Volunteering touches the lives of millions every day. If you are not a volunteer, you no doubt know someone who is. Volunteering makes for healthier and more active societies, and contributes one to two percent of Ireland’s GDP. Over the last number of years, whilst the Irish economy has been flailing, Irish society has benefited from a marked increase in volunteering.
In the first year of the recession, Volunteer Ireland saw a 100 percent increase in volunteer registrations. Many of those registering with our Volunteer Centres had found themselves under-employed or unemployed as a result of the economic downturn. We also saw a marked increase in the number of companies and professionals engaging in voluntary work. More and more companies are seeing the benefits of employer-supported volunteering programmes.
For employees, an opportunity to lend their time, skills and expertise to a charity or community group can increase job satisfaction, attitude and morale. Group projects can be a great way of improving communication across departments and between employees and supervisors. A change of environment can be good for staff, too. We often find that employees who work in an office environment relish the opportunity to work elsewhere, applying skills which they typically may not get the chance to use on a professional level.
For many businesses, traditional, hands-on volunteering remains the preferred way of helping out charities and community groups, but we’re seeing a growing interest (led by companies like IBM in Ireland) in skills-based volunteering. Organisations often seek volunteers with a wide range of skills and expertise. Sometimes an organisation can benefit more from shared expertise than traditional hands-on volunteering. A team of corporate volunteers can often tackle big tasks that organisations have been unable to carry out due to a lack of resources or funding.
Employer-supported volunteering programmes are also of great benefit to businesses.
Last year, Deloitte carried out its eighth annual Volunteer Impact Survey, assessing the connection between workplace volunteerism activities and employee engagement. The study found that employees who frequently participate in their company-organised volunteer activities were nearly twice as likely to be very satisfied with the progression of their career and were more likely to be very satisfied with their company. Volunteering can also enhance corporate reputation and increase brand awareness, trust and loyalty among consumers.
A recent volunteer-led initiative by IBM staff in Dublin, for the Irish Cancer Society’s
“Care to Drive” programme, highlights the incredible impact that skills-based volunteering can have. A team of 14 highly qualified IBM volunteers created a cloud-based computing solution to automate the labour-intensive process of tracking and recording free patient transportation to and from their cancer treatment in hospital. The volunteers’ work will help to improve the “Care to Drive” process, making management of the programme far easier. The new system, which will pilot in late Summer 2012, integrates details for patients, hospital bookings and drivers, and automates patient/driver matching.
Whilst the social impact of volunteering is immeasurable (and, I would argue, invaluable), the economic value of volunteering is substantial. Last year more than 11,000 people registered with Volunteer Ireland’s 22 Volunteer Centres. These volunteers clocked up an incredible 425,000 hours of voluntary work in 2011. Using the average industrial wage, the value of this work exceeded €9.2 million.
By actively encouraging staff to participate in employer-supported volunteering programmes, companies can connect with their communities and help to create significant social change. To a volunteer, the knowledge that you have helped to make a real difference is perhaps the most powerful benefit of giving service. Change doesn’t occur by itself; it requires people to make it happen.
Anna Lee is Chairperson of Volunteer Ireland, the national volunteer development agency and a representative body for 22 Volunteer Centres in Ireland. Volunteer Ireland works to promote, facilitate and celebrate volunteering in Ireland.