There was a time when employee volunteering was regarded more or less as a perk; a nice-to-have escape from the office that provided a feel good experience for the individual, and free labour—usually unskilled—for the not-for-profit beneficiary. But not anymore.

Volunteering on company time still nourishes the soul, but as research shows, it delivers a whole lot more benefits for the employee, their employer, as well as the not-for-profit.

And it’s not only large companies with well-funded corporate social responsibility programs that are benefiting. Savvy small and medium-sized businesses have embraced it also.

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How not-for-profits benefit

Volunteers bridge the gap between the resources available to meet those needs, and those actually required. Often the need is simply for extra sets of hands to perform straightforward tasks – something larger enterprises and corporations, which can mobilise employee volunteers without impacting operations can often assist with.

Specialist skills are also much in demand—such as project management, feasibility analysis, human resources, marketing and information technology—and not-for-profits are evolving their ability to take on volunteers with expertise they are otherwise unable to afford. This opens employee volunteering opportunities for corporations and smaller businesses alike.

Indeed, not-for-profits may even prefer partnering with smaller businesses, finding them more flexible and open to dialogue. Smaller businesses are also often physically located in the communities where they do business, which makes them better positioned to recognise and support local issues that need to be addressed.

How employees benefit

It’s well documented that employees who volunteer – like Ken, Vivek and Andrew of AustralianSuper pictured above – enjoy many benefits. These include improved physical and mental health including lower levels of stress, a more positive emotional state, and a greater overall satisfaction with life.

Volunteering is similarly beneficial for professional wellbeing. The experience typically helps employees acquire valuable soft skills, such as empathy and communication. Last but not least, employee volunteering removes one of the biggest obstacles that prevents would-be volunteers from realising their desire to do good—time. By integrating volunteering into the working day, even the chronically time poor can participate.

How employers benefit

Employee volunteering is a great leveller – particularly in larger organisations. Bringing together personnel of varying roles and responsibilities to work on an out-of-office project establishes new relationships and new networks, builds teamwork and trust, and fosters a culture of collaboration.

Giving individuals the opportunity to make a difference through an employee volunteering program also helps make their day-to-day work more meaningful. The result is a more engaged workforce from which flow a raft of employer benefits, including increased staff loyalty and retention, greater productivity and improved workplace safety.

In addition, volunteering and other corporate social responsibility initiatives are increasingly important as a means of attracting talented staff, especially millennials, who believe that businesses should proactively address social concerns and environmental issues.

Employee volunteering is also an opportunity to reinforce your company’s values to staff. As Claire Heeps, Chair of the AustralianSuper’s Sustainability and Community Group explains, “Volunteering resonates more with staff when their employer’s mission aligns with that of the not-for-profit being supported.”

“At AustralianSuper, that’s meant finding Australian-based organisations or community groups that are focused on improving quality of life for people.” “Our focus has been quite broad to date, which has lent itself to non-skills based volunteering opportunities”, Heeps adds, “but that’s changing, and we’re now unlocking opportunities to provide skills based contributions.” AustralianSuper employee volunteering will increasingly be focused on not-for-profits that assist people with their finances, or help them back into the workforce. “We have so much expertise to offer in these areas”, Heeps says, “and with staff participation in our volunteering programs jumping 350% in the last 12 months, we also have a lot of individuals ready and willing to lend their support.”

How can we help you?

AustralianSuper is always on the lookout for volunteering opportunities with Australian-based not-for-profits focused on helping people. If that sounds like your organisation, or if you know of one in need of skilled or unskilled resources, please contact Melissa Gauci on (03) 8677 3105, or via email to mgauci@australiansuper.com