There’s every chance the company you work for offers a volunteering programme. And there’s every chance that, given the blessing of your boss, taking time off to help others is something you love doing.

Giving staff the freedom to get out of the office to pursue charitable endeavours is a core tenet of many corporate social responsibility initiatives. In the UK, about 11 million people are given paid time off to volunteer within charities or in community and neighbourhood projects every year. The Office for National Statistics recently estimated the annual value of regular formal volunteering to be around £24 billion. And there’s good reason why companies favour volunteering.

First, it can seriously aid the recruitment and retainment of the best employees – especially those from the emerging pool of millennials. According to the Millennial Impact report, when the current generation of job-seekers apply for work, their top priority is what the company actually sells or produces. 

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But beyond pay and benefits, what matters most to them is the company’s work culture and purpose. Volunteering offers an easy way to present brand values and foster community engagement at the same time. A recent survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says that 65 per cent of people are more likely to work for an employer that encourages and promotes volunteering.

Second, giving people time off to volunteer makes good business sense too. The same CIPD analysis points to communication (66 per cent), confidence (59 per cent), mentoring (51 per cent), resilience (51 per cent) and teambuilding (40 per cent) as the most popular skills and competencies people say volunteering has helped them to develop.

The Office for National Statistics recently estimated the annual value of regular formal volunteering to be around £24 billion

However, what often gets overlooked in this mission for companies to find their soul and for employees to fill their hearts. Ever heard of your boss taking time off to volunteer? No, didn’t think so.

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Managing directors and other senior managers often miss out on all the fun – and value – created by volunteer programmes despite, arguably, having the most to give when it comes to sharing skills.

One initiative designed to correct this situation is Step on Board, created by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Trustees Unlimited to help place business professionals onto non-profit boards as trustees.

The UK bank Barclays has pioneered the initiative with 60 of its senior management staff taking up positions with charities. For example, Andy Challis, head of strategic investments at the bank, has taken on a trustee role with Dreams Come True, a charity giving children with life-limiting medical conditions a memorable experience that fulfils their dreams, like swimming with dolphins.

Volunteering offers an easy way to present brand values and foster community engagement at the same time

Andy’s business acumen and experience in financial analysis, strategic planning, sales and relationship management is proving hugely valuable to the charity. In return, he says the experience of working within a charity has taught him how to be more collaborative and use ‘softer’ skills to work more closely with his senior management colleagues.

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Crucially, cross-company shared experiences, including those of senior management, are helping to build bridges between the boardroom and all functions within a business – from HR and finance, to sales and admin.

And the promise of enhanced internal engagement – with teams and individuals that would never have interacted, now speaking to each other and learning from one another – has seen skills-based and pro-bono programmes like Step on Board explode in popularity. According to Benevity, the number of businesses initiating such schemes has jumped 40 per cent since 2012 in the US.

Lending your business to charitable and good cause organisations in a way that goes beyond philanthropy to create real, skills-related value helps to connect your company to your local community like never before. After all, it’s good to give.

- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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