Volunteering: how companies in Ireland are helping to make a difference

To coincide with National Volunteer Week, Volunteer Ireland CEO Nina Arwitz discusses the growing interest in employee volunteering in Ireland.

This week is National Volunteering Week, our big campaign in Volunteer Ireland to help raise awareness of how people can volunteer and to highlight just how many diverse opportunities are available for people to get involved in their local community.

It’s estimated that between 25pc and 40pc of the Irish population regularly volunteers. Economically, volunteering is estimated to be 2.7pc of GDP of developed countries – which in Ireland’s case equates to over €3bn. Volunteering is the engine that powers over 12,000 volunteer-involving organisations in Ireland, whose very purpose is to contribute to the common good.

Volunteering plays a crucial role in providing a platform for those who are unemployed or underemployed to develop new skills, gain valuable experience to add to their CV and expand their professional network. Volunteering also provides an opportunity for professionals to contribute skills and expertise to a charity or community group and help to make a real social impact. I firmly believe that everyone has so much to give and gain from volunteering.

So why doesn’t everyone volunteer? Well, in research recently carried out by NFPSynergy, one in five people in Ireland don’t volunteer because they don’t know where or how to get involved. The other big barrier to volunteering is time.

NFPSynergy found that 50pc of Irish people feel they don’t have the time required to volunteer. This is where Irish companies can make a big impact in making volunteering more accessible, by giving employees the time and opportunity to volunteer during company hours.

There is a growing interest in employee volunteering in Ireland. A well-developed employee-volunteering programme offers myriad benefits to companies, employees and the community. This year to date in Volunteer Ireland we have seen a 90pc increase in enquiries from companies interested in volunteering.

There are many misconceptions when it comes to employee volunteering programmes – this is not about encouraging employees to work for the company for free, nor is it about telling employees that they have to volunteer for a charity during work time. An employee-volunteering programme should always be focused on giving employees the opportunity to volunteer, without taking annual leave.

Volunteering should always be carried out by choice; it needs to be something an employee elects to do. Employee volunteering programmes give staff the time and opportunity to lend their time, skills or expertise to a charity. Volunteering can increase job satisfaction, attitude and morale.

Volunteer Ireland works with companies to help match teams of employee volunteers with meaningful community volunteering projects. Many of these projects are hands-on, practical volunteering projects – such as painting or gardening for small, volunteer-led community organisations.

We are also seeing a growing interest in skilled volunteering – matching employee expertise to a charity’s need for professional skills such as business development, marketing or IT. For a charity, the impact can be enormous.

Volunteer Ireland is a great example of a charity that has benefitted from the help and support of employee volunteers. This National Volunteering Week we are celebrating a big milestone – registering over 100,000 volunteers with our I-VOL database (the national database of volunteering opportunities), but this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Salesforce and its employees in Ireland.

As part of the Salesforce 1-1-1 model, which sees the company give one percent of their equity, one percent of their employee’s time and one percent of their product to help improve communities around the world, Salesforce has supported Volunteer Ireland and local volunteer centres since 2005. The Salesforce Foundation donates Salesforce licences for Volunteer Ireland and volunteer centre staff to manage the I-VOL database. Salesforce employees were also actively involved in the creation of the I-VOL database, volunteering to help its development.

So this National Volunteering Week, whether you’re looking for a new challenge or your company is considering volunteering, the gift of time is still one of the most valuable contributions you make to a charity and your community. Visit www.volunteer.ie to see how you can get involved and make a difference.

Nina Arwitz is CEO of Volunteer Ireland. National Volunteering Week runs from 11 to 17 May in Ireland and is supported by Salesforce.