Corporate volunteering – It’s more than just painting a wall

This month’s blog is brought to you by Terri O’Brien, Corporate and Programmes Manager at Volunteer Ireland. Terri manages Volunteer Ireland’s Team Impact Days service and advises companies on their employee volunteer programme. 

In my line of work, people often ask ‘what’s the point of corporate volunteering, when all they do is paint the same wall over and over again?‘ All I can think is – they have this wrong, employee volunteering is about so much more than that. The idea of painting the same wall or doing the same job over and over again is a common misconception when it comes to employee volunteering. That would be a waste of time for everyone involved!

In order to ensure employee volunteering is worthwhile and meaningful, for both the charity and the volunteer, it is the responsibility of charities, community groups and volunteer development organisations such as Volunteer Ireland and Volunteer Centres to ensure certain systems are in place. For instance, the employee volunteer project or progamme should support a clear and identified need in the organisation thereby having a positive impact on the charity – its premises, staff, and/or service-users.

Expectations, tasks, activities, supplies, materials and budgets should be clearly agreed at the outset. Employee volunteer programmes tend to be most successful when there is a distinct beginning and end point to the programme. In addition, there should be a dedicated team leader (either internal or external) to support, guide and motivate volunteers on the day and to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Equally, there is a responsibility on companies to meet the real needs that are out there in our communities. My advice is to think about the impact you want to have. Is it just about a day out for your employees or do you really want to make a difference to those in your wider community?

Remember, if you want to do something meaningful which has real impact then chances are you will need to provide a budget. The reality is small community groups and charities do not have the money to purchase project supplies and materials such as paint and plants or to provide lunch for your team.

Some large charities may have the resources to fund these projects but small community groups and organisations, particularly in the most socially disadvantaged parts of the country, are working on a shoestring with limited resources.

It’s important to take into account that while it seems like volunteering is free, charities invest significant time liaising with companies, planning employee volunteer events and managing the volunteer day itself. It is best practice for companies to provide additional financial support for supplies such as: indoor or outdoor furniture, shelving, additional plants or even getting a small contractor to do an essential job that only a skilled tradesperson can do.

Providing additional budget is about ensuring the success of the project and generating maximum impact so that your employees can take pride in a job well done and feel more motivated when they return to work.

So my message to charities is, don’t ask a company to paint the same wall again and again but rather ask them to work on a real and identified need that will positively impact your organisation. And for companies, think about where and how you can have maximum impact in the surrounding community, be sure to make a budget available and never assume that employee volunteering is free.

Volunteer Ireland Thanks Volunteers for Dedication During Extreme Weather

Emergency Vehicle

Volunteer Ireland has today expressed gratitude to all of those volunteers who did their utmost to help their community during the recent extreme weather conditions. Thousands of volunteers across the country came together to support those in need.

According to Volunteer Ireland CEO Nina Arwitz, the spectacular response from volunteers came as no surprise. “Ireland has the highest levels of volunteering in Europe and the voluntary effort over the last number of days exemplifies this. Thousands of volunteers battled the elements to ensure roads were clear, provide support to the health service and rescue people from dangerous situations. It is a testament to their hard work and dedication that there have been so few reports of accidents and injuries. Thousands of volunteers also braved the snow to deliver services to the homeless, man helplines and ensure that that those most at risk were not left behind.

Ireland also has high levels of what we term ‘informal volunteering’ – people helping a neighbour, a friend or the local community. Social media is awash with stories of people digging their neighbours’ driveways, buying food for elderly friends and coming together to make way for emergency vehicles. We extend our deepest thanks to every person that made a difference this past week.”

Anthony Lawlor, Irish Red Cross National Director of Units echoed the thanks for the volunteers. “The Irish Red Cross volunteers have completed in excess of 5,000 volunteer hours nationwide since last Tuesday and we’re extremely grateful to them and their families for the commitment and dedication they have shown.”

Commander John Wright, National Director of the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps stated “The teamwork demonstrated by the volunteers in all the agencies was truly amazing and one we were proud to be part of. In particular, I am grateful to our volunteers for the sheer scale of calls they covered (216 out of 470) throughout the duration of the event”.

Oliver Allen RGN, St John Ambulance National Volunteer Coordinator added “Our volunteers provided a range of support such as basic humanitarian assistance to those in airports by providing blankets and stretchers for those whose flights were cancelled which afforded them some degree of comfort. Volunteers also provided ambulance transports to help get patients to and from important hospital appointments. Whilst we transported patients we also transported staff to hospitals and assisted community nurses and palliative care nurses to get to their patients. We are very grateful to our amazing and dedicated volunteers for giving up their time for sake of others, which is in fact one of our organisation’s mottoes “Pro Utilitate Homminum” or “In the Service of Humanity””.


