Corporate Volunteering

This is a writing sample from Scripted writer Emma Thompson

As part of my work with Cites of Service and Bristol 2015 Ltd I began a study into green organisations that work with volunteers in Bristol. The aim of the study was to get a baseline of those organisations: how many there were, how much work were volunteers doing and to find out if there were any learnings we could share across the sector to improve the volunteer experience generally. A month or so into the study there were some clear patterns emerging; one of the most obvious was the struggle that not-for-profit community organisations have in working with corporate business. This article is an attempt to consider that problem and provide a potential solution to it for both the community and corporate businesses wishing to volunteer in the community. Excerpts are taken from interviews conducted as part of the study from December 2015 - February 2016. Problems with the Traditional Model Businesses often put aside some time to volunteer in the community, this might be part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programme, and may be taken on one of their yearly volunteer days. During the course of my study I came across several core problems that seem typical across community organisations in terms of their experience with corporates. These negative experiences have some common elements:  The business expects their volunteering day to be free  The business wants to complete a task so that they have something to talk about in publications, but there isn't always a clear single task needing to be done.  The volunteers often have little or no experience in the tasks that need doing.  The volunteers often are taking part in a compulsory day out of the office, with little information about why they are there or what they will accomplish.  The volunteers are ill prepared for the day, arriving in suits and high heels to a farm, for example.  The community organisation is often overwhelmed and feels that they haven't accomplished much by the end of the day, apart from losing one of their own working days. Sophie Bull from St Werburgh's City Farm explains why the charity has needed to charge business groups for volunteering days and how that money is used. 'We run team challenge days, for which we charge £25 per business volunteer and then that money goes towards the materials for whatever they're doing that day, and if it's a large group it helps us cover the extra staff we provide to supervise the session. Businesses often think they're giving you a wonderful favour by offering to bring a large group of people for the day, they sometimes need a bit more communicating around why. Why that would need to cost them money, why maybe it's not beneficial to have a large group of adults, who often aren't experienced in hands on practical tasks, coming for a one off visit. We have had some fantastic groups, who have achieved lots in just a day, and reported that they also gained a lot from the day as a team. ' Corrina Buchanan, National Trust Tyntesfield agrees that organising practical volunteering options for companies can be a strain on resources; 'We have had some corporate volunteers but it's not an easy relationship, we always talk about mutual benefit and there isn't always that with them. I know that's true for the businesses too, they say, 'we have loads of people giving time, surely you must want us' but it takes a lot of time away from other projects.' The challenges go both ways, many businesses have tried to work with community partners and found the different culture and way of thinking can cause frustration on both sides. We spoke to three of Bristol 2015's sponsors to find out what community organisations could do to make this relationship more effective. Alice Jennison helped Skanska set up their volunteering programme, Skanska has a working relationship with Groundwork which helps them volunteer effectively in the community. I asked Alice about the challenges they have faced with community partners in the past, she said, 'volunteering always requires a partner; somewhere to go in a community, someone to help, a charity that needs our support. That partner needs to be really clear in what they require from us. That can be really difficult. The partner will provide the on-the-ground knowledge for where we can support the community. We then go from there to working out what support is required next. It really helps if the partner is as clear as possible so that expectations are aligned on both sides.' The time put into preparation before a corporate volunteering day is really valuable, and ideally time should be put in both from the business side and from the charity side. Emma Dowden from Burges Salmon explains, 'project specific planning is so important. Last year we had a pop up show with Brandon Trust in Cabot Circus, and months in advance we had to be getting licences, renting etc. It has to be clear with the charity who is doing what.' There have been some very positive experiences with corporates, those all seem to share similar features:  They are planned 6 months or more in advance  The volunteers are engaged and interested in the event and the motivation for it  The volunteers are gaining skills and knowledge as they go  The business and community organisation maintain communication along the way and each put time into ensuring the support and preparation is done to make the event successful.  The event is spread over several days or a couple of weeks, rather than the whole team going out on one day.  The business recognises that, as a charity, the community organisation doesn't have the capacity to provide staff support for free and so contributes time and money to the event; that might be paying for tools, plants or paying for the staff member's time.

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Emma Thompson
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Emma is a graduate with a degree in Psychology. She has experience in a variety of fields including: non-profit, travel, leisure and retail. While living in South Korea she wrote for a popular local magazine encouraging foreigners living in Korea to explore their local area. After travelling and living around the world Emma has returned to the UK. Her experience in the UK has included writing and delivering research for the non-profit sector and writing copy to engage and inspire volunteers.
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