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Volunteering at work – The things no one will tell you

March 9, 2017


Not volunteering for work, but rather with work. It is now commonplace for businesses to offer a day or two off (or more!) for employees to spend their working hours volunteering with charities.

But how do you decide how to do it and how to make sure you’re doing it right?


Make sure you’re speaking to the right person

As an individual keen to get volunteering, if it’s not already in an employee handbook, usually someone “up top” or in HR should be able to help you. Depending where you work, you may even have a CSR department, that’s corporate social responsibility – somewhat of a buzz phrase, but it’s basically the “being good” bit of a business – it’s bigger in some organisations than others, but they’ll be championing volunteering. Some of the personal plus sides are if you are volunteering you may get time off / money for the cause / photo in a magazine, or at very least a good pat on the back. It’s good to talk about it with your employer if it’s not already obvious, you might even inspire something, certainly better than assuming it doesn’t exist and wasting those precious holidays!


Once you know what’s in place get looking for the volunteer role

Volunteering is hugely rewarding, and if you can get the support of your work on board, it’s not just rewarding to you and your charity, but to the business. But before you rush off and say “ EVERYONE WIN’S! Let’s get our volunteering on!” just pause a moment, apply the hand brake, and take these below thoughts on board. If you go at it full throttle, you may very well end up driving that car of enthusiasm right through the front door of the charity you want to support, and they could end up with a big bill on their hands to fix that damage, in both the metaphorical and potentially literal sense.


Here’s the Volume48 guide to getting going on volunteering in the work place:


Make sure you’re wanted:

Sounds daft doesn’t it? But some smaller charities will be so excited to have someone coming via a big company to volunteer (because they think they might get a funding & a relationship out of it) they’ll give you just about anything to just keep the conversation going. Make sure you’re honest about what you can commit to, and what your company is willing to give. For example: if the company you work for doesn’t give money to charities you volunteer with, let the charity know up front, it saves the charity having to wonder what they might get, and equally they’re likely to be more honest with you about what they could really use help with. Knocking on their door with gardening gloves and a smile might not be what they want.


Think about how many of you there are wanting to join in:

If it’s just you, or your mate’s Steve and Tanya from accounting, then you should be able to find something ideal you can volunteer on together – remember volunteering doesn’t just mean painting and decorating, indeed those people exist and are called painters and decorators. There is a world of things you can do, and websites such have an amazing database of smaller activities if you’re after a place to start.


Company Team Volunteering:

If you’re wanting to go in with more of you, have a think. Why are you wanting to do it? It can be a lot of work for a charity to have a lot of people along as a big team, and sadly not always a good thing. Luckily things are changing. Volume48 was started to help find these big group events within charities, like empowering a choir made up of people experiencing, or who have experienced homelessness, creating cook-off challenges, or pop-up tea rooms for the elderly

In the most part, If someone called you up and said I have 20 people who want to spend the day with you, how would you react? Charities tend to be low on resource to manage this sort of expectation.

Make this your own personal questionnaire, just something to think about when planning.

  1. How many of you are there?

  2. What do you want out of it?

  3. Who do you want to help and why?

  4. Is what you’re doing going to be appreciated?

So let’s break that down:


1. How many of you are there?

If it’s you, or up to, perhaps 3 people, then get volunteering – there’s nothing stopping you! more than that, and you need to check that your time is the most valuable thing to the organisation you want to support


2. What do you want out of it?

Altruism is wonderful, and if you think back to the friend’s episode where Joey convinces phoebe that there is no altruistic act, because feeling good is selfish, it asks a hugely deep and profound question about the human psyche. There is no shame to be had in feeling good about doing something good, but what other by-products might come from volunteering and getting your business to back it – an engaged work force? More funds for the charity? Learning and development opportunities? Etc. other than doing good, what else do you hope to achieve.


3. Who do you want to help and why?

It’s easy to think that if you’re going to support a cause the knee-jerk reaction might be to contact one of the big 10 charities! But there are over 160,000 registered charities in the UK, so now think why. What’s most important to you and the business? Is it the cause or the activity? It’s fine for either, a strategic alignment for business branding is a great move, equally if you want to share with the world that your staff like to be in the community, and let staff know the business cares, brill! but you need to know your motives for doing it, again – Honesty is key.


4. Is what you’re doing going to be appreciated?

I’ve heard from team volunteering groups so many things “only about ½ the group turned up” “people expected lunches and we can’t provide them” “someone pierced out sewage system with a pitchfork and then b**gered off” and the list goes on. if you’re going to do something make sure they want you there and you’re going to respect it. This goes back to being honest and open with them.


In a nutshell, once you’ve done a bit of research, and had a think you should be able to get something great, but if you ever want to just talk it through with someone and say “does this seem like a good idea”, don’t be shy, feel free to drop me a line or like, share and comment as you see fit


This article is written by Tom Downie – Managing Director at Volume48

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