Simon Hill is Head of Partnerships at Enabling Enterprise and a primary school governor. Here, he explores the value of volunteering and how volunteers can play a big part in raising students aspirations and supporting them to develop essential life skills.

Appreciation of volunteering, and what has often been called “employer-supported volunteering” has come a long way over the last decade.

Volunteering England, which supports volunteering and organisations who involve volunteers is celebrating the 10th Anniversary of its excellent Investing in Volunteers standard, the UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management.

According to a research report commissioned by volunteering and learning charity CSV last year approximately 70% of FTSE 100 businesses now have an active employee supported volunteering (ESV) programme.

The London Benchmarking Group model helps businesses at different stages of development to understand and measure “community impact” and to define what they are trying to achieve through investment including volunteer time. The model supports the process by which a company can measure its overall contribution to the community, be it in cash, pro-bono or volunteering support, and the outputs and longer-term impact of its contribution.

Economic and Social Value

In September, Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, and co-founder of voluntary sector/economist match-makers Pro-Bono Economics gave a speech entitled “In giving, how much do we receive?”

The social value of volunteering in the UK is significant, he said, with 29% of respondents to the Community Life Survey saying they volunteer formally at least once a month, for example.

Pro Bono Economics calculates (using ONS data) that UK volunteering is equivalent to 1.25 million full-time equivalents (FTEs), or double the number of paid FTEs in the voluntary sector, which is 800,000, according to NCVO’s 2013 Civil Society Almanac.

The social value of volunteering from the perspective of organisations like Enabling Enterprise is significant. Last year we worked with 35,000 students from the age of 5 to 19 years of age and measured their progress against eight key enterprise and employability skills:

• Working in a team
• Leading
• Listening carefully
• Sharing ideas
• Problem-solving
• Using imagination
• Staying positive
• Aiming high.

Of the students we tracked using our Skills Assessment Framework, those on our programmes make on average more than twice the expected level of progress for their age against those not on our programmes. Approximately 1,000 hours of volunteer time from our business partners last year supported our work, an indispensable component in helping us achieve our impact.

Haldane’s speech talks about the value of volunteering, in terms of the economic value. Apparently using traditional economic input/output measures would make volunteering worth about 1.5% of GDP, a significant sector in its own right!

Benefits to the volunteer

Haldane’s speech also talks about the value of volunteering to the private individual, which I think is crucially important as I’m sure many people don’t consider the time they give as something to be measured on their employer’s triple bottom line.
In terms of the individual he explored the value in terms of self-reported benefits in three main categories: enhanced well-being, health benefits and increased skills and employability, and considers each in turn.

Surveys of national well-being he considers to be the most authoritative method to assess the impact of volunteering on the individual. It ranks third after health (physical and mental) and employment prospects and on a par with sport.
Health benefits – and particularly benefits to mental health – from volunteering include integration and engagement, particularly at stressful points of people’s lives.

Not all forms of volunteering, Haldane points out necessarily improve skills and employability (gone are the days of sheds being re-painted on a weekly basis). He does mention, among other things, a recent Volunteering England survey which reports manager’s belief that workplace skills benefit from volunteering. A happy, motivated workforce is also more productive.

The conclusion he reaches is this: “that the benefits to volunteering might be as large, if not larger, for volunteers themselves as for recipients. In other words, in giving we really do receive – possibly as much as we give.”

Volunteering for Enabling Enteprise

Here in no particular order are some of the reasons Enabling Enterprise’s volunteers tell us they take part our school visits to their places of work:

• Trying something new that draws on my own skills and expertise.
• Sharing my knowledge of the business, the roles within it and the different career paths.
• Working with the students during the visit to support them and help them get the most out of it.
• Thinking about the skills I use in my day job and reflecting on how I engages with colleagues with different levels of motivation, energy and buy-in to a project’s aims.
• Meeting and working with colleagues who I don’t normally work with.

So, there you go. Volunteering is good economically, individually and socially and the sum of these is greater than any one of these in isolation.

And if you know an employer still needing convincing of the value of volunteering? You might try the latest research report from CIPD: Volunteering to learn: Employee development through community action. It gives a good overview of the range of volunteering opportunities that can link to specific areas of personal development. My favourite quote comes from Linklater’s Matt Sparks, who says “When you’re telling kids to think about their careers, you end up having a better articulation of your own too.” Which rather neatly underlines the very personal nature of volunteering and the often unintended positive impacts on the volunteer too.

Enabling Enteprise work with schools and businesses so that one day, every student leaves school equipped with the skills, experiences and aspirations to succeed. To find out more about how you can get your school or business involved, contact us.

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