles, Volunteer Buzz badges and, of course, posters everywhere in the office.

We deliberately went all-out for the opening campaign to make it impossible for Auto Trader employees not to hear about their volunteering days or Benefacto. Starting off on the right foot with a big launch gives your programme the energy it needs to get off the ground, shows your colleagues that their employer takes volunteering seriously and gives a positive first impression which will make subsequent campaigns resonate more with staff.

Introducing the idea to everyone as soon as possible also allows the early adopters to head out immediately while giving late adopters time to mull it over and (hopefully) volunteer later on in the year. The ripples from a large opening campaign can be felt long after the launch is over.

The Volunteer Buzz inspired 65 Auto Trader volunteers to head out to support local charities over the launch and, importantly, got people talking about volunteering in the office.

Click here to read more about the Volunteer Buzz

Not just a bolt-on

One of the most effective things that Auto Trader did to develop their volunteering culture was to rejig their company values to include being ‘Community Minded’.

This was a big deal. The company values are integral to the business’s day-to-day processes like recruitment and professional recognition. Including being ‘Community Minded’ in them was a huge statement of intent.

Fianna Hornby, who oversees Auto Trader’s volunteering programme, says

“From the day we integrated community into our everyday processes, volunteering could no longer just be seen as a bolt-on – not that it was before – but this really was putting our money where our mouth is”

The effectiveness of this change was also a result of when and how it was made.

By March 2018, many staff members were already involved in Auto Trader’s various community programmes (Make a Difference). By making the change at this time, as opposed to when the programmes first began, people felt as if this was something that was being done with them, instead of to them.

The way the new company value was announced also added to its popular support. It took place on stage at the company conference and was presented by two senior members of the team, Christos and Naomi. The announcement was made to a full house and was followed by a video showcasing Auto Trader’s involvement in the community over the past year.

Recognising these past achievements in the video was a great way to thank everyone who had helped so far and motivate others to get involved.

While Benefacto did see an uplift in volunteer bookings immediately after the conference, adding the ‘Community Minded’ value has also had a long-term effect on volunteering culture which has resulted in a consistent increase in bookings ever since.

Save your money for the charities

Instead of spending all their budget on promotional goods to raise awareness, Auto Trader decided an effective way to maximise their community impact was to make sure they were running low-cost promotional campaigns, and donate the majority of the budget to the charities they were encouraging people to support instead.

It was in the spirit of this that, in the summer of 2018, Auto Trader and Benefacto created ‘The Volunteer Train’: a competition where a donation to charities was both the promotion and the prize.

Staff members who went volunteering became passengers on the Volunteer Train – a large train display at the office reception. Once on the train, each passenger was able to nominate two further people to volunteer. All passengers entered into a raffle to win money for a charity of their choice once the train left the station at the end of summer.

Auto Trader Volunteering

Auto Trader’s Volunteer Train Display

The interactive element of campaign made people take ownership of the programme and was well received by volunteers who jumped at a chance to further support their favourite charities. As Fianna observes:

“People really appreciated the opportunity to win money for a charity they cared about”

Choosing to donate their budget, rather than spending it on promotion, sent the message that the programme’s priority was to help the community, rather than to look good. Of course, promotional materials are essential to any campaign, but finding an effective, low- cost way of raising awareness and donating the rest of the budget was well received by Auto Trader staff.

The Volunteer Train didn’t always run perfectly, with the competition’s rules sometimes confusing participants. Fianna’s advice to anyone running an untested, interactive campaign like the Volunteer Train is:

“keep it as simple as possible. Just remember that you just want as many people volunteering as possible, instead of getting tangled up in the rules you make!”

Fianna intends to continue running two or three large campaigns per year:

“It’s good to do a few big campaigns in the year rather than many smaller things that will just get lost in the chatter”

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This article is part of Benefacto's KnowledgeHub. For more help and advice on building an incredible employee volunteering programme, use the navigation above or visit the KnowledgeHub Homepage

Doug is the Marketing and Digital Manager at Benefacto and the Project Lead for GivX. He explores how Benefacto can support CSR practitioners, takes care of the KnowledgeHub, works on web design and makes sure GivX runs smoothly. Contact if you want to find out more about VolunteerHub, DataHub or GivX.