whatCharity conducted a nationwide charity survey about the current and preferred state of charity-company collaboration, in which 558 charities of various size participated. Below are further statistics and observations related to volunteering, whether unskilled, skilled or professional.
Employer-supported volunteering or company volunteering is a vital and growing resource for charities. It is estimated that 11 million UK employees have the opportunity to volunteer. However, according to some statistics, less than one in six use this opportunity. Lack of interest? This does not seem to be the case.
Almost half of the people we surveyed wish to work for companies which contribute to society, rather than simply make money. Furthermore, a growing number of companies are demonstrating their values with company citizenship activities. This shift seems to be led by millennials, who in general are keener on volunteering, not only during working hours.
So why is there a problem when it comes to participation? How could these millions of potential volunteering hours be harnessed to benefit our society? Research by the London School of Economics has found two factors promoting attendance in volunteering programmes. Firstly, it is important that employees can choose a cause that aligns to their values and interests. Charity partners chosen by a few top-level directors do not motivate the majority. Secondly, companies need to facilitate volunteering. This means providing time off for the volunteering opportunity, helping with arrangements and giving access to the resources required.
The whatCharity charity-company survey revealed that companies do not always understand what charities really need. Very popular group volunteering, where simple non-skilled work is provided for a charitable cause (perhaps partly motivated by the team wishing to spend some quality time together), is not the most beneficial form of contribution to charities. NPC´s study this year revealed that half of the charities participating had taken on volunteers they did not need in order to please company partners. Company volunteers actually used more resources than the charities gained. Instead of a positive contribution, these activities instead took valuable time away from beneficiaries and administrative tasks.
“Charities need to look for win-win situations and to get away from the model of one-off unskilled large numbers but rather longer term partnerships utilising skills and employee experience.” – Charity response from survey
We have learned and believe that company intentions in general are good. Although 91% of companies have themselves stated that their key motivation for CSR activities is reputation building and enhancing the company brand, the actual volunteers, the employees participating in those activities, would be devastated if they knew their impact had been negative.
“Charities are not there to offer free team building opportunities. If your help is not actually helping a charity then you are costing them and taking time, money and resources from the beneficiaries. Your unskilled time is often not worth as much as money to a charity. You should be offering fundraising or a donation alongside any volunteering as although you might be giving your time for free, it is not free to the charity to host you. ” – Charity response from survey
It is human to want to help. Knowing you made a difference gives you a better high than any drug – otherwise known as ‘Helper’s High’. This is what most volunteers are after. When a company can, through their charitable programmes, provide the sensation of Helper’s High to their employees, this high will become strongly associated with the company brand and everyday work in the company. It is therefore vital for companies to focus on charities that resonate with their employees and with whom they can make the biggest impact. It might be tempting to work with bigger/established charities where volunteering programmes are very much pre-planned and professionally coordinated. However, this might go against the need of company volunteers, who want a more grassroots touch and a broader range of activities, which smaller charities can often deliver.
“It feels daunting as a small London based charity to be able to compete with National Charities, who have large admin and fundraising teams with greater capacity to build relationships with companies.” – Charity response from survey
Charities, in turn, are the experts in their work and should learn to communicate their needs honestly and to structure them into doable, understandable tasks which are easy to take on by companies. Also, small teams from companies could even volunteer to perform this task with the charity for the rest of the company employees. Many companies have tremendous project management, sales and marketing capabilities, which could be used for conceptualising volunteering and fundraising projects. The sky is the limit, it all comes down to communication.
“Company volunteering is very hard for tiny charities, we don’t have the infrastructure to support volunteers, but we really benefit from your help when you can offer it.” – Charity response from survey
We have listed a few tips for charities and companies alike to consider when collaborating:
- Companies should select a charity based on their preferred cause and impact, and plan their volunteering activities WITH them, with no predetermined limitations, for example an exact date or group size.
- Only 40% of charities need group volunteers in general. Of those 30% prefer a team of 6-10. Only 15% can accommodate any number of people. Companies who wish to organise “company days out” should therefore only focus on charities that have structures in place to facilitate this.
- Of those 60% of charities who do not offer group volunteering, 40% say they do not benefit from one-off/one day’s worth of help and 30% say organising company volunteering days is too hard and time consuming. It however does not mean that they should not be supported by companies at all.
- Currently 40% of charities who are supported by a company benefit from skills-based volunteering, but 70% would like to receive this form of volunteering in the future. This opens up opportunities for companies to facilitate individual skills-based volunteering or smaller specialist team volunteering.
- When group volunteering is combined with fundraising, charities are much more keen. 85% of charities would prefer this kind of a volunteerism and 45% of charities have easy to take on fundraising concepts. Companies could also help charities to create new fundraising concepts and to deliver support materials.
- Companies can best help charities by providing smaller skills-based volunteer teams for specific tasks, doing off-premise and online work and giving time in smaller slots than delivering one day’s worth of work in one go. Projects planned together can be very motivating to both parties as results are much more tangible and the commitment has a clear end date.
- The company aspiration to build teams and to motivate their employees should not be the most important criteria for choosing an activity. Companies must be genuinely interested in making the biggest impact they can whether locally or further away. When the intention is genuine and the company values are made tangible through helping communities, engagement happens automatically.
“We support people living with HIV. This can be seen as a very unappealing cause by some, and ‘niche’ by others. But as a small charity, a little support could have a big impact.” – Charity response from survey
- Companies should not be “shy” about causes they support. Some of the most impactful charities operate within sectors which do not involve “fluffy animals” or “cute children”.
- High-level professional support can lift a charity to a completely new level. It is, however, important for companies to remember that giving advice is not very helpful if there is no implementation support provided. The charity needs to have the resources to actually DO those things proposed to them. If a company can help a charity with both strategy and execution, the partnership could be much more productive.
“Companies could use their PR and communications departments to help charities with one off fundraising or lobbying campaigns.” – Charity response from survey
- Charities should better understand and recognise the human and professional need for volunteers to be thanked and recognised. When it comes to volunteering in general it is very important to provide, for example, a personalised thank you and perhaps reporting back at some point in the future about the achievements of the charity (keeping GDPR in mind!). Additionally, it is important, especially to younger employees, to receive a reference for their skills-based volunteering contributions or their role in a charitable project, which provides a helpful boost to their CVs. The more your volunteers benefit, the more they will contribute.
“We work with companies to support their employees to become charity board members. This is a great way of developing new leadership skills, as well as being impactful for the charities.” – Charity response from survey
- Charities provide more and more online volunteering opportunities for example part time phone counselling or selling products on behalf of a charity on Ebay. These tasks can be done from a workplace or from home. If the charity and company create “a project” around these opportunities, keep company volunteers in the loop regarding achievements and celebrate achieved goals together, these activities can be much more powerful than merely “painting a fence” (using a cliché example of non-skilled work).
We at whatCharity hope our platform helps charities and companies form more productive partnerships. Our company solution will be launched this summer and will change the way some companies will contribute to their communities this coming Autumn and especially during Christmas. Just one individual from a company can lead a charity project on our platform, which in turn can involve dozens or hundreds of employees within the company. The solution to be launched helps companies to choose a cause close to heart, home or office and acts as a digital conduit between them and charities. This will result in more resources for charities and more engaging experiences for companies.
For full survey results, please click here.