1. At a glance

This section provides an overview of each of the main sections of this report, including a summary of key findings.


Section 2 provides background to the report, including key aims and how the research looks to build on previous evidence.

This report on employer-supported volunteering (ESV), also known as corporate volunteering, is the first in a series of focused reports building on our Time Well Spent research, which looks at the volunteer experience.

This research aims to provide an updated picture of ESV and to look at the issues involved through the perspectives of all groups involved – importantly that of the volunteer, which has often been omitted. This research has been produced in partnership with the Corporate Volunteering Network (CVN), a peer network of volunteer-involving organisations and brokers involved in ESV.

What does ESV participation look like?

Section 3 explores levels of participation in ESV, who gets involved and how they participate.

  • ESV makes up a small part of volunteer participation overall, but some volunteer-involving organisations and brokers perceive an increased demand for ESV in recent years.
  • ESV volunteers are more likely to be younger, male, and from urban areas. The volunteer-involving organisations and employers involved in ESV are more likely to be larger organisations.
  • There are many different forms of ESV, often depending on the degree of employer involvement. ESV volunteers are typically involved in more of a light-touch way compared with non-ESV volunteers, most commonly in events-related activities. ESV volunteers are also more likely to be online as part of their volunteering.
  • Around half of ESV volunteers use their professional or occupational skills in their volunteering, but many also contribute wider skills and experience.
  • Responsibility for the organising and managing of ESV varies across different roles and teams within employers and volunteer-involving organisations. However, ESV is rarely a high priority.

What are the main motivations for getting involved in ESV?

Section 4 looks at motivations for participating in ESV among volunteers, volunteer-involving organisations and employers and the impacts of differing motivations across these groups.

  • ESV volunteers(as with non-ESV volunteers), volunteer-involving organisations and employers all have a common aim of wanting to improve things and help people.
  • However, these different groups of stakeholders also have a range of other motivations, which can shape the way they participate in ESV and what they prioritise. This can lead to tensions and negative perceptions, but where they focus on shared values, ESV works best.

How do volunteers experience ESV?

Section 5 explores ESV volunteers’ experiences, including overall perceptions and specific views on volunteer support and management. It also explores the perceived benefits of ESV among volunteers.

  • ESV volunteers are largely positive about their experience. However, ESV volunteers report lower levels of satisfaction compared with non-ESV volunteers, and are more likely to feel like their volunteering could be better organised, is too bureaucratic and feels too much like paid work.
  • These findings on the volunteer experience broadly resonate with volunteer-involving organisations, employers and brokers. While they cite many examples of ESV working well, the less positive views are not seen as surprising and are thought to be linked primarily to volunteers’ expectations and sense of choice.
  • ESV volunteers report the same benefits from volunteering as non-ESV volunteers, but are slightly less likely to be positive.

What are the key challenges facing ESV?

Section 6 explores a number of key challenges facing ESV and considers what might be holding ESV back.

While volunteer-involving organisations, employers and brokers largely have positive experiences of ESV, feedback from these groups suggests that there are a number of issues which continue to hold ESV back.

Current uptake and future interest in ESV are low

  • The findings suggest that key barriers include lack of awareness, availability and encouragement of opportunities.
  • Competing work pressures also make it challenge for employers to engage employees and plan ESV activities.
  • For some employees, ESV is simply not of interest, but this can be due to perceptions of some opportunities, particularly skilled-based opportunities, as being exclusive.

ESV volunteers tend to be less positive than non-ESV volunteers

  • The findings indicate that volunteer-involving organisations and employers may not be investing in volunteers and their experience.
  • Furthermore, the restrictive and short-term nature of some ESV arrangements can limit the benefits gained by ESV volunteers.
  • The blurred boundaries between work and volunteering are likely to contribute to ESV feeling more formalised and ‘work-like’.

A mismatch of needs and expectations can create barriers to effective ESV relationships

  • Relationships between those involved in managing ESV are impacted by different internal needs and priorities which can pull stakeholders in different directions.
  • Issues around cost, an area of particular tension, highlight wider gaps in understanding between volunteer-involving organisations and employers.

Volunteering opportunities of most benefit to volunteer-involving organisations are not those most popular among employers

  • Requests for resource-heavy and low-impact volunteering often stems from a lack of understanding of what volunteering is (it is frequently equated with teambuilding).
  • Furthermore, while skills-based opportunities are often of most value to volunteer-involving organisations, not all volunteers are interested in these types of opportunities or feel they have professional or occupational skills to offer.
  • Within both volunteer-involving organisations and employer organisations, the focus on numbers of volunteers as the key measure of success can lead to less impactful opportunities.

Levels of engagement and participation in ESV are lower in smaller organisations

  • While there is a willingness to get smaller organisations (both as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and volunteer-involving organisations) on board, practical barriers of limited human and financial resources, continue to stall their involvement.
  • Additionally, the findings indicate that the focus on larger organisations mean that currently, ESV does not always fit with what SMEs and smaller volunteer-involving organisations can take on or offer.

