Last month saw the launch of Give and Gain Day, which will be held on 17 May. Launched in 2008 and organised by Business in the Community, Give and Gain Day provides a one day focus on employee volunteering in all its forms, from traditional team challenges to activities that enable people to use their professional skills. Last year saw 60,000 volunteers take part in the day and the hope is for that number to increase in 2013.
Employee volunteering (and I’m using that term here to cover all forms of employer related volunteering) is one of those divisive issues in the sector. Its detractors object to people who take time off work being called volunteers (because they are often still being paid for their time) and often remark that employee volunteering is more about the company and their corporate social responsibility goals than making any real difference to good causes. Sometimes they simply ask: “Why don’t these companies give us the money instead?”
Those who support employee volunteering recognise the huge potential value of donated time and talent. They can see charities and businesses benefiting from having a number of bodies turn up to engage in a task that needs labour in volume, like clearing a waterway. They don’t feel threatened by an employee with considerable expertise coming in to advise on, say, a marketing strategy.
As with all forms of volunteering, there are good and bad examples. I’ve seen team challenges where the employees’ time was wasted painting rooms to such a poor standard that the charity had to employ a professional decorator to go back and do the job properly. I’ve also seen team challenges where the charity got something done that they had never dreamt of while the employees went away on a high – perhaps having learnt something about teamwork – and passionate about a new cause they could support.
Whether employee volunteering works or not is often down to expectation management, planning, project management competence and a host of other considerations. Like all good volunteering, employee volunteering doesn’t just happen by magic. Time, effort and sometimes money need to be invested to make it work.
At the start of what many think will be another challenging year for the sector, the launch of Give and Gain Day 2013 is a timely reminder that there is a largely untapped resource at our disposal in the form of employee volunteers, regardless of the sector they come from.
Some sector organisations will single-mindedly plough ahead into 2013 with a mindset that continues to see money as the only solution. Others will see initiatives like Give and Gain Day or more ongoing projects like Give What You’re Good At as a great opportunity to harness a different form of resource (and talent) to help meet some of society’s most pressing needs. I hope many more organisations join this latter camp in 2013.