Canadians are caring, generous and highly engaged in their communities — in 2010, about one-half of them contributed their time, energy and skills to groups and organizations such as charities and non-profits. And more than five million people said they received support from their employers to volunteer, according to Statistics Canada.
Volunteers have provided leadership on boards and committees, canvassed for funds, provided advice, counselling or mentorship, visited seniors, prepared and delivered food, served as volunteer drivers, advocated for social causes, and coached children and youth.
The bulk of total volunteer hours (66 per cent) was given to five types of non-profit and charitable organizations: sports and recreation (19 per cent of total hours), social services (18 per cent), religion (15 per cent), education and research (nine per cent) and health (five per cent), according to the government.
Increasingly, Canadians are looking for opportunities to get involved through their existing social structures, including workplaces, families, schools and clubs, according to the 2010 report Bridging the Gap by Volunteer Canada, in partnership with Manulife Financial, Carleton University Centre for Voluntary Sector Research & Development and Harris/Decima.
And many employers are recognizing the multi-fold benefits of employee volunteering, including talent recruitment, retention and skills development.
While it is widely regarded as important for workplaces to support employees’ volunteer efforts, it is often challenging to create opportunities that benefit organizations, communities, workplaces and the employees themselves.
Making the business case
In recent years, several studies have explored and identified the benefits of employer-supported volunteering. These include:
•employee engagement and retention
•knowledge of consumers
•leadership and skills development.
In 2010, the City of London, England, commissioned a study of the benefits of employee volunteering within the educational sector. It examined the skills employees gained, such as one-to-one reading, helping in homework clubs, mentoring school administrators and organizing school theme days and special events.
Then the organization calculated a fair market value for acquiring training in the skills employees had gained through volunteering, such as planning, relationship-building, problem-solving and leadership.
From there, it was able to demonstrate a substantial return on investment, given the costs of managing an employee volunteering program.
One tool that has gained traction over the past five years is the Spectrum of Corporate Community Engagement, piloted through a research project led by Martha Parker, a specialist in corporate community partnerships and former executive director of Volunteer Canada.
This model encourages organizations to explore a breadth of opportunities — ranging from education and awareness, involvement and leadership — that appeal to both individuals and groups with a variety of interests, skills and time.
Employer-supported volunteering has many benefits but is not without challenges. Both sides — employers and the non-profit organizations with which they engage — have identified a range of issues including power imbalances, clarity of expectations, resource requirements and alignment of values.
While some great resources have already been developed, more is needed to facilitate meaningful and reciprocal corporate-community engagement.
Paula Speevak Sladowski is director of programs, policy and applied research and Joanna Kaleniecka is co-ordinator of membership and communications at Volunteer Canada in Ottawa. This article is an advanced excerpt from a primer on employer-supported volunteering by Volunteer Canada and RBC, based on research conducted for Employment and Social Development Canada.
Types of employer support
Flexible work schedule: Extend lunch hour so people can attend meetings or deliver meals on wheels (the time is made up).
Paid time off: Implement a policy that allows for half a day per month or one day per year to volunteer.
Reduced workload: For example, accommodate a sales associate who volunteers to lead a fundraising campaign by having 20 per cent of his clients temporarily looked after by colleagues, or give a professor a course relief while serving on an accreditation review panel.
Use of facilities or equipment: Provide meeting space and photocopying material or host events.
Team volunteering: Bring together individuals with similar volunteer interests to volunteer as a group.
Day of service: Encourage employees to participate in days of service organized by the community or employer.
Volunteer granting program: Make a donation to a charity where an employee (or retiree) has volunteered a certain number of hours during the year.
Community service awards: Recognize outstanding employee volunteering.
Performance assessment: Recognize employees’ volunteering in their annual performance review and have management encourage employees to volunteer for skills development.
Communication: Provide a letter of recognition and mention projects on corporate website, in newsletters and at staff meetings.