Why employee volunteerism works


Deloitte’s Leila Fenc

April 12-18 is National Volunteer Week. An opportunity to recognize and celebrate the nearly 13 million Canadians who offer their time, talent and expertise as volunteers each year. According to a Statistics Canada survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating, Canadians contributed close to 2 billion volunteer hours in 2013. Imagine a City spoke with Deloitte’s Leila Fenc, Director of Corporate Responsibility and Deloitte Foundation, on why employee-supported volunteering (ESV) is on the rise and how community-minded companies can leverage the skills and interests of their employees when it comes to giving back.

Tell us a little bit more about employer-supported volunteering (ESV): It can take a  number of different forms. But essentially, it’s a firm or company supporting its employees in some way to go out and volunteer in the community. ESV can be anything from painting and planting at a community agency to offering knowledge-based services including management consulting, human resources advice or fundraising strategy to a not-for-profit. At Deloitte, we probably do about 15 to 20 knowledge-based projects like this a year. We also host a single day of volunteer service called “Impact Day” where we shut down our offices across the country and about 80% of our people go out into the community to volunteer, many at United Way agencies.

According to Statistics Canada, overall volunteer rates are down by nearly half-a-million since 2010. However, ESV is on the rise. Why? People lead increasingly busy lives and there are multiple demands on individuals’ time. Employer-supported volunteering helps facilitate giving back to the community by offering the tools, networks and time required to volunteer. At Deloitte, we also provide opportunities for families to volunteer together, which enables them to spend quality time while giving back. Millenials are also demanding these types of opportunities—and organizations want to make sure they’re offering them. Young people, including United Way GenNexters, are passionate about getting involved actively in their communities and finding those leadership opportunities. They want to take ownership of life beyond the workplace.

Why is workplace volunteerism so important to corporate culture? The opportunity for colleagues to volunteer side-by-side in a different environment with people who might not be part of a person’s everyday career group builds relationships and strengthens cohesion within organizations. Workplaces are more productive when there is a greater sense of belonging. At Deloitte, we have a strong focus on inclusion. By allowing people to bring their personal interests into the workplace through volunteering, it fosters that sense of belonging.

Why is ESV important to individual achievement? The relationships and the networks that employees build through volunteerism can greatly support their career. It can also showcase skills they might not otherwise be able to demonstrate during their day-to-day job. Also, volunteering for a non-profit allows our people a glimpse into a world that maybe they hadn’t thought about. We’ve seen in a number of instances our employees become personally committed to organizations they’ve spent the day with. They continue to volunteer and provide service or even join a non-profit board. It sparks something new in them.

How do communities benefit when employees give back through the workplace? Deloitte has nearly 8,000 employees and 57 offices across Canada. Employee volunteerism, especially in some of our smaller centres, builds that sense of connection to the community in a more intimate way. It really allows our people to participate directly in their community and to feel like they are having a direct impact.

Any predictions for the future of workplace volunteering? People are looking for more flexible experiences. It’s just the way the workforce is going. I would expect volunteering opportunities to keep pace with that trend and to allow people the flexibility to engage when it suits their life. A lot of organizations are also experimenting with micro-volunteering, or the ability to commit smaller chunks of time—maybe two or four hours—sometimes online or over the phone. I also think we’re going to see a rise in skills-based volunteering.