A rapid growth in employee volunteering is being fuelled by corporate and public sector organisations seeking to develop their staff and show commitment to corporate social responsibility.
A report by the National Trust into the volunteering phenomenon revels that in only three years, the Employee Volunteering Programme (EVP), set up by the National Trust, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, the Youth Hostel Association and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers has managed to attract help from more than 3,500 company employees.
According to Lindsey Allen, Project Manager for the partnership, the scheme has made a real contribution to local countryside and coastal sites, wildlife reserves and woodlands.
"The value of this time is almost half a million pounds. This is a significant contribution being made by people who may not normally consider volunteering," she said.
The programme is also bringing a new diversity to volunteers at places like the National Trust and the Wildlife Trust, she added.
The report found that 'taster daysí and one-off team challenges are the most popular types of employee volunteering, as they can cater for mass participation and a chance to experience volunteering without long-term commitment.
However EVP also offers a wider range of voluntary activities including secondments, graduate placements and personal development assignments.
BT, Motorola, M&S, Masterfoods, the BBC, Barclays Bank, Allied Domecq, Jaguar, Powergen and Inland Revenue are among the companies from around the UK that have taken part in the scheme.
"The trend has been for employee volunteering to be part of a companyís corporate social responsibility programme. But there is a growing number of HR departments factoring in employee volunteering into staff personal development plans," said Lindsey Allen.
The EVP has been particularly successful in attracting people aged between 20 and 40, the report found. This group is traditionally difficult for charities to attract as volunteers because they often suffer from a lack of time due to family, career or study commitments.
"The success of EVP shows that this age group have a desire to be active in their communities," Allen added, "and given the opportunity to volunteer through their workplace, they are jumping at the chance to help make a difference to the special places cared for by environment charities."
But volunteering programs do not stop with planting trees, laying paths or building fences. The overseas skills sharing and development charity, VSO, has launched a new initiative to place middle managers on projects in developing countries for a 12 month period while their job is held open back home.
Accenture, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Randstad and Shell have among those that have signed up, banking on the belief that when staff return from placement they are more confident in their management abilities.
VSO hopes to see a third of its volunteers being top business and management professionals.
Meanwhile according to the National Trust report, finance and public administration staff are more likely to have access to employee volunteering opportunities, with six out of ten placements representing these two sectors.
"Sharing the Caring: hands-on action in the countryside and community" is freely available in full at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/employeevolunteering