The concept of employee volunteering has been around for over a century. Its roots lie in the US, where companies would often run volunteer projects linked to their religious or philanthropic values.

In the late 80s, our then Chief Executive Elizabeth Hoodless travelled to the US to attend the International Conference on Volunteering, where she learnt more about how volunteering works across the pond. At that time, there were huge differences between the volunteer movements in the US and the UK. In the US, people volunteered mostly within working hours, whereas in the UK people tended to volunteer in their own time. Elizabeth was impressed with the employee volunteering culture in the US, and on her return to London she asked our innovations team to set up an employee volunteering programme to see if the ideas that worked so well in the US could be applied at home in the UK.

At this time, the modern day concept of ‘corporate social responsibility’ was just emerging. Companies wanted people to know that they were good corporate citizens, and were keen to demonstrate this by giving back to communities.

Our first experience of managing employee volunteering began with school partnership schemes, plus the occasional team volunteering day. We started off with London-based contracts with Camden Education Business Partnership, Islington Council and law firm Bird and Bird. Our EV department consisted of just two people at this stage and, apart from Business in the Community, we were the only organisation offering employee volunteering schemes to businesses.

We worked hard to ensure that schools could make the most of their corporate volunteers, and corporate volunteers could have a valuable experience too. We developed a handbook called ‘EV on your doorstep’ to help schools and volunteers prepare.

Throughout the early years of EV, the biggest challenge was ‘preaching to the unconverted’: trying to get businesses to understand the benefits of working with the charity sector for their employees and society as a whole. Another hurdle we faced was convincing new clients that volunteer management doesn’t come for free. While volunteers offer their time freely, running a successful volunteer programme requires time, resources and expertise. However, our persistence paid off, and soon enough we had expanded beyond London and were delivering EV programmes throughout the UK.

A major leap forward happened in the late 90s, when we delivered the BT School Friends programme in ten cities across the UK. Communication was the focus for this programme, and we placed 300 current and retired BT volunteers with primary school children and set up regular literacy mentoring sessions.

From 2000 to 2005, it seemed like everyone wanted to get involved in practical team activities, and we saw a huge growth of expertise in the management of team activities and how we measured the impact of our work. A lot of new EV brokers and online platforms started to emerge at this time in response to increased demand. The EV sector was expanding and corporate clients understood that top quality volunteer programmes were worth investing in.

In 2005, the UK Year of the Volunteer, we delivered a major programme of volunteering (funded by the Home Office) that encompassed 12 civil service departments and engaged around 2,000 volunteers. In 2008, Nike came on board and enthusiastically helped us to deliver a large-scale volunteering scheme centred on tackling social disadvantage through sport.

Over the past few years, skills-based volunteering has become increasingly popular in the UK. Indeed, practical volunteering has been dismissed by some as inefficient, with critics arguing that highly skilled employees should not be wasting their time painting fences. In our experience at Volunteering Matters, both are still critical. However, not all charities need both kinds of volunteering. For instance, advocacy and research charities rarely need practical support, whereas environmental charities find practical volunteering to be immensely valuable, as well as having a use for professional skills-based volunteers.

dsc_4551So here we are in 2016. Our EV staff team has grown from just two people in 1991 to 35 today. A number of key clients helped us to become the busy department that we are today. Npower were the first company to trial e-mentoring, and this is now a successful part of the schools partnership programme with Deutsche Bank. National Grid has been instrumental in helping us to develop our new Talent Matters skills-based volunteering programme. Deloitte, KPMG and many more excellent clients continue to impress us with their commitment to supporting local communities through volunteering and their willingness to innovate and try new things.

We’d like to thank all our clients who have put their faith in us over the past 25 years. We are proud that employee volunteering has become an established and growing part of the UK’s volunteering landscape, and look forward to many more years of working with inspiring people to tackle social need in communities throughout the UK.