Employer Supported Volunteering:
A guide for the
New Zealand Public Service
On this page:
This guide has been developed to help New Zealand public service agencies implement Employer Supported Volunteering programmes. The guide will also help agencies meet the expectation in the Government Policy on Volunteering that agencies support their staff in their private volunteering activities, while ensuring they continue to fulfil their professional obligations.
Successful Employer Supported Volunteering programmes always closely match the culture, size and nature of an organisation and its mission and objectives. Therefore, this guide should be read with a view to adapting its content to suit your agency’s needs and requirements.
Don’t be put off by the comprehensive nature of this guide – use what works for you. Watch Hilary Reynolds, a former Deputy Chief Executive at the Ministry of Social Development, tell her story about a highly successful programme she helped implement at the Department of Work and Pensions in the United Kingdom. You will see that a lot can be achieved through passion, goodwill and keeping things simple.
The guide will take you through ten steps to support your agency with its volunteer efforts. These are summarised in the diagram at right.
What is Employer Supported Volunteering?
Employer Supported Volunteering is any system that enables employees to volunteer outside the organisation. Supportive actions range from employers providing flexi-time for staff to undertake private volunteering, through to highly integrated programmes that match the employer’s strategic goals.
Volunteering is work undertaken of one’s own free will, for the common good. Private volunteering is unpaid, but employer supported schemes may include activity in paid work time. A continuum showing different levels of support for volunteering by staff, from minimal to integrated, is at step 3.
Benefits for society
Volunteering contributes to the economy and to an inclusive, well-functioning society. Many essential services are reliant on volunteering. Every year New Zealanders contribute more than 270 million hours of unpaid work for non-profit organisations. If we were to pay for this effort, it would be valued at over $3.3 billion.
An estimated 1.2 million people volunteered in the year ended September 2009. Of these, 754,000 (61.5%) were in paid employment, indicating a generally positive relationship between paid work and volunteering. (Source: Nielsen Media Research 2009.)
Benefits for government agencies
Employee volunteering provides government agencies with opportunities to better connect with the communities they serve, demonstrate government policy in action, and fulfil obligations to be a good employer.
Where employee volunteering is integrated with an agency’s goals, it can provide tangible benefits such as improving the agency’s external and internal image, and enhancing staff recruitment, retention and skill levels.
Employee volunteering helps employees feel good about themselves and their employer. By assisting employees to make a difference on issues they care about, the employer sends a message that it cares about its employees.
Benefits for employees
Agencies that implement volunteering policies can contribute to their employees’ work/life balance, enable them to fulfil their cultural obligations, and support their active citizenship.
By working in a different role as a volunteer, employees can develop existing and additional transferable skills. Volunteering exposes employees to a more varied range of tasks and issues than they would experience in their paid work. Employers increasingly recognise the value of these experiences to employees’ performance development.
Working with different people in different environments broadens employees’ horizons and provides opportunities to contribute to issues they care about.
Benefits for community organisations
Employee volunteers can bring professional skills directly to community organisations. Employee volunteers can also bring a different perspective that can benefit the long-term development of community organisations. Communities can also benefit indirectly through an increased awareness in the public service of community issues and needs.
It is important to allocate time to planning your volunteering strategy, as with any other new business function. As a starting point, think about why your agency would like to get involved. Would you like to:
- bring real benefits to the local community?
- develop employees’ skills and increase their morale and motivation?
- improve links and communication within your agency?
- create networks with potential service users and partners?
- enhance the public perception of your organisation?
Employer Supported Volunteering can contribute to all of these objectives. Deciding on the most important factors for your agency will help define your strategy. Also consider your agency’s strategic goals and how Employer Supported Volunteering can align with these.
Assessing the current situation
Many public servants are already involved in volunteering, and some teams or groups in the agency may already be supporting particular organisations. Information on what’s already being done will help you decide whether to build on existing activities, develop completely new programmes, or do both. It will also allow you to monitor the success of your programme at a later date.
