Volunteering rarely gets the credit it deserves. It’s a hugely powerful force for good in so many ways – it helps keep the third sector afloat, it benefits the individual volunteer, it’s a lifeline for our public services, and corporate volunteering improves a company’s profits.
Here are just some of the ways volunteering makes our world a better place:
How can you benefit?
Volunteering can make us feel good for many reasons. Recognition, gratitude, validation that you’re a ‘good person’, satisfaction at the impact you’ve had – the list goes on. But it’s more than just feelings, it’s science! The act of volunteering has a similar effect on our brains as exercise and sex. Cortisol is blocked which stops us feeling stressed, oxytocin is released which encourages bonding, and endorphins and dopamine are produced making us feel happy. 1
Improving your CV
Volunteering is a great way to improve your professional skills. Taking the lead on a project allows you to practice management in a low risk setting, improving your leadership and people skills and preparing you for future promotions. However, it’s through skilled volunteering, particularly pro bono, that the real benefits come to light. In fact, 91% of Fortune 500 HR Managers said that skilled volunteering improves business and leadership skills. 2 By using your professional skills in a novel setting, you’re able to get a whole new perspective on your day job. A consultant, for example, that is used to providing solutions to clients that involve a great deal of expense, manpower, or resources would be forced to consider the problems in a totally different way – a way of thinking that they can take back to their normal work.
How can society benefit?
Keeping the third sector alive
The charitable sector in the UK does far more work than we often realise. Services one might reasonably assume are covered by the government are actually provided by charities – air ambulances, hospices, many mental health services, support for carers, and the list goes on. 80,000 charities get by on less than £10,000 per year which I think is pretty shocking (and amazing). 3 Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, a fifth of small and medium charities face closure in the next 12 months due to funding, skills, and resource gaps. 4 The sector struggles to keep afloat even with the many committed volunteers it relies on. In 2015/16, 14.2 million people volunteered at least once a month, and the value of volunteering was estimated to be £22.6bn. 5 It doesn’t bear thinking about what would happen to the sector without that incredible amount of generous support from volunteers, but the amount and quality of services provided would certainly be jeopardised.
Supporting public services
In recent years, political decisions around austerity have carved into our public services making it impossible for them to continue functioning without the support of volunteers. There are around 20,000 special constables who support the police force on a voluntary basis, doing almost the exact same work. And that’s to say nothing of the hospitals, libraries, and parks that would grind to a halt without their volunteers. 6
Improving human empathy
I know this sounds like a big statement, but bear with me! Humans are naturally inclined to empathise and it’s played a big role in how we’ve survived and thrived as a species. Darwin talks about this altruism in his writing about evolution. Essentially, if we didn’t care about those around us then we would find it harder to survive and pass on our DNA. Allowing a member of your immediate community to succumb to injuries means less protection for you, and leaving your children to fend for themselves means they are less likely to live long enough to pass your genes on. However, our empathetic tendencies are almost solely reserved to people we consider to be part of our in-group. The only way for us to expand this inclusive group is by sharing meaningful experiences with people we wouldn’t usually spend time with. Volunteering is a perfect way to do this – it’s often a new experience for both parties, both sides can learn from each other, it’s usually a meaningful activity, and it’s a non-threatening space to get to know a new group of people. In the right circumstances, we can leave a volunteering experience as a fundamentally changed person whose world views and perceptions of people traditionally seen as ‘other’ have shifted for the better. 7
How can business benefit?
Recruiting and retaining the best talent
Millennials care about social good and are starting to make choices about their careers based on this. In fact, 88% of millennials say they want to work for a socially responsible company. 8 Providing a robust employee volunteering programme, allowing them plenty of time during working hours to give back, providing matched donations, and presenting them with plenty of varied options to get involved with will set you apart from the competition and ensure you have your pick of young talent. However, you’ve still got to practice what you preach to ensure you retain the talent you’ve invested in. 50+% of millennials would consider leaving an employer whose values no longer matched their own. 9 Make sure it’s not just a policy that sits in a binder somewhere – it should be a part of your company culture. Senior staff should set the example that’s it not frowned upon to take the time to volunteer but actually encouraged. People can easily see through false promises of being responsible – don’t fall into that trap.
Increasing employee motivation
Believing that we’re part of something good is really important to humans. I feel proud every day to be working for a company whose main focus is making the world a better place. That’s what motivates me to keep working hard even when I’m tired or ill or just in a bad mood. The same goes for companies and their CSR programmes. In fact, 66% of employees report a greater commitment to their company after volunteering 10, and 94% of companies surveyed believed that employee volunteering provides a way to raise employee morale. 11 With motivation comes increased productivity which means more money for the company. Skilled volunteering also provides learning and development opportunities at a cheaper price than normal training. In fact, it costs £19 less per employee to develop skills through volunteering than traditional training. 12 Committing to a decent budget for CSR can lead to savings in the long-term.
So I think it’s safe to say that volunteering is certainly something to be celebrated. The individuals who give up their time, the companies who encourage their staff to give back, and the third sector organisations who provide meaningful opportunities for people to take part in should all be so proud of what they do. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without volunteers, and hopefully I’ll never have to.
Post by Rosalia Delfino, Community Development & Marketing Manager
For more information about how thirdbridge could help you set up and manage an employee volunteering programme, contact Rose on firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Source: Realized Worth
2 Source: Deloitte
3 Source: NCVO
4 Source: Centre for Social Justice
5 Source: NCVO
6 Source: The Guardian
7 Source: Realized Worth
8 Source: Deloitte
9 Source: PwC
10 Source: Corporate Citizenship & City of London
11 Source: Corporate Citizenship & City of London
12 Source: Corporate Citizenship