VOLUNTEERING is going through a significant phase of evolution. The Office of National Statistics has calculated that the economic value of volunteering to the UK is £23.9bn pa, accounting for 1.5 per cent of GDP and the Westminster Government has pledged to mandate larger companies and the public sector to offer employees a new volunteering entitlement of three days a year, on full pay.

But the changes being seen are not simply policy driven. Today’s workforce is made up of a generation of people who look for highly personalised and connected experiences and the numbers wanting to volunteer are increasing all the time, along with the sheer volume of micro-volunteering opportunities from the Moon Walk to cleaning up Scotland’s beaches.

The trends all point to a surge in employer supported volunteering (ESV), where businesses actively encourage staff to participate in volunteering opportunities in local communities through structured programmes that carefully align the needs to the charity with the skills within the organisation.

Available research shows that 70 per cent of FTSE 100 companies and 20 per cent of SMEs offer ESV and from 2010-2011 to 2013-2014, the percentage of people in paid work participating in ESV increased from 10.5 to 13.3 per cent.

At the same time, more than 80 percent of charities have a genuine ongoing need for employee volunteers. By 2020, we predict that ESV will be standard practice as our research clearly demonstrates its benefits for the employer, the employee and the wider community.

The business case is that volunteering boosts employee engagement and pride. Volunteering develops people and fundamentally strengthens the business. Last year, nearly a quarter of Accenture people spent almost 4,000 days volunteering across the UK, with 89% of volunteers reporting increased job satisfaction. 76 per cent said they developed core work skills.

Speaking personally, with the three days paid leave that Accenture allows me to volunteer, I have helped develop the business model for a charity and got involved in the day to day activities of another. Both have provided me with a genuine sense of purpose. How I use the skills and experiences learned in the corporate world for the benefit of the voluntary sector helps foster a far greater work-life balance.

Where the contributions of time and skills from employee volunteers can be of real value to the wider community, is where there is a good match. Businesses setting up ESV need to align their programme to the organisation’s core skill-set as well as to its corporate community investment or CSR strategy and then determine who would best benefit.

The technology sector in particular can play a leading role in helping charities tackle their digital skills gap. The world has become digitised with these digital skills in widespread demand. The lack of them impacts virtually every aspect of the UK economy, and the voluntary sector is no different. In 2015, 58 per cent of charities reported a lack of digital expertise and a growing number neither understand nor recognise its value to their organisations. Through ESV programmes, the technologically literate can help educate and motivate others to benefit from new technologies.

One example of this is Missing Maps ‘mapathons’, which invites tech experts to support Medicins Sans Frontieres, the British Red Cross and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team by mapping vast unmapped areas of the world using a simple online to trace buildings, roads and points of interest from satellite imagery. With better maps, areas can be better accessed in times of disasters.

While Missing Maps gives local skills a global reach, such skills are just as vital for the community arts project that needs to sell tickets or the employability scheme that needs to engage young people online and through social media to better equip them for the jobs market.

The mapathons are also an example of a micro-volunteering opportunity that are easily integrated into an ESV programme and have the potential to drastically increase the number of employees participating in ESV, by breaking down the barriers of time and cost.

Ultimately, the true measure of ESV lies not in the quantity of time offered in volunteering but rather in the quality and impact resulting from the volunteer engagement. A well-set up ESV programme will deliver that and organisations which embrace this trend have a tremendous opportunity to make a greater social impact while also benefiting their own business.

Marianne Breen is Accenture’s Community Lead for Central Scotland