It is important not to devalue or intrude on peoples’ existing private volunteering activities. Aim to learn from volunteers’ experiences rather than ‘take over’ their projects.
Formal surveys that ask for information about employees’ private voluntary activity will not go down well if they are seen as intrusive. Alternative ways of gathering information are:
- talking with key people, such as team managers
- adding a few questions to a more general survey
- asking your people to nominate causes they would like to support.
Questions to ask include:
- what community activities are already taking place (both privately and organisationally)?
- what issues and causes are employees interested in supporting?
- what skills would employees like to offer to the community?
- what internal structures can be used (for instance, in-house networks, social clubs and unions)?
- what help is available to establish links with community organisations?
What kind of issues is your agency getting involved with?
Public service agencies are active in a wide range of areas, which include:
- community development
- arts and media
- ethnic issues
- conservation, environment and heritage
- crime prevention
- civil defence
- health (including mental health)
- older people
- refugees and migrants
- social services
- young people.
Linking volunteer activities with the main areas for your agency can provide opportunities for staff to get front-line experience they may not otherwise get.
Cultural perspectives are an important consideration. Māori, Pasifika and many ethnic communities think of volunteering as the fulfilment of family and social obligations and responsibilities. These activities revolve around helping, sharing and giving – first to one’s immediate family, closely followed by one’s extended family, then to one’s ethnic community, and finally to the wider community. In many cultures, significant commitments of unpaid labour to the community are the norm for each individual and subject to a strong cultural expectation.
For Māori, ‘mahi aroha’ is the term that most closely translates to the concept of voluntary work. Mahi aroha is the unpaid activity performed out of ‘duty’, caring, and responsibility towards others. For many Māori, voluntary activity (that is, acts of service to their whānau, hāpu and iwi) is central to identity and to the maintenance of culture and traditions.
Pacific people define volunteering as ‘serving one another’. For many Pacific people the act of volunteering is a moral and ethical responsibility passed on through traditional roles and responsibilities to the collective group and to one’s own family.
Be alert to cultural differences and perceptions of what volunteering might mean to staff, and be as flexible as possible, particularly if asking questions about volunteering. When developing a written policy (Step 4) for Employer Supported Volunteering, you should explicitly consider cultural norms and values of staff.
After completing this step you should be clear about why your agency might want to introduce an Employer Supported Volunteering programme and have a good base of information on current activity to help focus the effort.
An Employer Supported Volunteering programme will need the support of the whole agency if it is to succeed. We recommend you watch Hilary Reynolds (above), a former Deputy Chief Executive at the Ministry of Social Development, tell her story about a highly successful programme she helped implement at the Department of Work and Pensions in the United Kingdom.
Getting senior managers involved in Employer Supported Volunteering activities sets an excellent example. A statement of commitment to Employer Supported Volunteering from your agency’s executive management team will be a powerful endorsement.
Senior level support will be needed at various stages to agree:
- which organisation/s to support
- limits for any financial contributions and management costs
- how activity will be initiated or managed
- availability of other resources to help the community, such as facilities, services, furniture and equipment
- how to evaluate the programme against objectives
- policies for volunteering in work time
- methods to communicate your new volunteering activities to all your internal and external stakeholders.
Enlisting the help of your human resources team early will help establish good policies and procedures, and bring credibility to the programme. They may also help to develop or identify volunteer proposals that use the distinctive skills of your organisation and its people.
Middle management support is crucial to the success of an Employer Supported Volunteering programme, but the most difficult to gain. This is generally because middle managers are likely to be most affected when members of their team volunteer, and will need to ensure work deliverables are met, even with a reduced team. To overcome this you will need to ensure they understand:
- what the programme is and how it will function
- the benefits that volunteering will bring to participating staff, the agency and the community
- how essential they are to the programme’s success
- how they can support the programme.
