30 Nov 2022

How businesses can drive volunteering in the current economic climate


Today is International Volunteer Day 2022 (5 December) - a United Nations-led initiative which celebrates the theme of solidarity through volunteering. As the UN states: “This is not an era to stand alone but together, as one, in solidarity with each other.”

Each year, International Volunteer Day (IVD) recognises and promotes the tireless work of volunteers across the globe, highlighting that by working together we can find common solutions.

Now more than ever, volunteering has a crucial part to play in society - whether it's driven by individuals, in the community, or by businesses. In fact, businesses have an important part to play in driving the volunteering agenda, through corporate-led initiatives rooted in strong values and a clearly defined culture.

Value of volunteering

According to the Government's latest community life survey, approximately 8 million people in England took part in formal volunteering at least once a month in the past 12 months (2020/21), motivated by a desire to ‘improve things/help people' and support causes that were important to them. However, this is the lowest recorded participation rate since data collection began through the CLS. It also represents just 17 per cent of the population in England.

In the current cost-of-living crisis, the need for more volunteers across all areas of life has never been greater yet, according to the CLS, the most common barriers to formal volunteering are: “I have work commitments” (48 per cent) and “I do other things in my spare time” (31 per cent).

The former emphasises the need for volunteering to be driven from the workplace, arming people with the time and opportunity to make a real difference to causes and the communities where they live.

The last two years have taught us that together we can make a real difference. The key is removing those barriers and making volunteering part of our everyday working life. Last year at BDO, employees nationwide spent 5,395 hours devoted to citizenship activities, such as fundraising and local volunteering.

Not only is it about making a difference by sharing our skills, time and passion from a professional perspective, but it's about individually and collectively making a positive impact on the world in which we live in.

How it works at BDO

At BDO, we have what is called the 5+5 Citizenship Programme, which gives employees 10 days' paid leave. During which time they can fundraise, volunteer, or take part in team building days, as well as use their professional skillset to make a difference.

It's initiatives such as this that help to unlock the potential that exists in so many businesses and encourages people to recognise the professional value they can bring to a whole host of organisations - whether that's becoming a Trustee of a charity, working on a big societal challenge, or supporting young people in education and providing them with confidence to be the best they can be.

What's more, participation in social and community life has attracted a lot of attention in the field of wellbeing research. Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy.

Birmingham initiatives

One of the initiatives that the Birmingham team has been involved with over the last 12 months is volunteering with Midlands Langar Seva Society (MLSS). The multi-cultural non-profit organisation strives to help those in need around the UK and internationally regardless of race, religion, and background. It provides 30,000 hot meals a week across the UK. During 2022, 42 members of BDO have volunteered at MLSS, helping out at 10 sessions so far this year.

Volunteering is hugely rewarding and the opportunity to spend time supporting those in need, doing something for the greater good, is immensely satisfying.

Charities and organisations, like so many, continue to face immeasurable challenges; however, the role of volunteers has never been more important in helping to alleviate the pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by the current economic crisis facing the UK.

Business leaders have an important part to play in facilitating employer-supported and skilled volunteering and enabling employees to incorporate volunteering into their working life. Without the structure and emphasis, we risk losing significant potential for the benefit of vulnerable and in-need individuals.

In England and Wales, there are more than 350,000 charities and social enterprises, many of which rely on volunteers. That reliance has never been more pronounced and, as professionals, we can make a real difference in strengthening those numbers.

Dee Vaghela is a partner in Technology Risk Assurance at BDO LLP in the Midlands https://www.bdo.co.uk/en-gb/home