Tolkien, goats on tables and dusty warehouses

In August it fell to me to organise one of our twice yearly staff volunteering days.

I took it on assuming it would be a) relatively simply to find somewhere and organise and b) easy to accommodate everyone’s needs, including the charity offering us the opportunity to donate our time to them. Having not organised a staff volunteering day before, l revisited the excellent blog by my colleague Calley on getting started with employee volunteering tips for getting started with employee volunteering. It’s well worth a read if your company or staff team are thinking about a volunteering day. In her blog Calley suggests you consider four things:

What do you want to get out of it?

As a volunteering organisation, this was perhaps the easiest to address. We have an organisational commitment to staff volunteering that goes to the very heart of our work. In addition to the two days a year we volunteer together as a team, we offer all staff five days paid volunteering leave. Part of the thinking behind this is that we want to share our skills and experience with other organisations. But we also want to understand the reality of volunteering in the not for profit sector to inform our thinking and practice as a volunteering organisation.

On a more practical level we have staff in three different locations over 400 miles apart. Some of the team had spoken to, but never met some of their colleagues. The opportunity to meet up, do things that make real difference, that are completely outside of your usual job roles, teams and hierarchies really helps staff get to know each other. It’s not often that a Programme Manager gets to discuss the relative merits of a donated t-shirt with the Finance Director!

What do your staff want?

Our team (as l’m sure pretty much any other team) all wanted to do different activities, from “…anything as long as it’s inside…” to “…anything as long as it’s outside…”  What united them is that they wanted to do something where they felt they were making a real difference, that was interesting and fun. Thankfully, this is something that TimeBank really excels at. In the last 15 years we have organised team volunteering opportunities for companies large and small (if you’re interested in getting your organisation volunteering there is a link at the end of this blog).  

Budget for volunteering

Even though this was our staff volunteering, it still required a budget. We charge our corporate clients to organise volunteering days because we are only too aware of the costs involved. Suitable opportunities have to be identified which takes time (l contacted and discussed our needs with five different projects before identifying one that met both TimeBank’s and the charity’s needs). The project was visited and roles discussed. Can the numbers be accommodated? Can the task be delivered in a day? Are there opportunities to undertake a number of tasks in different teams? Are there opportunities for those with disabilities or restricted mobility? Then there are practical issues: will our team need to bring their own lunch/drinks? Are there secure storage facilities etc.? Once all of that was agreed l then had to undertake a thorough health and safety and risk assessment.

What do charities need?

For all of the charities we work with their aspirations are often not matched by their resources (and this is true whatever the size of the charity). There is much that they would like to do but are simply unable to. We wanted to find a charity where one day of our staff team’s time would make a difference that would otherwise not happen. I found lots of opportunities that were really interesting – from environmental volunteering in a Bronze Age bog – thought to have inspired Tolkien - to an urban farm, rebuilding climbing tables for goats which were too old to climb on the existing furniture.

But we settled on a charity that runs a food and clothes bank. We did this because we thought we could make the most meaningful impact in one day (although l was very tempted by the thought of building goat’s furniture!) The charity had recently taken over a warehouse space on an industrial estate which was full of donated food and clothing. They were trying to run their service, delivering food and clothing parcels, while trying to sort out the warehouse, which was neither practical or achievable in the short term.

With TimeBank’s support for one day we were able to clean storage areas, take down old shelving and put a new storage system in place. Meanwhile other colleagues emptied and sorted good donated clothes while another team folded clothes into men’s and women’s sizes. And thanks to careful planning and working closely with the charity we completed all of the tasks we set out to do. And just as importantly, we had great fun and the chance to socialise together afterwards over a curry and beer.

If you would like to find out more about how to get your company volunteering please visit www.timebank.org.uk/employee-volunteering or contact Sarah Bonoff on sarah@timebank.org.uk or 0203 111 0721