Volunteers are a goldmine of unused resources within the Scottish economy – Sarah Stone

Too many companies treat voluntary work as an opportunity for a team-building exercise rather than a genuine act of benevolence

If Scottish businesses measured performance on the strength of take-up when it comes to volunteering opportunities, many would be facing up to some challenging end-of-year results. The fact is, despite so many having good policies in place when it comes to persuading staff to take some paid leave and give back to the community, involvement from employees is worryingly low.

That’s bad news for the third sector which could be benefiting from considerable expertise and hands on deck. But it’s also bad for employers and their staff, who have so much to gain from using time that would have been spent at work on something altogether different.

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It’s time for Scottish firms to recognise that the concept of volunteering needs a makeover. Many organisations are decent enough at enabling staff to spend a certain portion of their time on pro-bono activities. However, the nature of these can often be all wrong, and only discourage employees from taking part. It goes some way to explaining why, in some organisations – despite it being open to all – as few as five per cent of employees fully engage with volunteering schemes.

Specific skills

Volunteering takes a number of guises, and being more imaginative in how they dispatch their workers’ time and effort can result in considerable benefits for everyone. There are so many things that charities tell us they could do with support with; from PAT testing for their electrical equipment to risk assessments for their in-person events and other activities.

Other good examples could include a public relations agency supporting third-sector organisations with writing and communications, or a technology firm supporting a charity with digital transformation. An accountancy firm could assist with a charity’s accounts, and an office-based company could encourage its workers to become trustees of charities or assume formal roles in community groups.

The worth of volunteering increases dramatically when the person taking part enjoys it and is able to use their specific skills. Often, the more unique the skillset, the more precious it is to the recipient. It makes the worker feel more valued and brings diversity to their schedule. And for the company themselves, they have a happier staff member and can point to a genuine contribution made to the community. It also boosts reputation – and there’s not a business in the world which doesn’t care about that.

The right opportunities

Even post-Covid hybrid working can be conducive to volunteering. Home-workers might welcome a day outdoors as a counter-balance to their kitchen office or, on the flip-side, they could use their time at home supporting a charity remotely.

Businesses, in the main, do recognise the importance of volunteering, which is why so many are happy to sign up to any local community scheme that comes their way. Yet more could be done to find the right opportunities. As it stands, too many treat it as an opportunity for a team-building exercise rather than a genuine act of benevolence.

Some workers may want to brave the elements and get their hands dirty in a local community garden. Others may prefer to share their talents from the warmth of their own study. Either way, there is a goldmine of unused resources within the Scottish economy, and everyone stands to benefit from its discovery.

Sarah Stone is director of social value agency Samtaler



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