Companies invest increasingly in volunteering programmes in order to engage with their employees better and to contribute to communities, both near and far. Additionally, volunteering is seen as an important tool for staff development. Charities who acknowledge and embrace this are more likely to get more volunteers, as well-thought-out roles and the possibility to learn from volunteer positions increase the sense of helper’s high and satisfy other personal motivations individuals might have when volunteering. 

We interviewed HR specialist Ester Wells about how companies see volunteering as a development tool so we can help people better understand this concept.

What role does corporate volunteering play in human resources management of companies today?

Ester: One of the most pressing questions of today’s HR professionals is how to develop and prepare their talent in an increasingly volatile business environment; today and for the future. The traditional approach to training and development of individuals has been replaced by new, unconventional approaches to broaden employees’ skills, knowledge and abilities into a so-called, T-Shape. This is important because individuals with a broader skillset can adapt to change, can innovate and make better decisions for the organisation they work for. 

One of the approaches to achieve this is shifting the organisation’s focus from formal learning activities towards informal ones, such as experiential learning. A great way to achieve this is through corporate volunteering. 

Corporate volunteering can be the right tool to broaden employees’ knowledge and skills, motivate them to care about things beyond their job, equip them with new skills and, have a positive impact on  society or environment.  

Should an employee be able to select a charity to volunteer with without their company interfering or, should a company facilitate this somehow?

Ester: A holistic approach to volunteering can benefit the business’s long-term strategy and can complement other strategies. For example, through the People Strategy key HR areas can be supported, such as; Employer Branding, Recruitment, Performance Management, Reward, L&D, Employee Engagement and Culture.

In my experience, the overall volunteering experience is more engaging and delivers better results when employees can choose the charities they are the most passionate about.

In order to marry both, the strategic and individual choice of charities, my approach is to provide the budget and clear guidelines for volunteering and, based on the organisation’s Competency Framework, let the employees outline how their volunteering will help them with personal and professional development to their line manager. A great way for line managers to oversee these is to encourage employees to share their experiences from volunteering with their teams or with the organisation through StandUps or blog articles. 

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What kind of volunteering and skills gained from volunteering might benefit a corporate volunteer in their careers?

Ester: I believe that all volunteering benefits the individual and, in particular, volunteering activities, which exist outside of the individual’s comfort zone, drives them to learn new skills and knowledge. 

The most useful skills, which can be gained through volunteering, are:

– Ability to adapt to change and manage change

– Commercial awareness, budgeting and operating on limited budgets

– Problem-solving and thinking outside of the box

– Empathy

– Teamwork

– Leadership skills

– Creativity

– Communication

– Courage and confidence

– Perseverance

In terms of the skills and tasks you mentioned, what does this require from the charity? 

Ester: The volunteer’s supervisor working at the charity should understand what skills and knowledge the individual is looking to learn or improve upon. Based on that, he/she can target the activities around them. This is very similar to a mentoring relationship. 

What kind of evidence should a volunteer ask for from a charity about the work they’ve done? 

Ester: I believe that the best evidence is the results the individual or team has achieved. Companies should focus on building trust and empowering employees to do the right thing. The HR team or line managers can initiate regular Stand-Ups, Lunch & Learn sessions or, similar collective activities to talk about what has been done over a certain period. Line managers play an essential role in identifying areas of improvement for their employees and suggesting the right activities to improve upon those. Discussing and evaluating what the individual learned from his volunteering is important to monitor progress and plan for the next phase of personal and professional development.  

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When recruiting new personnel, what kind of a role does volunteering experience play in the process?

Ester: When I’m involved in hiring, I personally look for volunteering activities on the CV or, ask about them at the interview. When they provide their LinkedIn profile, I read the recommendations they have received from past employers, mentors or charity personnel. 

When I see a recommendation generated from an individual’s volunteering activity, I see it as a huge plus.

In what way do you think whatCharity is helping companies?

Ester: whatCharity helps to connect charities with companies, especially smaller charities, who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have the exposure and the opportunity to partner with a particular business. 

By looking at each charity, all information is at hand outlining what each charity is looking for. This makes the whole process of finding the right charities much faster. 

I specifically love the “Volunteering near me” functionality, as in the past our employees had to commute too far from our office for volunteering work.

Ester is a senior HR & People professional specialising in Tech & Digital high-growth SMEs in the UK and Europe. Her passion lies in creating a workplace that inspires people to be the best they can be; motivate and empower them to navigate their own personal and professional development; equip them with the right tools and training, so as to contribute to the company’s success.

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