All other employees
For an Employer Supported Volunteering programme to succeed you will have to create ways to involve all employees and enable them to feel ownership of the programme. They will want to be involved in generating ideas and organising activities.
Make sure that all your communications convey ideas of partnership. When consulting with employees, questions you might want to ask include:
- what sorts of causes are you interested in supporting?
- are there volunteer activities you would prefer not to be associated with?
- what sort of skills could you contribute?
- is it possible for people to take time away from work?
- would people be more interested in continuing involvement or a ‘one-off’ event or some combination of the two?
- would you prefer to volunteer at a place near to home or to work, and do you have access to transport if there is a distance factor?
- would you prefer to be involved in team or individual activities or some combination of the two?
- are there any cultural considerations that need to be taken into account?
Unions are generally in favour of volunteering. However, it is wise to consult your union representatives when shaping your programme to get their full backing.
Internal working group
You have a greater likelihood of success if you form an internal working group to drive your volunteering effort. The group should be made up of employees across different levels and parts of the organisation, including senior and middle management, and human resources staff.
After completing this step you will have a good indication of the level of support you will get from the managers and staff of the agency.
Your enquiries on what volunteering is already taking place will help you decide on the best way to proceed. You may need to prepare a business case. A model business case for Employer Supported Volunteering is provided to help you with developing your proposal. Volunteering New Zealand has more information and resources, including policies and guidelines, books and publications and promotional toolkits. There is also local information provided by local volunteer centres.
Determining the level of support your agency will provide
The following table sets out some different levels of support your agency could offer to employees who wish to take part in volunteering:
|Level of support||Initiatives|
Developing a new programme
The ten steps in this Guide outline how to develop an Employer Supported Volunteering programme. Once senior level support is obtained, it will be necessary to assign personnel to take responsibility for programme design and management. This work will include:
- tying the volunteering activities to professional development and training frameworks within your agency
- securing resources for development, implementation and evaluation
- identifying suitable brokers or working directly with appropriate community organisations
- promoting the programme and celebrating successes.
Enhancing an existing programme
Your agency may decide to support current employee volunteering activity further. There are several ways to do this:
- A volunteer co-ordinator may be recruited, often as part of a larger committee. The co-ordinator can link up volunteering activity across the agency to provide maximum benefit to the employer and the community organisations that are receiving the volunteers. This role also provides development opportunities in managing resources, organisation, leadership and communication.
- A system can be set up to allow employees to use work time for Employer Supported Volunteering where this can only take place during working hours.
- An internal awards scheme can be created to support employees. This is a good vehicle for recognising and raising awareness of charitable work. Award schemes should be well publicised and available to all.
After this step you will have a good understanding of the sort of programme that will be the best fit with your agency’s people and goals.
Familiarise yourself with the Government Policy on Volunteering. This document indicates that government agencies should have policies that support the private volunteering activities of staff.
A written Employer Supported Volunteering policy has several benefits including:
- demonstrating that the Employer Supported Volunteering programme has the support of senior management and that the programme is taken seriously
- ensuring everyone knows the procedures involved
- promoting the programme.
Content of the written policy
A good Employer Supported Volunteering policy will aim to meet the needs of the agency, the community organisations you are working with, and your people. A comprehensive volunteering policy should include:
- a definition of what your agency considers as volunteering
- criteria and examples of the sort of volunteering activity your agency supports
- a brief statement of commitment to Employer Supported Volunteering and the reasons for that commitment
- information and guidelines on any volunteering scheme your agency may have in place
- your agency’s policy on leave arrangements for employee volunteering. This can include paid time off work, flexible work options, specific arrangements and part time employment. This also needs to take into consideration any current policies on civil defence or territorial army volunteers.
