How to earn Brownie points

Volunteering at work
Brownie climbing

During the run up to the election the “Big Society” was revived with a pledge from The Conservatives to give employees time off to do voluntary work.

The policy would have given 15m people — those who work for a big company and the public sector - a new workplace entitlement to volunteering leave for three days a year on full pay. 

But there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech and no plans for consultation.

So has it been quietly shelved?

If you’re breathing a sigh of relief on the basis of cost or red tape, think again…

The CBI described the plan as ‘a win-win for everyone concerned’.

There’s overwhelmingly evidence that volunteering has a beneficial impact on our economy, society and the volunteers. Andy Haldane, Chief Economist to the Bank of England estimates that volunteering contributes £50 billion to the UK economy per year (around 3.5% of GDP).

People often volunteer as it aligns to a purpose they are passionate about or because it enables them to develop personally. The impact on the individual includes enhanced well-being, health benefits and increased skills and employability.

And from an employer’s point of view there are clear links to increased engagement, attraction and retention through pride in the organisation, flexibility and aligning with employee’s personal values.  The psychological contract is changing with younger generations placing a “much greater weight on a diverse career experience, with a strong social dimension… Where they lead, companies will surely need to follow’ (Haldane 2014).

There’s also an expectation from customers; 75% of the public now believe that it is either very important or absolutely essential for companies to act in a socially responsible way. Offering volunteering programmes helps build reputation and brand.

But we know that many organisations are desperate for more volunteers.  For example there are currently 50,000 girls on the waiting list for Girlguiding.

The 2012/13 Community Life Survey found that the most commonly cited barrier to volunteering is ‘work commitments’.

As a volunteer myself, I’ve given countless out of work hours, would encourage others to volunteer too and companies to support them.  Many organisations already do just that (a friend is taking a group to a Girl Scout Jamboree in the US, taking time from her holiday allowance and her employer, Unilever, is giving her a couple of paid leave days too).  Other companies have youth coaching and mentoring schemes.

Make volunteering part of your employee value proposition and encapsulate it in your benefits package or recognition scheme.

  • Make grants available for volunteers to apply for their organisation
  • Give hours for hours – match the hours your employees give
  • Give pounds for hours – provide a donation for certain numbers of hours volunteered
  • Provide benefits in kind linked to your business
  • Include a volunteering day as a team recognition

But it’s not all just about financials. Creating a workplace that makes volunteering possible is a motivating reward.

  • Provide opportunities to volunteer through alliances or hold a volunteer fair to raise awareness of what’s in your area.

But remember that the important thing about volunteering is that it is freely given and independently chosen so don’t be tempted to restrict what employees can volunteer to do otherwise it becomes a corporate initiative.

  • Flexibility is the key, unlike my Unilever example, many employee’s don’t need paid days off en-bloc just some flexibility to leave early once a week to run the Brownie Pack or an afternoon here and there to mentor students or provide support at a hospice. The flexibility will be repaid threefold – a great route to higher engagement.

Employers that take flexible working one step further and accept some employees may want to have more than one ‘job’, in order to follow other passions including voluntary work, will be providing a huge benefit at very little costs.

  • Integrate volunteering in your staff development agenda by matching skills development needs with the opportunity to gain them in a different environment.
  • Encourage employees, so they are confident the skills they have are valuable and communicate the personal benefits of volunteering.

Of course some HR records will need to be kept especially if you want to measure take up and use the data to tell a great story. The danger is that it gets tied up in HR bureaucracy so give line managers the discretion they need and lead by example to set the tone.

As a post-script: I was once deciding between two job offers; the first, a UK asset manager told me I’d be far too busy to leave an hour early once a week but graciously offered me time to find a volunteering replacement; when I raised the question with the second, a US consultancy, they didn’t bat an eyelid and only wanted to know what badge my Brownie Pack was doing next. I’ll let you decide which job I accepted….


At Verditer we work with you to make pay and reward align to your culture and drive engagement.

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Image courtesy of:Girlguiding