Have we lost the ‘V’ from ESV?

20 September 2016

Is employer-supported volunteering (ESV) really volunteering in its truest sense?

When Andrew Curtis from NCVO’s Institute for Volunteering Research raised this point during his presentation on ‘locating the ‘volunteer’ in employer-supported volunteering’ at the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference a couple of weeks ago, it got me thinking about whether we’ve lost the ‘V’ from ESV!

ESVingIf you look at the three defining principles of volunteering – that it should be an unpaid, freewill activity that is of benefit to others or the environment (Ellis Paine et al, 2010) – then ESV does sit somewhat awkwardly amongst these principles.

Firstly, there’s the issue that ESV takes place during work hours so employees are in effect being ‘paid’ while they volunteer. Then there’s the freewill aspect...not all employees have a choice about whether they take part in ESV, particularly if an employer is using the opportunity for a team building exercise! And finally there’s the question over who (if anyone) has benefited – employees might have fun painting a wall that a charity always uses for ESV days but has anyone actually benefited from the experience?Ideally the experience would bring benefits to the employee, meet the employer’s objectives and also have a meaningful impact for the charity or community group who is hosting the activity.

Add into the mix some reports that voluntary and community organisations feel taken advantage of...such as being expected to drop everything at short notice to host an ESV day...and to provide the lunch...and the paint!...then you could be left wondering what is ESV really all about.

But is it all doom and gloom? ESV is diverse and there are different types of ESV that arguably align more closely to the principles of volunteering. Skills-based volunteering where employers enable their employees to use their specialist skills, such as accountancy or IT, to support a voluntary or community organisation is more likely to be an act of freewill and is popular among organisations where the placements can make a big difference (CIPD, 2015). Or when employees are allowed to undertake volunteering – either to pursue an existing volunteer commitment or try something new – within a certain number of work hours, this again would be considered an act of freewill and one that is of benefit to others.  

So there may be aspects of ESV that dilute the ‘purity’ of volunteering but does this matter and to what extent? If an employee starts volunteering in their spare time after taking part in ESV is this not a great outcome? If done properly and if done well, does ESV not have the potential to introduce more people to volunteering? What do you think...?

We’re currently working with employers and voluntary sector organisations to identify the challenges of ESV and to learn from organisations that have found effective ways of working. We’re also developing tools to support ESV opportunities to ensure there’s a benefit for all involved. If you’d like to find out more then check out our ESV page here.

blog comments powered by Disqus