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Editor’s Comment: The Vox Pop of Volunteerism

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Annie Ward

YV05 or the year of the ‘volunteer’ has been designed to give fresh impetus to the importance and benefits of encouraging employers and individuals to take an active part in the local community; Editor’s Comment seeks out popular opinion about the scheme.


In an ideal world, I’m sure that we’d all pledge to be model citizens, altruists through and through helping others and putting them before ourselves and I suppose in a way YV05 should be patted on the back for helping us out of our selfish existences and reminding us to be thankful for our lot.

But is ‘volunteerism’ a realistic phenomenon of a capitalist society? And doesn’t the occasional dabble in charity and volunteer work amount to little more than a ‘Cinderella’ activity?

As house prices continue to rise we begin to see a pattern in which the mortgage to salary equation escalates often out of reach of the average earner. But fuelling the property market is the continuation of couples to pitch in together and the pay off for this now is an increasing trend in the number of women returners.

A recent audit published by the Pregnancy & Birth magazine estimates the cost of a first baby to be a whopping £52,000 from the moment of conception up to the child’s fifth birthday; with these figures in mind it’s easy to see why women are increasingly deciding to take the trip back to the office.

I wondered therefore whether parents who both work and have a family to look after actually have time to volunteer? Is it really a realistic option for them?

And if this is the case isn’t volunteerism therefore guilty of discriminating against those with family or other caring and work obligations?

I asked YV05 for their response:

“We believe that the opportunity to volunteer and to make a lasting difference to the lives of others should exclude no one. Parents who work full time and have young families often struggle to find the time to volunteer but CSV aims to provide a diverse range of flexible volunteering opportunities so that everyone has the chance to make a contribution. These can range from spending a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon volunteering on a conservation project, to making a longer term commitment and working with disabled children or mentoring a young person in care once a week.”

A couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon is valuable time, however, for the average parent or singleton for that matter and for those that increasingly work longer hours the weekend becomes a time to catch up on some much needed rest all amounting to less time for doing good.

Businesses also are more often then not time poor so what is the impact on them I wondered.

YVO5 told me: “Businesses are reaping rich rewards from CSV’s Employee Volunteering schemes. Employees benefit from increased staff morale and increased productivity in the workplace and the scheme fits well with targets set by companies to improve the performance and well-being of their staff.

“The employees themselves also tell us that spending a day volunteering in a meaningful activity is more fulfilling than doing corporate ‘team building’ activities like paint-balling. They get the ‘feel-good factor’ of having made a real difference to people’s lives and of leaving a lasting legacy in the local community. Volunteers can spend up to an hour a week in a primary school supporting literacy and numeracy, or mentoring a student in a secondary school.”

But isn’t the aim to help the community at large? On the surface the scheme could be in danger of slipping into the shoes of providing little more than a ‘quick fix mood enhancer’ for employees – does this really do the communities it’s aimed at any good? Can continuity be achieved in this way and a lasting legacy left?

According to professional body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) voluntary and community groups need sustained support if they are to fulfil their work in the community – especially if they are one of the host of small groups working with the really disadvantaged and forgotten communities.

It will be interesting to see if YV05 can rise to this longer-term challenge.

On the issue of working hours, YV05 acknowledged that Britain works some of the longest hours in Europe but said that from their ‘experience’ their opinion is that a real desire from employers and employees to really make an impact in their communities exists.

While I’m right behind companies that make an effort to balance their profit margins with duty of care towards the environment and stakeholders, I can see the danger of YV05 becoming one big advertorial for wannabe do-gooder companies looking for a PR launch pad.

Leo Martin, director and founder of GoodCorporation said: “If companies do not think it through, there is a real danger that volunteering can actually be bad for both the community and for the business. We see this especially when businesses just dabble in social responsibility. However, done well it can bring business benefits and lasting benefits to the community.”

Neil Bentley, Head of Skills and Employment at bosses’ group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) didn’t agree however:

“Many companies find that volunteering can aid employee motivation, recruitment and retention and provide employees with varied opportunities for skills development.”

While Mike Emmott of the CIPD who shares the CBI’s sentiments said:

“Companies are not just in business to make money. Employees don’t get up in the morning anxious to increase shareholder value. But they will respond to a larger vision of what their organisation is trying to achieve.”

YV05 has the right intentions and I hope it isn’t another government belly-flop but it has its work cut out for it, if it’s to persuade tired and stressed out workers that spending a Saturday with the needy is sustainable in the long-term and to ensure that it doesn’t get abuse from PR hungry large corporates looking for a shiny and favourable CSR- ‘didn’t I do well’ press headline. I hope it rises to the challenge and proves critics like me wrong.

One Response

  1. Employee Volunteering in the Public Sector
    Whilst I accept that legitimate criticism could be levied at organisations that support their employees to carry out voluntary work in the community as transient propaganda, and “dabbling in social responsibility”, I can not accept that a scheme that has clear objectives linked to employees’ skills development profiles and personal appraisal targets could ever attract such criticism, except by the most cynical of critics. As the Employee Volunteer Scheme co-ordinator for Devon County Council, an organisation dedicated to the improvement of quality of life and access to services for 750,000 residents, my responsibility is to ensure that all voluntary work carried out through the corporate scheme is meaningful, relevant and cost effective for the Council and the tax payers of Devon who support what we do through our elected members. we are professionals taking our social responsibility very seriously.

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