- guidelines on in-kind contributions (such as associated photocopying and postage)
- guidelines on financial support if this is to be linked to employees’ fundraising or personal volunteering activities
- guidelines on insurance, health and safety, and any relevant legislation (see the section below)
- a statement on how projects are to be chosen and the level of employee involvement in this
- information on conflicts of interest and how they will be managed (see below)
- a short statement recognising the value of the voluntary activity undertaken by employees as private individuals, which may be in addition to or instead of participation in the structured programme.
The Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector is collating examples of Employee Supported Volunteering policies. Contact email@example.com for more information.
The following table summarises current legislation that has implications for employers who have staff carrying out volunteer work during work time, and for employees who carry out volunteer work. Also see www.keepingitlegal.org.nz.
|Volunteers Employment Protection Act 1973, and the Volunteers Employment Protection Amendment Act 2004||This Act makes provision for the employment of volunteers in the Armed Forces, and provides protection for the employment of the territorial forces or the reserve forces.|
|Holidays Act 2003||Section 16 of this Act sets out entitlement to annual holidays. Volunteers’ leave within the meaning of the Volunteers Employment Protection Act is to be included as part of continuous employment.|
|Civil Defence and Emergency Management (CDEM) Act 2002||
This Act does not specify particular duties or obligations of local authorities toward civil defence volunteers.
However, the CDEM Act does have some general provisions that affect civil defence volunteers, including training of volunteers.
The CDEM Act also protects civil defence volunteers from liability while they are acting in good faith in a declared emergency.
|Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992||
Volunteers engaged in work activities are covered by this Act.
Some volunteer activities are not covered by the Act, such as participating in fundraising, providing care for another person in the volunteer’s home, etc. These are set out in Part 1, s. 3C(3) of the Act.
Read Volunteering New Zealand’s Employee Volunteering Health and Safety Guidelines, which has the most up-to-date information on this topic.
After completing this step you will have a sound framework and comprehensive set of rules and guidelines to help people put an activity programme together.
Once you are clear about the level of support your agency will provide, you will need to define precisely what you want to achieve from your Employer Supported Volunteering programme.
Steps 5 to 10 provide detailed information on what you may need to do for an extensive Employer Supported Volunteering programme (‘Active’ and ‘Integrated’ support, as defined in Step 3). Aspects of the following five steps will also be useful for more limited programmes.
Define and align objectives
Consider how your Employer Supported Volunteering programme will help to meet your agency’s strategic objectives while also meeting the needs of the community organisations you will be working with.
It is useful to set objectives that relate to the impact you want the Employer Supported Volunteering programme to have, such as:
- helping staff development
- improving staff morale
- increasing staff retention
- transferring business skills to community organisations
- improving your profile in the community.
You may also want to talk to other similar agencies that have already set up an Employer Supported Volunteering programme. Joining a local or national network can be very useful. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be linked to other agencies with Employer Supported Volunteering programmes.
Note that once you have identified community partners (Step 7), you will need to discuss together what you want to achieve and how you will measure success. True partnerships are best achieved by working together from the start.
Make sure your goals are realistic
Most employers looking for Employer Supported Volunteering opportunities find that, with the exception of group projects, most volunteering opportunities do not need large groups of volunteers at one time. Often a regular supply of smaller numbers of volunteers is preferred.
Decide how you will know if your objectives have been achieved, and make sure you keep records so that you can evaluate this.
If you want to improve an existing Employer Supported Volunteering programme, your objectives might include:
- increasing the number of employees participating
- establishing a structure to enable activities to be organised more regularly
- increasing the variety of activities
- encouraging community organisations to contribute their ideas to the programme.
Challenges and risks
The Massey University study Employee Volunteering Observations from the Front-Line identified a number of challenges to successful Employer Supported Volunteering programmes.
- Many community organisations are small and operate with limited resources and minimal paid staff. Managing volunteers adds significant pressure.
- It’s often difficult to find suitable volunteering opportunities that fit one-day projects and are meaningful for both the community organisation and the volunteers.
