International Volunteer Day

In light of International Volunteer Day (Tuesday 5th December), we catch up with Matt Simons from Heart of the City Newcomer company, Amius, to find out about their new volunteering programme and how they got started.

Why have you chosen ‘employee volunteering’ as an area of focus for Amius’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy?

Focusing our CSR strategy on employee volunteering was an easy decision as we know that our staff value donating their time more than just pledging money to a cause and we wanted a more meaningful strategy.  A colleague knew of Benefacto, so we invited them in to see how they could support us.  Benefacto is a social enterprise that provides an online platform to help staff sign-up for volunteering opportunities – they have a wide variety of local opportunities and have enabled our staff to volunteer for causes they care about.  The senior managers at Amius were very supportive of the idea as part of our initial steps in developing our CSR strategy.

Was staff engagement a challenge for you and if so how did you overcome this?

The Amius CSR committee has found there are three types of people – there are people who would volunteer anyway, some that are not so sure and need a little encouragement, and some that are not interested at all.  We focus on the first two groups and encourage the third to pursue the things they are interested in.  Let’s remember, buying an elderly neighbour a pint of milk, or having a chat with them about a local community issue is still an example of volunteering.  It doesn’t have to be via our company scheme – we are just trying to get our staff to consider the wider perspective that being selfless encapsulates.

Can you tell us how using a volunteer brokerage organisation supported you?

Benefacto make it incredibly easy. The Benefacto volunteering portal is simple, quick and efficient, and it takes no time at all to book a volunteering experience.  They are volunteering professionals so why not use them as much as possible?  The team at Benefacto regularly give us ideas on how to engage staff and nudge us in the right direction when needed. The way we look at it is that you need the right tools for the job, if you don’t have the right tools – use someone that does. It doesn’t make sense to manage CSR all by ourselves if there is an organisation that specialises in what we want to do.

What type of volunteering are Amius employees involved in and how do you think this has benefited the organisation and the volunteers?

Our brokers, Benefacto, offer three main areas of volunteering:

– Firstly: using your professional skills (such as helping people with their CVs, IT skills and interview techniques)

– Secondly: getting out and about and mucking in with London charities (such as delivering food parcels / local food growing programmes)

– Thirdly: supporting causes you are passionate about (homelessness, elderly support etc.)

There are numerous benefits for the organisations involved, our staff often perform the everyday tasks of a charity, and this frees up the time of the charity’s senior staff to have a moment to sit down and plan on improvements.  It’s a simple concept, but one that is beneficial to all concerned. Most of our volunteers get a lot out of the experience and they come back to the office the next day re-energised, recharged and ready to talk to others about their involvement.  For others, at the very least they spend a few hours away from screens and social media … perhaps helping a change in perspective at the same time.

What top three tips would you give an SME business that wants to introduce employee volunteering in the workplace?

– Pitch to management first to get them singing from the same hymn sheet.

– Phone up a brokerage organisation and get them in … Benefacto are a great team, they know what they are doing and are very inspiring.

– Set up a CSR committee to talk to your staff (steer clear of emails), don’t do it all yourself!

You joined Heart of the City in 2017 to help you to develop your CSR initiatives, what other areas of CSR are you focusing on and how has Heart of the City’s Newcomers programme helped you in your first year?

The main learning point for me was from one of the early talks by the Heart of the City team where we were told to “slow down, love your energy, but just focus on one thing, and do it well.”  This has been our main goal for 2017.

In 2018 and beyond, we will focus more on sustainability and encouraging individuals to pursue their own ideas with the support of everyone in the company.  We are also trying to get the company that shares our office building, a company in the legal sector, to set-up their own volunteering initiatives.

I personally hope the Amius CSR committee continues to develop and take ownership of our CSR objectives.

We asked Benefacto about Amius’ volunteering efforts:

‘We’re delighted with the volunteering uptake at Amius. For a team of their size, 31 volunteers so far this year (and counting!) is an incredible achievement and testament to the team’s efforts to make volunteering a central part of life at Amius.  On top of their three days’ volunteering allowance, Matt and Co. have built awareness across the team by celebrating colleagues’ efforts, promoting volunteer stories, and using posters and photos across the office.’  

Ben Darlington, Head of Member Services, Benefacto


Finding a volunteer broker

Benefacto is one of a number of brokerage services on offer to companies across London. Heart of the City lists the organisations we have come across on our Useful Organisations pages and we will run a session introducing a range of brokerage organisations in February next year.

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