Volunteering does have a price

At TimeBank we receive many calls and email enquiries regarding groups of corporate employees wanting to get out of the office and do an activity as a team. This is absolutely great and I guess I would be out of a job if they all wanted to go paint balling instead …

However, very quickly the queries start to focus on costs. In fact a common question will be: “Are there any costs involved?”

TimeBank is a charity that provides a quality service to broker volunteering opportunities for corporate volunteers. We are here as experts to work with companies to genuinely give back to their communities and have a rewarding volunteering experience.

We offer companies carefully thought out volunteering projects with a wide range of community partners from environmental challenges to Reading Corner projects in primary schools. We source a suitable community partner, check health and safety, conduct risk assessments, and complete evaluation from volunteers and community hosts, as well as managing press/PR. We also work with companies on longer-term bespoke projects that fit in with a company’s CSR objectives to really create a long lasting impact and legacy in the local communities where a company operates.

But there are of course costs involved in providing this service. TimeBank has to pay its staff to research and source these opportunities; to organise the day and be there to coordinate the activities.  Perhaps the company would like some photos of the day, some social media coverage, news stories, and press releases. For environmental projects costs for materials and tools will also need to be factored in.

And naturally TimeBank has to pay rent for its office and provide computers, phones, equipment and training for its staff just like commercial companies do. So it is always surprising to me that many companies expect us to source and manage their volunteering day out for free. They often don’t have a  specific charity or cause they would like to support; they just have a vague idea that they’d like to “give something back”.  

Maybe I would be writing a slightly different blog if TimeBank regularly received proposals in which a company approaches us with a range of skills they can offer, like highly valuable legal knowledge, marketing, or IT skills, with a clear idea of the outcomes and impact they would like to achieve. In this scenario they might even suggest that their employees want to give a regular commitment of time as well!

On some occasions the companies that get in touch with us have already contacted charities and community groups directly. They have been informed of the costs and then they contact us hoping we might have some need of volunteers for free. Now to me that doesn’t sound like wanting to “give something back”…

There is still a belief among many that volunteering is free – that it just happens and requires very little support to help it develop and thrive. But I believe that for it to function well, volunteering needs just the same sort of organisation, management and support as paid work.