- Trying to organise volunteering activities that meet the needs of all involved is difficult, sometimes leading managers to question whose needs are primary in the relationship.
- Information sharing and communication between the employer agency and the community organisation is sometimes inadequate, particularly around joint planning.
Consider how your Employer Supported Volunteering programme will overcome these challenges. The following table outlines how to manage some barriers and risks to public sector employee volunteering.
Public scrutiny of the expenditure of public funds.
Concern that paid leave should not be provided for voluntary activities, or that this kind of public good is already being paid for through the public agency activities.
|Potential for resentment of volunteering leave by other employees.||
|Employees having enough time and energy to volunteer.||
|Potential conflicts of interest.||
At the end of this step you will have a good understanding of your objectives in undertaking Employer Supported Volunteering and how to manage any challenges that may arise.
Employer Supported Volunteering programmes bring a lot of benefits, but they’re not free. Bespoke programmes require central co-ordination and monitoring. The natural fit these programmes have with human resource work means no large additional costs need to be incurred, as many of the necessary resources are already covered.
A key resource will be your intranet, which can be used to promote the programme and potentially to co-ordinate volunteers.
Using financial resources for volunteering may at first seem problematic. Creative use of budgets, such as training and communications budgets, may cover most costs.
Depending on the programme, resources may be required for:
- overseeing the programme’s development and roll-out
- brokerage services
- internal promotional material
- development costs for flagship projects
- incidental expenses such as travel
- resources to aid employee committees, such as notepaper, t-shirts and posters
- recognition and celebration events
- monitoring and evaluation.
At the end of this step you will be able to establish a realistic budget for the activity and ensure that people will be available to meet undertakings you may make.
Existing relationships in the community
Think about your existing relationships with the local voluntary sector. Questions to think about when looking for suitable partners are:
- are you looking to develop close relationships with just one or two community organisations?
- does the community or voluntary organisation have the potential and capacity to involve your agency?
- can the community or voluntary organisation identify areas where employees can bring benefits such as skills, practical help, financial advice, project management, strategic management, and research and development?
- are there organisations that can help you find a match, such as a local volunteer broker?
- can the community or voluntary organisation provide a member of its staff to act as the main contact for your agency’s Employer Supported Volunteering?
- does the community organisation already involve volunteers successfully and is it experienced in risk assessment?
You may know of a local broker, such as a volunteer centre, that will help you find suitable partners. Brokers are intermediaries who enable employee involvement in the community by matching the needs of all parties.
Brokers are useful where you may lack the time to research potential partners. Brokers know the needs of all sectors and are experienced in translating these needs into negotiated outcomes. They understand local community issues and can match suitable partners to bring about positive change.
At the end of this step you will be able to identify appropriate community partners to work with and start to develop the necessary relationships with the partners and any broker(s).
By far the best way of recruiting volunteers is by word of mouth. Employer Supported Volunteering champions can spread the message to their colleagues. Include profiles of employee volunteers on your organisation’s intranet, or invite people from community organisations to come and speak to your employees about the difference their involvement could make.
- Where possible, communicate personally rather than relying on written material.
- Ensure that potential volunteers know what support is offered and who they can contact to find out more or to suggest ideas.
- Ensure that the person responsible for the programme is receptive to what people are saying and is easy to reach.
- Develop a distinctive identity for the programme – perhaps involve employees in choosing a name for it – but don’t worry about flashy logos.
- Try to ensure the volunteering opportunities are attractive and varied.
- Explain exactly how the volunteers will make a difference.
- Spell out what and how your organisation is contributing.
- Make it fun!
Remember, if you have involved your people all the way through the conception of the scheme, recruitment will be much easier.
Recognise your volunteers
Recognising and publicising the contribution that employee volunteers make will demonstrate to your employees that their efforts are appreciated – and will also help to recruit more volunteers. Ways of recognising employee volunteers include:
- internal award schemes
- articles in newsletters and magazines
- a personal letter of thanks from the Chief Executive
- presentation of certificates by your community partner.
