Working with corporate volunteers

Volunteering has entered a new dimension with the rise of corporate social responsibility. Large corporations and small businesses alike are eager to portray an image that they are positively contributing to society and taking part in social justice, protecting the environment or adding to their local community.

Corporate volunteers bring skill, enthusiasm and experience to volunteer organisations. Partnering with a business or large corporation will also increase a volunteer organisation's publicity, and improve branding and social awareness of their issue.

However, working alongside a business is not always smooth sailing – volunteer organisations need to take extra precautions and consider different recruitment strategies. This section looks into these issues and offers tips and suggestions to help volunteer organisations manage corporate volunteers.

What is corporate volunteering?

Corporate volunteering is a form of corporate social responsibility (CSR). It is when businesses actively support an employee's decision to volunteer and/or encourage their employees to volunteer within their local community.

Support can range from simply acknowledging employees who volunteer in their own time to allowing staff one to two days a year to volunteer as individuals or in teams on projects. Managers can also support volunteer programs by allowing an employee to use office resources such as the printer or scanner for volunteer activities.

Formal corporate volunteering programs are established as a partnership between the employer and the volunteer organisation. The business may agree to pay for training costs of their employees, materials or additional insurance.

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Benefits of involving corporate volunteers

Corporate volunteers give new blood to an organisation. Inviting skilled workers to volunteer at non-profit organisations add a new perspective, new skills, technical expertise and experience.

A corporate volunteering program can also:

  • Allow organisations the ability to periodically perform major tasks
  • Create wider community awareness of local issues and needs
  • Promote the non-profit organisation through associated publicity
  • Improve understanding between the business and volunteer sector
  • Provide free or subsidised resources, like meeting rooms

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Advantages of corporate volunteering for businesses

For a corporate volunteering program to be sustainable and successful, it has to be mutually beneficial for both the employer and the volunteer organisation. Some of the main benefits to business are:

  • Increased visibility
  • Team building
  • Developing employees' skills and experience
  • Improving employees' communication, leadership and project management skills
  • The opportunity to understand community needs
  • Opportunities for different departments and different levels of management to work together

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Responsibilities in a partnership

Employers and volunteer organisations need to ensure they have aligned goals and beliefs and that both parties support the other organisation's policies and procedures.

Key things to look out for include whether the business is able to allocate enough resources to ensure volunteers have a positive volunteer experience and whether the volunteer organisation has adequate insurance and an occupational health and safety procedure.

The employer should also complete a site inspection and provide safety equipment and sunscreen if necessary.

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Recruiting corporate volunteers

To work with corporate volunteers and take advantage of their skills and expertise you may need to change your volunteer program.

Try to develop a range of tasks so potential volunteers can find something that suits their interests, skills and available time. Also keep in mind that short projects able to be completed in teams will appeal to corporate volunteers and their employers.

Here are some tips to attracting corporate volunteers:

  • Develop short-term outcomes to create a sense of achievement and satisfaction
  • Develop individual one-day placements
  • Create one-day projects
  • Create projects that a group can do together
  • Focus on benefits that the volunteer and their employer will receive

When writing the role descriptions and proposal to the employer, make sure you emphasise the benefits the volunteer and their employer will receive. For ideas on how to write role descriptions view our page on Writing position descriptions.

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Existing corporate volunteer programs

Many large companies pride themselves on their corporate volunteering program and community projects. Westpac, The Body Shop and Land Lease have particularly strong programs.

The Body Shop's Community Projects scheme commits every staff member to 16 hours of volunteer activity a year. The company promotes volunteering to its staff as a valuable and holistic activity for employees which enhances their commitment to social and environmental issues.

Similarly, Lend Lease Foundation's Community Day involves 4,000 employees around the globe who actively participate in local community projects for one day in September. Projects for Community Day can be nominated by any Land Lease employee who then becomes the team leader responsible for putting the team together and guiding the project to a successful conclusion. The volunteer program supports Land Lease's vision of becoming a sustainable organisation.

Westpac also have an amazing sustainable volunteer program which was judged the winner of Volunteering Australia's 2007 Corporate Volunteering Award for Excellence. See our tools and resources section for a link to a case study featuring Westpac's volunteer program.

By reading about existing volunteer programs, you can get ideas about how you can recruit corporate volunteers and encourage a partnership approach with businesses.

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Follow-up and evaluation for formal corporate volunteer programs

After the debut of your corporate volunteer program, it's important to stay in touch with the partnering business. Send thank you emails and photos. The business will be particularly grateful if you send photos; photos can add to the business's internal communication, further publicity and potential grant applications.

If you plan to write and send a media release, it is also important to get the business's approval first.

Remember to ask corporate volunteers for their feedback and ideas on how the program can be improved. Also get feedback from regular volunteers and paid staff.

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Corporate volunteering programs and insurance

When forming a partnership between a business and volunteer organisation, it is imperative that both parties discuss and negotiate insurance costs. A common misconception is that corporate volunteers are automatically covered by workers' compensation. This is not the case.

Corporate volunteers are only covered by workers' compensation legislation if the employee is acting 'within the course of employment'. In legal terms, volunteering activities conducted 'within' the course of employment, are considered to be an extension of the regular work activities.

For example, if an employee at an IT firm has a signed agreement with both her employer and a volunteer organisation to help set up computers during work hours, and is subsequently paid time in lieu, it would be considered to be an extension of regular work activities and covered by workers' compensation.

However, if an employee is participating in a fun run hosted by a volunteer organisation that has been sponsored by the employer and employees have been encouraged to join, the employee may not be covered by workers' compensation, as competing in a fun run is not considered to be an extension of regular work activities.

What types of insurance are required?

Volunteer organisations need to have adequate volunteer personal accident insurance and public liability insurance. In some circumstances, the volunteer organisation may need to increase their coverage to include corporate volunteers if they have a limit on the amount of volunteers the insurance covers. It is justified for the volunteer organisation to ask the employer to pay for the additional costs.

If the volunteer personal accident insurance and public liability insurance is not adequate, the employer may need to pay additional premiums or take out its own additional insurance.

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Tools and resources

Volunteering Australia - Resources for Volunteer Managers
This section of the Volunteering Australia website lists resources and publications for volunteer coordinators, on topics including recruitment and screening processes, working with culturally diverse volunteers and recognising volunteers.

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A female worker sits at a desk in front of a computer