2. Introduction

This section provides background to this report. It outlines the key aims and approach to the research and how it seeks to build on previous evidence. It also includes a short note on definitions.

2.1 About this report

Our recent Time Well Spent research report captured the national experience of volunteering for the first time in over a decade. Based on a wide-ranging online survey of over 10,000 members of the British public, supported by sector stakeholders, it ultimately considered the question of ‘what makes a quality volunteer experience?’ and how we might better engage potential volunteers for the future.

The research also highlighted some key challenges facing the voluntary sector. This report on employer-supported volunteering (ESV), also known as corporate volunteering, is the first in a series of focused reports building on Time Well Spent, dedicated to further exploring some of these issues in more depth. For this report, NCVO partnered with the Corporate Volunteering Network (CVN), a peer network of charities and brokers involved in ESV.

The report draws on further analysis of the Time Well Spent data, existing and recent evidence from the literature, and new research carried out with employers, volunteer-involving organisations and brokers. It aims to fill gaps in knowledge and incorporate previously unexplored perspectives to create an updated picture of ESV.

2.2 Background

ESV has steadily increased in popularity as a means for volunteering since the 2000s – both as an employer-led initiative and a government-promoted civil service scheme.

With volunteering made a priority under prime minister David Cameron’s ‘big society’ vision, ESV gained a political boost in 2015 through a Conservative party manifesto pledge to introduce three days of annual paid volunteering leave for those employed in companies with over 250 people. This also led to an increase in research activity in this area, including CIPD’s ‘On the brink of a game-changer?’ report and others.

The years following saw a decline in political enthusiasm for ESV, reflected in the government’s failure to implement the 2015 manifesto pledge. With this decrease in focus on ESV, there has also been a widening gap in research evidence in the ESV landscape. This research looks to fill this gap and explores what ESV looks like now.

This is all the more relevant in the context of a changing landscape. The demand for flexible opportunities is increasing, as is the focus on addressing the lack of diversity in volunteering. There are also wider societal shifts, including more remote working arrangements, a younger generation of employees placing greater value in working for a responsible business, and advances in technology. This research seeks to consider ESV against this backdrop and understand how it might be affected by these developments.

Finally, previous research has tended to focus more on the relationship between employers and volunteer-involving organisations, and little on the experience of volunteers (ie employees) themselves. As the key aim of the Time Well Spent research was to shed light on the experience of volunteering from the perspective of the volunteer, this report also looks to do this in the context of ESV.

2.3 Overall aims

The primary aim of this report is to create an updated picture of ESV that builds on Time Well Spent and other evidence, and to fill gaps, in particular, by including the perspective of volunteers.

This does not mean that everything in this report claims to be new. Rather, where findings resonate with previous research, it looks at why things have not changed, and consider the issues from a number of different perspectives.

Specific research aims are to:

  • explore the context and landscape of ESV, including key challenges
  • explore the ESV experience, including the organisation of ESV, volunteer opportunities, and relationships between those involved
  • consider the different motivations for getting involved and the benefits and impacts of ESV
  • look at wider awareness, participation and engagement with ESV.

The research aims to inform ESV practice and consider key opportunities for improving the ESV experience and impacts for all groups involved, going forward.

2.4 Our approach

Data sources

The research draws on a number of different data sources, summarised below. More detail can be found in the appendix.

Time Well Spent – a national survey of 10,103 people on the volunteer experience

It draws both on the Time Well Spent research report published in 2019, as well as further analysis of the dataset focusing on recent ESV volunteers.

A range of research and literature on ESV, including:

Primary research carried out specifically for this report:

  • Qualitative research (interviews, workshops) and written feedback from volunteer-involving organisations (one workshop, nine written feedback forms); employers (one workshop, seven telephone interviews, four written feedback forms); and brokers (six telephone interviews, 10 written feedback forms).
  • Round-table discussion with volunteer-involving organisations, employers, and brokers discussing emerging findings.

Research approach

Our overall approach to this research is defined by a number of key features.

It looks to build on previous evidence by:

  • looking beyond the external relationship between employers and volunteer-involving organisations, and also considering the internal relationships within these groups, as well as the volunteer perspective
  • putting more focus on the motivations behind ESV and its impacts
  • exploring the state of ESV now (especially since 2015), drawing on recent research and considering the wider, changing environment impacting on ESV
  • seeking to understand barriers to progress and other contributing factors to key challenges faced.

It takes a 360 degree view

It captures the different perspectives of those involved – employers, volunteer-involving organisations, brokers, and importantly volunteers (employees).

It is informed by our stakeholders

As with our main Time Well Spent research, stakeholder engagement was central to the development of this research on ESV. Input from our partners, the Corporate Volunteering Network, played a key role in shaping our priorities for the work and allowing us to engage with those involved with ESV ‘on the ground’ throughout the project.

A roundtable discussion with a variety of stakeholders following emerging findings also shaped implications for practice.

2.5 A note on definitions

In this report, we will use the term ‘employer-supported volunteering’ (shortened to ESV) throughout. ESV is often referred to by other names – such as employer-sponsored volunteering or corporate volunteering.

By ESV, we refer to:

Volunteering where employers actively support or have schemes for employees to give unpaid help to a group, club or organisation either by giving them time during working hours or organising volunteering activities for them. It does not refer to schemes for giving money.

This is based on the main definition used in our Time Well Spent research. Varied definitions are used when referring to ESV, which makes comparisons across different pieces of research challenging, and survey findings do not present data on ESV consistently (eg based on different sub-groups – recent volunteers, employed people etc). Throughout the report, where definitions deviate substantially from that outlined above, it will be noted.

The report also makes reference throughout to various groups involved in ESV. The following terms will be used for short-hand, with more detail on each outlined below:

  • Volunteers’: employees or workers giving unpaid help to organisations, either during working hours supported by their employer or through employer-organised activities. In this report, they may also be referred to as ‘employees’.
  • Employers’: organisations who support or have schemes for employees or workers to give unpaid help to an organisation, either giving them time during working hours to volunteer or organising activities for them. Here, it refers primarily to private sector organisations, but a small number of other types of organisation (public sector, charities) were included.
  • Volunteer-involving organisations’: organisations (mostly working with, or indirectly supported by employers) to whom ESV volunteers give unpaid help. These primarily relate to charities, but some public sector organisations were also engaged.
  • Brokers’: intermediary organisations (eg volunteer centres) involved in matching opportunities between employers and/or volunteer-involving organisations and managing ESV opportunities on their behalf.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 03 June 2019