What might the next five years look like for ESV?

Section 7 looks at what the next five years might look like for ESV, including what might impact on it.

  • Research participants perceived that the demand for ESV from organisations (employers and volunteer-involving organisations alike) would continue to grow, but that the environment it operates in is likely to get tougher.
  • Expectations on employers to be responsible businesses and to do more to look after and incentivise employees, may help to drive ESV forward, potentially in new and different ways. Wider societal shifts including more flexible working arrangements and advances in technology are also likely to change the way ESV is delivered.
  • These changes may prompt questions about where ESV is best placed to meet needs. Where volunteer-involving organisations choose to be involved, they may need to adapt and evolve to maximise the benefits of ESV.

How might we prepare ESV for the future?

Section 8 looks at how organisations might better prepare for the future, with suggestions on what might help ESV move forward in five key areas. It includes some case examples to illustrate the findings.

How might we better engage volunteers in ESV?

The findings suggest that volunteers could be better engaged by:

  • making ESV as easy and flexible as possible – flexible arrangements such as volunteering near the office or remotely, and employers being more flexible about how employees are able to give their time, may support current and potential volunteers to fit volunteering around competing work priorities
  • making it more ‘personal’ – volunteers should feel that they have freely chosen to participate in causes that are meaningful to them, they should feel prepared for their volunteering activities, actively involved in shaping opportunities and supported to find their own opportunities
  • building connections with volunteers – volunteer-involving organisations and employers need to invest the same time and effort into relationships with volunteers, as they do with one another. ESV volunteers may not initially look for long-term involvement but where engaged effectively, they can go on to be involved in different and more impactful ways.

How might we make ESV more inclusive?

The findings suggest that ESV could be made more inclusive by:

  • ensuring a broad range of opportunities are on offer – employers recognise that volunteering should meet different needs and preferences
  • adopting a wider definition of skills and experiences – recognising and valuing a broader range of skills and experiences may help to address the perception of ESV as exclusive and allow more people to contribute in different ways
  • recognising the unique contribution of smaller organisations and making ESV more ‘small friendly’ – SMEs and smaller volunteer-involving organisations have unique advantages but more needs to be done to ensure they can participate.

How might we create a more positive ESV culture?

The findings suggest that employers and volunteer-involving organisations could focus on:

  • having ESV champions at different levels – while a committed lead is essential in driving ESV forward, wider buy-in is needed to support and legitimise ESV
  • promoting values and benefits – regular communication internally and celebrating the difference volunteers make can help boost the profile of ESV within organisations
  • ensuring ESV is joined up to other parts of the organisation – including its processes, structures and strategies, may help to ensure ESV has a ‘place’ and purpose in the organisation.

How can organisations involved in ESV work better together?

The findings suggest that those involved in ESV could work better together by:

  • recognising one size does not fit all – while long term partnership has its advantages, employers need to balance different needs, therefore volunteer-involving organisations should be open to different partnership models; brokers could help them to find suitable matches
  • having honest, upfront communications – volunteer-involving organisations need to be clearer about what works and have the confidence to say no, which can increase wider understanding about what it takes to organise ESV opportunities that are impactful (again, brokers can support this)
  • being willing to adapt – employers not coming with a set, prescribed idea of ESV and volunteer-involving organisations doing more to understand the employer context can help build more effective relationships.

How might we make ESV more impactful?

The findings suggest that ESV could be made more impactful by:

  • promoting a greater understanding of volunteering – findings suggest volunteer-involving organisations and brokers could better support employers to identify and address their primary motivations for ESV
  • recognising that impacts can be realised in different ways – instead of focusing on a specific type of ESV opportunity (for instance, skills-based) those involved in delivering ESV should be open-minded in how they can make a difference, and meet different needs and priorities
  • rethinking measures of success – organisations can challenge current measures such as number of volunteers and hours and look at multiple types of impact, drawing on wider collaboration and support where needed
  • focusing on shared values – previous recommendations have focused on employers and volunteer-involving organisations finding common ground to build their relationship. But there is more to consider, including volunteer motivations and the needs of beneficiaries. Focusing on shared values, driven by an ESV strategy could help ensure opportunities are impactful.

What could organisations involved in managing and delivering ESV consider for the future?

The report concludes by posing a number of questions for volunteer-involving organisations, employers and brokers to consider. These have drawn on some key insights from this research to prompt those involved in managing and delivering ESV:

  • to explore how volunteers could be better engaged in light of the finding which shows that despite the lack of previous focus on the ESV volunteer experience, it plays a key role and needs to be taken into account more
  • to look at identifying and focusing on shared values and purpose in light of the findings which show the need to navigate the different motivations at play and balance different needs and priorities
  • to look within their own organisations and not only at external relationships in light of the findings that show the importance of ESV having internal support, through a dedicated strategy, a structure which connects ESV with the rest of the organisation’s activities, and the buy-in of colleagues who understand the value and benefit of ESV.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 03 June 2019