About the Irish Red Cross

The Red Cross Movement, with 97 million members worldwide, is the largest humanitarian aid organisation in the world today. It was founded by Swiss business man Henri Dunant following the battle of Solferino in northern Italy in 1859, which saw over 40,000 people killed or wounded. The Irish Red Cross was formally established in 1939. Their programmes and services aim to prevent and alleviate human suffering.

About the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps

The Order of Malta Ambulance Corps (The Ambulance Corps) as part of Order of Malta Ireland is one of the largest voluntary providers of first aid, ambulance and community care services in Ireland. It was established in 1938 and has developed into an organization of more than 3,000 members across more than 80 units throughout communities in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  The Ambulance Corps operates as a volunteer led organization, with a small number of full-time paid administrators working in headquarters on Clyde Road in Dublin 4.

About St John Ambulance Ireland

St John Ambulance is an international humanitarian organisation with over 500,000 volunteers in over 20 different countries. It has been offering First Aid and CPR training as well as assistance to sick and injured members of the public for over 100 years. The organisation is run by unpaid volunteers at all levels, up to and including the Commissioner, the de facto Chief Executive Officer. St John Ambulance Ireland began in in Guinness’s Brewery in 1903 and since then the organisation has been at the forefront of acute care and training throughout Ireland for over 100 years.

Volunteer Management in Extreme Weather Conditions

snowy weather

In extreme weather conditions we are reliant not just on local authorities and emergency services; but also on volunteer bodies such as Mountain Rescue, Irish Coast Guard, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Civil Defence, First Responders, 4×4 Response Groups and many others that support our local communities in times of need.

There are many volunteer-led groups around the country that do great work to help those in need at these challenging times. As Volunteer Managers we need to ensure that we are looking after volunteers’ health, safety and welfare. This checklist will help you reflect on things you might consider when working with volunteers in extreme weather situations:

The right person for the right role – People often offer their services in times of needs like this, but we must ensure that we have the right person for the role. Volunteers need to be competent, as well as physically and mentally fit to carry out the task required of them. Quite often people think they can do more than they are actually able to do. Ensure that you have clear role descriptions to define the role of your volunteers.

Insurance – Does your insurance policy cover your volunteers when they are engaged in a hazardous area or programme?  There may be additional risks not present normally. If the current volunteer role differs from what your organisation has been set up to do as outlined in your Memorandum and Articles of Association, you should check with your insurance company to ensure that volunteers are covered and that they will pay out in the event of an accident.

Rest and Recuperation – Volunteers can sometimes be over enthusiastic with their energy to support others at times of need.  You might need to reconsider the length of volunteers’ shifts, reducing their length and ensuring volunteers do not push themselves too hard.

Expectations – Volunteers might want to solve all the problems caused by the extreme weather conditions and stay out in all weather conditions to do so, putting themselves at risk.  Manage the expectations of volunteers in line with the policies and procedures of your organisation.  Be realistic and ensure that your volunteers aren’t pushing themselves too hard.

Preparation, preparation, preparation – You can never have enough of it, that’s why good volunteer programmes carry out drills and practices year round to ensure that volunteers are trained and aware of what is expected of them when a severe weather condition comes along.

Welfare – Your concern might be about helping those who are most at need in our communities, but you can’t do that without volunteers. Your primary concern should be the welfare of your volunteers. Ensure they get hot refreshments and food. Be aware of those who insist they don’t need anything and want to battle on without refreshments or a break.

Mental Health – Lots of issues can present themselves at a time like this, all of which can take a toll on a volunteer’s mental health. You might be fine, but what about your volunteers?  People experience things in different ways and it is often the quieter volunteer who needs the most attention.

PPE / Equipment – The onus is on you to ensure that your volunteers have all the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need. That might include thermal hats, gloves, jackets and boots.  You can’t expect people to have that equipment lying around at home. Maybe set up a pool of equipment to have for such situations. A Hi-Viz Jacket, for example, only serves one purpose and will not keep you warm. Do your volunteers need mobile phones? Do they have spare batteries? Do you use two-way radios? How long is their range? Is that range shortened by weather conditions?

Transport – Are volunteers using their own vehicles as part of their volunteering? Are they insured and roadworthy to do this?  Remember even if you own a 4-Wheel Drive vehicle it doesn’t mean you can drive anywhere. You need to be experienced at driving safely, and your responsibility as a Volunteer Manager may be to ensure that your volunteers are trained to do so.

Sign in and Sign out – Before any volunteers go out on shift ensure that you have their emergency contact details, as well as details of any medical conditions you should be aware of. Do you have a process in place for them to sign out at the end of the shift if they are not returning to the base?