Employer Sponsored Volunteering

Impact Area: Third Sector

Institution: University of Hull Business School and University of Sheffield

Leading Academic: Dr Joanne Cook and Dr Jon Burchell

Hull University Business School External Shot 1


Dr Joanne Cook at the University of Hull and Dr Jon Burchell from the University of Sheffield led a research project on Employee Sponsored Volunteering (ESV). The core aim was to address the gaps in academic knowledge and organisational practice regarding ESV. Working in partnership with employers, employees and the third sector, the project examined how organisations can fully realise the benefits of engaging in ESV. While being heralded as holding huge potential for all parties, very little research exists outside of the business case for adopting ESV, with studies rarely involving employees and third sector beneficiaries.

The research developed case studies in six businesses, developing collaborations between the private, public and third sector by constituting an Employee Volunteering Network and working with a range of third sector and brokerage organisations involved in ESV partnerships. Among these businesses were: Irwin Mitchell Solicitor, Yorkshire Bank, the Co-operative Group and Hull and East Yorkshire Community Foundation. The longevity and coverage of the research is the first of its kind, spanning three projects funded by the Universities of Hull, Sheffield and the Economic and Social Research Council (running from 2010-2014). To achieve conceptual, instrumental and capacity building impact, the research has combined the generation of academic knowledge with valuable insights for organisational policy and government policy-making on ESV.

Benefits and impacts

Instrumental impact

The research achieved the following benefits and impacts

  1. Provided organisations with a stronger understanding of why employees engage with volunteering and what they gain from it.
  2. Developed a more in-depth understanding of the potential of ESV as a skills resource for both business and civil society organisations.
  3. Challenged organisations to look more closely at how to make the most of the resource base.
  4. Encourage greater engagement and understanding between businesses and third sector organisations who have participated in the network.

In this respect it has directly influenced the thinking and practices of the organisations it engaged directly, but it has also reached a range of organisations and individuals who have come into contact with the dissemination processes, both regionally and at the national level.

The instrumental impacts are multilayered, and only a few are discussed here. One of the key influences of the research has been on Company ESV decision making. For example, Irwin Mitchell Solicitors decided against making ESV a reporting requirement in their appraisal system based upon the experience of their employees detailed in the study. They also opened a volunteering hub which has increased the number of employees engaging in ESV. As well as businesses, the team worked extensively with third sector organisations to support their partnerships with businesses, and the team also evaluated the sustainability of brokerage models in the region.

This research has supported the development of policy and practice within two third sector infrastructure organisations: the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens  and the Hull and East Yorkshire Community Foundation. For these organisations, the research evidenced the infrastructural support needed by their members and the potential and limitations of ESV brokerage as a new revenue source. In doing so, it supported them in securing new Corporate Social Responsibility contracts.

Through the development of the Employee Volunteering Network the research placed Hull University Business School in a unique position of facilitating knowledge sharing and collaborative learning for private, public and third sector organisations interested in engaging in ESV. Over 180 organisations attended this network over the five year period. Testimonials from members reflect the added value and organisational learning that this network created.

Lastly, the research has important broader impacts for policy making around Employee Volunteering and how to best support and enhance business / civil society partnerships. While currently these are in the early stages of development, they can be broadly understood as:

(1) exploring how ESV can be used to harness the citizenship and participation of employees to develop a more planned approach to ESV and enhance its contribution to civil society; and

(2) recommending policy interventions that are designed to fill the four resource gaps (skills, capacity, knowledge and infrastructure) that hinder more effective and productive partnerships between business and civil society.


Burchell, J and Cook, J (2012) ‘Sleeping With the Enemy? Strategic Transformations in Business-NGO Relationships Through Stakeholder Dialogue.’ Journal of Business Ethics.