At the end of this step you will have a reliable system in place to recruit volunteers from within your agency.
Agencies need to know that their Employer Supported Volunteering programme is effective and is achieving the desired goals (see Step 5 – Set Objectives). It is useful to consider the need for, and costs of, simple processes to measure the impact of the programme on organisational skills, planned performance development and relationships with the community.
You will want to put in place processes for ongoing review and implementation of the programme. Referring back to the business case and business benefits when evaluating the programme is a useful way to start the evaluation.
Questions to ask
Most of the benefits of Employer Supported Volunteering programmes are qualitative, so you will need to ask a variety of questions to help you evaluate its success. Consider the results for everyone involved: your agency, the employee volunteers and your partner organisations.
The effect on your agency
- Was the volunteering enjoyable, and did it raise morale?
- Did it improve your community relations?
- Did it improve your internal communications and teamwork?
- Did it enhance your employees’ skills?
The effect on the employee volunteers
- Have they volunteered before?
- Did they think this volunteering was well organised?
- Will they continue to volunteer? If not, why not?
- Did they feel their volunteering activity provided them with new challenges or developed new skills?
- Did they find it worthwhile?
The effect on your partner organisations
Note: You will need to liaise over this with your partner organisations.
- Did the end result match the original aim of the project?
- How well received was it?
- How well did your partnership work on a practical level?
- Were there any problems, and how were they dealt with?
- How can you build on what has been achieved so far?
- Have there been any measurable impacts on the end-users of the service?
Methods to use
Some of your aims may be quantitative; for example you might want to involve a minimum of 10% of all employees. Qualitative benefits are more difficult to assess. You could try using one or more of the following methods:
- questionnaires or surveys
- asking for reports – even just short emails from participants
- telephone conversations with participants
- focus groups.
Key factors in evaluation
- State clearly in advance what all the groups involved expect to gain from the project or programme.
- Stay in touch with, and seek information from, all the stakeholders in the programme.
- Set up record-keeping procedures to gather and store the information you need as you go along.
- Plan the evaluation, and the data you will need to collect, before the programme begins or as soon as possible after it starts.
At the end of this step you will have a clear understanding of the success, or otherwise, of your policies and programme of activities and how these may be improved.
You will need to decide whether you wish to publicise your Employer Supported Volunteering activities. This can take several forms:
- comment in your Annual Report
- media coverage
- entering local and national awards
- sharing short stories/reports online via social media or blogs about communities and generosity (e.g. www.givingforgood.co.nz).
Publicising employer supported volunteering externally needs to be handled carefully. If employees and community groups suspect that the main focus of your programme is to generate positive publicity, it could limit their commitment to the programme. Also, you will need to take account of any wider issues within your agency when seeking to publicise your programme, for instance any current changes in management or restructuring processes.
Entering your programme for an award, whether a local, industry or a national award, can take some time, but if you win, it can give your programme a welcome boost. Awards can support volunteers and bring new volunteers on board as well as opening up the possibility of more funds for your programme.
Finally, volunteering should be rewarding for all those who take part (see Step 8). Ensure that worthwhile activity, appreciation, recognition and fun are at the core of your programme!
At the end of this step you will be able to reap the additional rewards that come from recognition. This will help to build and sustain your programme going forward.
The Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector acknowledges the work of Volunteering England in outlining guidance on Employer Supported Volunteering.
- Government Policy on Volunteering
- Business case
- Hilary Reynolds video
- Volunteering New Zealand
- Volunteer centres
- Mahi Ahora: Māori Perspectives on volunteering and cultural obligations (Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector)
- Standards of Integrity and Conduct (State Services Commission)
- Walking the Line: Managing conflicts of interest (State Services Commission)
- Employee Volunteering Observations from the Front-line (Massey University)
- International Volunteer Day
- Volunteer Awareness Week