Capturing Impact: What Counts as Volunteer Time?
While the definition of corporate volunteering is constantly evolving, it can generally be defined as the encouragement and facilitation of volunteering in the community through the organization by which an individual is employed. If a company simply encourages its employees to volunteer on the weekend without offering any support (like matching the hours with corporate dollars or providing transportation to the volunteer activity), this should not be counted as corporate volunteering. Time employees spend on their own – without a material contribution to the process from the company – should not be reported as time the company donated to the community.
There are divergent views, of course. The 2011 Alliance Policy Agenda for Volunteering in Europe specifically defines employee volunteering as taking place during work hours and not unpaid time. There’s also the angle of how companies are motivating or incentivizing employees to take part in volunteering. If you’re upping volunteer participation hours in the wrong way, you could end up de-motivating employees at work (if you want to read more about this phenomenon, check out this great blog from Chris Jarvis.)By Angela Parker Co-founder, CEO, Realized Worth
Should employees be paid to volunteer?
When companies offer paid time off for volunteering, are they literally paying their employees to volunteer? Sure, in the same way they pay their employees to take a vacation. This is not corporate altruism. Companies offer paid time to volunteer and vacation because they believe those activities benefit the organization. Paid time off to volunteer demonstrates a forward-thinking belief in the bottom line value and social return on investment of volunteering.
Some companies don’t have the option to offer paid time off due to budget constraints or bureaucratic hoops. Other companies don’t believe in it (yet). For these companies, just remember: as long as your company is supporting the volunteering taking place through volunteer rewards or logistical resources, for example, you are free to claim the time employees give as corporate volunteer hours.
Does fundraising and event sponsorship count as volunteer time?
Yes and no.
Most companies count fundraising as volunteer time. The key, of course, is being able to connect it to a 501c3. This keeps most inappropriate fundraisers out of the system and usually serves to filter out unwanted activities. The actual time spent fundraising is impossible to verify, so most companies choose the honor system. If employees are lying about their volunteer hours, you have an entirely separate problem to deal with. Regarding event sponsorship, most companies count the time at the actual event and omit anything leading up to it. Training for a charity run, for example, would not be counted. The hours at the run itself would be counted.
CECP’s Giving in Numbers is a great reference for information on best practices in giving and volunteering.
Do athletics, religious activities, or political activities count?
Yes and no.
Whether athletics, religious activities, and political activities are supported is entirely up to each company’s preference – and in many cases, legal will need to speak into these policy decisions.
- Religious organizations: Most companies do not match donations or volunteer hours that are given to religious organizations that solicit in any way. However, most companies do match church-related activities that are in no way religious. (The employee is expected to demonstrate that the activity was unrelated to Sunday school activities, for example.)
- Political activities: Regarding political activities, most companies do not support these activities in any way. The potential PR nightmare is not worth the effort. A nonprofit, meanwhile, cannot legally be involved in any political activities while maintaining its 501c3 status.
- Athletic volunteerism: The choice to support athletic volunteerism such as coaching a child’s soccer team is usually affected by two factors:
- Does the company’s focus area include sports? If health and physical activity is the focus, for example, athletic volunteerism fits perfectly. If the focus is hunger and food scarcity, however, athletics may not work as well. Realized Worth recommends a tiered structure (see below for an example) so focused volunteerism and personal volunteerism can be supported at different levels.
- Does the company’s culture lean toward athleticism? Emera, an energy company in Nova Scotia, has an employee base that is heavily involved in sports. To demonstrate that the program is relevant to who their employees are, Emera chose to support athletic volunteerism.
EXAMPLE: At tier 1, signature nonprofit partners receive a high level of support and visibility; at tier 2, nonprofits that fit within the company’s focus areas (but are not signature partners) receive a modified level of support; at tier 3, all personal volunteering with eligible organizations is supported with a financial match.
Other questions we’ve gotten about volunteer time
- Do overnight volunteer events count – if so, all night? No. Most companies count an 8-hour day for camping (Boy Scouts, for example) or similar overnight volunteer events. This can be approached similarly to billable time for work while traveling. Time spent sleeping doesn’t count even though it involved a commitment to be away from home.
- Do volunteer vacations (voluntourism, etc.), sometimes lasting weeks at a time, count as volunteer time? Yes and no. If the volunteering is taking place on vacation, it is a personal choice and should not be matched. However, if the volunteering was facilitated in some manner (and organized by a firm similar to MovingWorlds) and the company wants to encourage voluntourism, then yes. That type of “vacation volunteering” should be counted under the same stipulations as overnight volunteering (8-hour work days only).
- Does time spent training for a volunteer job/activity counted as volunteer time? Yes. Some organizations require a significant amount of time for training before volunteering can occur (for example, working with at-risk youth). Others include it just prior to the event (like WeDay). Either way, training is a requirement as part of the volunteering commitment so it should be counted as volunteer time.
- Does time spent participating in an “-athon” like a walkathon count as volunteer time? Mostly, yes. Typically, companies will match the time spent at the actual ‘-athon’ activity. This does not include time leading up to it (training for a charity run) or following (collecting donations pledged). Also, hours per year are typically capped at anywhere from 5 to 25 hours. Without this boundary, you may end up with an employee claiming the time they spent growing their hair to donate it to Locks of Love. True story.
- Does time spent organizing workplace volunteer activities count as volunteer time? No. Typically, companies count only the volunteering itself. One reason for this is the hours need to be connected to a legitimate 501c3. The opportunity to organize is the investment of the employee; the benefit is realized in the actual volunteering.
What other questions are you dealing with as you write or update your volunteering and giving policy? Let us help you find the answers. Send us an email via firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to us on our social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.