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Employer-Supported Volunteering: A step by step guide to secure it, and our day at City Harvest London.
£23,850 food saved from landfill? It's all in a day's work.
Recently, half of the Following the Footprints team spent the day with our friends at City Harvest London, volunteering in their Acton warehouse. In a combined total of 22.5 hours, we helped save 5 tonnes of food and redistribute 11,992 meals.
Guess what? We documented the process, so you can replicate it with your organisation too. We cover:
Who City Harvest are and what a Corporate Volunteering Day looks like with them
A step-by-step guide for how you can make the case for Employer-Supported Volunteering, and why employers should listen.
Let’s dig in…
1. What is City Harvest London, and what did we get up to?
Set up in 2014, City Harvest London was the capital’s first redistribution charity, to “rescue food, people and the planet”. Their story starts with a handful of passionate individuals determined to help those on the poverty line and stop nutritious food from going to waste. With a single van, they collected surplus food from the loading bays of supermarkets such as Morrisons and Whole Foods Market. 8 years later, with 50+ employees, 17 vans and 2 depots, the team recently passed the 31 million milestone for meals redistributed.
City Harvest’s volunteer network is over 3000 strong, with approximately 300 active members. The charity also welcomes groups from organisations for a “Corporate Experience Day” to sort food and learn about food poverty, waste and redistribution.
The likes of allplants, Graze and Innocent have all given hours to City Harvest and have returned with different departments across the year. Recently, it was Following the Footprints’ turn, with 3 out of 6 team members volunteering for the day (and 1 team member working there full time).
👉 What did our day involve?
After a bright and early start, arriving at the Acton depot by 8.15am, we received a detailed run through of the story of City Harvest London, the role they play in redistributing food waste, and key partners they work with.
After a tour of the warehouse, we quickly settled into various roles throughout the day, including:
Grading carrots: removing those with rot
Creating trays of mixed root vegetables
Checking the use-by dates and quality of meat and dairy items
Creating trays of mixed meat and dairy according to use-by date
Sorting donated drinks boxes - Innocent and Biotiful to name a few…
The scale of food donated was overwhelming. Between their two sites in Acton and New Spitalfields Market, City Harvest London donates food to over 350 charity partners each week, including soup kitchens, schools, refuges, and food banks. Every month, an average of 1 million meals are donated. 1 million! With distributors, farms and manufacturers such as Cotswold Fayre, Strawsons and allplants all contributing to the 80-100 tonnes of food donated each week, a mighty team is required to check, categorise and create food boxes for charities. Armed with passion and an infectious appetite for hard work, these volunteers are the heart and soul of City Harvest, helping to ensure that food gets out on time.
Standing inside the warehouse in Acton was a humbling reminder of the system of waste plaguing the food industry, and left us grateful that organisations like City Harvest are there to make the best out of a bad system.
👉 The real shock? Our impact.
5 tonnes of food
£23,850 food saved from landfill
19 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions prevented
Yep, that’s right, that’s all one day’s work (for three people). So, keen to donate your office hours to an organisation like City Harvest? Getting approval for volunteering days is the place to start. Following the Footprints team member Pippa shares her tips…
2. Employer-Supported Volunteering (ESV): how to make a case as an employee, and why employers should listen.
As an employee, it’s all too easy to feel powerless in an organisation, no matter the size. How can you make yourself heard, to push for a change you’re really passionate about? A key way to make your case within a corporation is by making a valid business case.
Last year, I did exactly this by pushing for an Employer-Supported Volunteering (ESV) scheme at my company. It’s one of the best, and most rewarding things I’ve done in my career. It’s also one of the most challenging. Had I not been safe in the knowledge that I had the facts, that ESV truly benefits people and companies, I would not have persisted. This is something that all employees should feel empowered to do, so I’m sharing both the proposal I put forward and the tips and tricks I picked up along the way.
Crucially, because the proposal was and was necessarily a business case, employers can take just as much from this as employees. So, if you’re an employee, here’s how to implement ESV-days at your company. If you’re an employer, here’s why you should listen.
👉 What is an Employer-Supported Volunteer (ESV) programme?
An ESV gives employees the opportunity to volunteer during working hours. This can be done through a corporate partnership with a charity, or more informally by providing a volunteering leave allowance for employees. Larger companies tend to opt for the former (see O2’s Think Big volunteering scheme for an example). Smaller employers often opt for the latter. Not only is this simpler (therefore an easier proposal for employees to put forward) but research shows that people who organise their own volunteering are more satisfied and respond better.
