The rewards of giving back

content corporate volunteering csr

Corporate volunteering is growing in strength. Initiatives in which employees get out into their communities – in person or virtually – are becoming increasingly popular as support for broader corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities become an imperative. According to a report from Pro Bono Economics, around 25 million people volunteer in the UK each year.

While we often think first, and rightly so, of the benefits to communities that volunteering can bring, there is a quid pro quo element, too; it’s also a chance for employees to develop softer skills.

A PwC UK survey found that its staff value the development opportunity. ‘It’s great to be able to take that to your board to show it’s a cost-effective way of developing people, as well as having a social impact,’ says David Adair, PwC UK’s head of community engagement.

He describes community volunteering as a balance between encouraging staff to share their skills while also developing themselves. ‘Staff find it helps make them more rounded; when they go out to audit a city council, for example, they’re not seen as the android accountants; they can understand the issues facing the city.’

PwC UK’s total contribution to community activities in FY23 was £10.1m, with the majority being time and in-kind support ‘We aim for 50% of our volunteering to be skills based, but we also recognise that if you’re over a tax spreadsheet all day, you may want to go out and do environmental volunteering. It’s good for your mental health and wellbeing, and improves teamwork,’ Adair says.

Lending skills

Skilled professionals often donate their highly valued expertise in a consultative, training or direct capacity. PwC UK, for example, has a Social Entrepreneurs Club and a social mobility community programme. The latter sees employees going into schools to encourage students to develop themselves and give them an understanding of business and the world of work.

Other forms of skills-based volunteering include providing workshops on specific topics, how to face certain challenges or sector insights; becoming a mentor outside your organisation; helping non-profits or local groups to fundraise or manage their finances; and being a sounding board for business-related questions or concerns.


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Hands-on

Volunteers may also want to do something totally unrelated to their day jobs. Groundwork, a non-profit organisation supporting local communities and businesses, runs outdoor activities – ‘swapping the screen and keyboard for a shovel and a wheelbarrow’, says its UK chief executive Graham Duxbury.

This community volunteering can involve organising and preparing meals for the homeless; beach, city or countryside cleaning and litter picking; organising or getting involved with recycling schemes; delivering food and care packages to the elderly or ill; and creating and caring for green spaces, including tree planting.

‘Practical volunteering can be hugely beneficial’, says Duxbury. ‘A few hours’ work can transform a garden or a community centre, providing a much better resource for local people, but also generate a huge sense of accomplishment on the part of the volunteers who can see the impact of their work.’

The impact is best summed up by one Groundwork volunteer: ‘The highlight was seeing the look of delight in the eyes of the lady who is treasurer for the project when she saw how much difference we’d made.’

Wellbeing and relationships

‘Taking people out of their normal work environment – and sometimes out of their comfort zone – can be hugely beneficial,’ continues Duxbury. ‘Not only does it help build skills, such as teamwork and leadership, but it also helps people get to know their colleagues in new ways. We’ve seen many people pleasantly surprised by a teammate’s knowledge of plants or expertise with a paint brush.’

It’s increasingly understood that being outdoors in nature is good for mental health, which is where hands-on activities in and among the community not only produce tangible results but provide a real sense of wellbeing for all involved.

‘Often the biggest boost comes from talking to the community members involved in a local project, and realising just how many people are giving up their time to improve their communities and to look after our shared environment. In 2024 so far, 90% of the volunteers we worked with said that the experience had positively impacted their wellbeing,’ says Duxbury.

Volunteering can lead to long-lasting relationships, too. Duxbury says that building a connection between the employees of a business and a local community group can deliver lasting rewards for both parties.

‘For some it becomes a longstanding core commitment, part of their approach to doing business. For others it’s a response to regulatory regimes – for example, the need to demonstrate social value in their delivery of public contracts.

‘One thing we know,’ says Duxbury ‘is that once a business starts providing support to local communities, they seldom go back as they begin to realise the organisational and commercial benefits in terms of staff retention and brand value.’

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