👉 The Next Step - Building a Business Case:
First and foremost, it’s a good idea to lay out clearly all the factors to consider, the potential impact on your company’s day-to-day operations and finances. This will naturally vary between companies, but there are a few likely common denominators:
What are the benefits, and do they outweigh the costs?
Financial cost: salary for employee for the day/work lost for that day
How can we ensure that we maintain even staffing levels?
How can we formalise the process to fit with existing protocols?
How many volunteering days would be needed to gain maximum benefit with minimum cost?
Then, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty. Address these factors, one-by-one, and back it up with facts.
1. Care and Wellbeing
Employee wellbeing is increasingly recognised as crucial to the long-term health of businesses. Volunteering days could provide a consistent means of reducing ongoing pressures whilst providing valuable and enriching experiences. Here’s an article to back that up. Here’s a quotation to really hammer home the point:
“Respondents to the NCVO’s Time Well Spent: ESV report noted a number of benefits from taking part in volunteering, including feeling they were making a difference (84 per cent); gaining new skills and experience (76 per cent); gaining more confidence (74 per cent); and seeing improvements to their mental health and wellbeing (71 per cent)”
2. Gaining Skills and Life Experiences
Is there a precedent in your company for investment in employee development? If your company supports attendance of conferences, professional courses or similar, these are already considered an appropriate and valuable investment in personal development. Then, you can argue that ESV days legitimately fall under the umbrella of ‘personal development’. Here’s why:
Evidence from Yorkshire Building Society’s trial Volunteering Scheme: In the last year, 82 per cent of its staff who volunteered said it increased their relationship building and teamwork skills; 78 per cent said they developed communication and influencing skills; and 74 per cent saw an increase in their confidence at work.
Deloitte’s 2016 Impact Study found that ESV was a reliable way to improve leadership skills of employees.
The CIPD’s (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) Volunteering to learn report explores the links between volunteering and learning, with interviewees from case study organisations recognising a clear link between experiential learning and volunteering.
3. Employee Retention
An evaluation of O2’s Think Big volunteering scheme found that 42 per cent of volunteers felt more committed to O2 than they did before taking part, and 60 per cent felt more positively about O2 as an employer.
Deloitte’s 2016 Impact Survey also found employees who volunteer are more likely to be proud, loyal and satisfied employees, as compared to those who rarely or never volunteer. These and other findings suggest a link between volunteerism and several drivers of employee perceptions of positive corporate culture.
See This Article for further, similar evidence.
See Deloitte’s Impact Survey for one of many pieces of evidence that the new workforce is increasingly looking for employers who provide such schemes. Generally, it’s found that younger employees have a different set of priorities when seeking employment: a) does my company care about society? b) does my company care about me? c) does my company allow me to have a fulfilled life?
NCVO’s Time Well Spent report further details this shift in priorities in the new workforce.
The Cost: Financials
Never skip this section. While it’s true that there’s no outright ‘cost’ for employers to allow leave for volunteering, this does not mean that there are no financial implications for the company. There are a few key factors to consider:
Under your proposal, will any expenses be included?
What is the average daily salary for employees?
What would this add up to in different scenarios? For instance, what would this figure amount to should 100% of the workforce take a single day? 75%? 50%? What if two or three volunteering days per year were supported?
Consider the lost opportunity cost. What are workers not bringing to the company on days that they’re away? This, undoubtedly, is difficult to quantify, but this by no means makes it unimportant.
👉 Next Up: Lay Out The Process
This is really where it all comes together. You’ve laid out the facts, you’ve considered the costs. Now, you’ll need to address those final three factors laid out at the start of your proposal. Clearly lay out the proposed scheme, illustrating how it can be implemented in your company to ensure that the benefits outweigh the costs. Since all businesses are unique, with idiosyncratic practices and protocols, this bit’s up to you.
Volunteering at City Harvest was a direct result of pushing through this ESV scheme. Now that I’ve put the theory into practice, was it really worth it? Did I learn new ways of working? Benefit society? Find it a rewarding and enriching experience? The answer, to all of these questions, is an emphatic ‘yes’.
Feel inspired to volunteer at City Harvest? Submit your details here to get the conversation going with the Corporate Volunteering team. Can’t get it past HR? Don’t worry - City Harvest is powered by the volunteers that run it outside work hours too, so you can still get involved. Trust us, it’s worth every single minute.