Economic Development News & Insight


The Higher ED Blog: Encouraging Employer-Supported Volunteering in your Community’s Businesses

Susie Cochran / May 8, 2017

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The Higher ED Blog: Encouraging Employer-Supported Volunteering in your Community’s Businesses

This article is the third in our Volunteers: The Extra-Economic Developers series, which explores the beneficial ways that economic development and volunteerism can intersect. This is in recognition of National Volunteer Week, which ran April 23rd to 29th, 2017.

As companies face increasing pressure from prospective employees and clients to meaningfully engage in their communities, firms are dedicating more of their time and resources to support community needs. Employee-supported volunteering, or ESV, is one way companies demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility and investment in their communities. ESV has a long list of spillover benefits, many of which fall right in line with economic development goals.

What is Employer Supported Volunteering?

Employer supported volunteering (ESV) is defined by Volunteer Canada as “any activity undertaken by an employer to encourage and support the volunteering of their employees in the community.” It is not limited to support for the act of volunteering itself, but can also include access to facilities or equipment, paid time off, or a modified work schedule to allow employees to meaningfully engage in volunteer activities, as outlined in this Statistics Canada report.

Over the last decade, ESV has moved from the exception to the norm among many North American firms, partly due to a growing expectation for firms to engage in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts.

How does ESV benefit the companies that implement it?

The benefits of ESV range from improved employee productivity and wellbeing to enhanced company image and positive community impacts. Companies who support employee volunteering have been shown to experience lower staff turnover, improved employee relationships, and increased skill development. View the full Volunteer Canada infographic here.

A Volunteer Canada study found that aligning ESV initiatives with corporate goals and values can ultimately improve the firm’s bottom line by increasing employee retention, recruitment and overall performance. Companies with highly engaged employees have also been found to experience improved “profitability, productivity and customer loyalty” (p. 5).

The shared benefits of ESV extend beyond participant employers. ESV projects enhance employee wellbeing and skills, foster community relationships, and increase the capacity of the non-profit beneficiaries, all while making a positive impact in the community.  These benefits mirror objectives for economic developers working to strengthen their community’s job quality, business success and overall quality of life. Encouraging your local businesses to give ESV a try is a great way to engage them as leaders in community development.

Here are a few resources and studies to make ESV program development easier.

Building Successful Programs

Constructing successful ESV programs requires attention to the goals, skills, capacity and constraints of both the participating companies as well as their employees.  Volunteer Canada’s Leading with Intention report shares a list of important elements for ESV program success. The list below draws from the experiences of eight leading companies in ESV and their perspectives on the most important components in developing, delivering and refining ESV programs:

  1. Support from senior leadership
  2. Established policies which support the program
  3. Genuine partnerships with volunteer organizations
  4. Quality of measurement and continuous improvement: this includes evaluation and the relaying of results to all program participants
    Leadership in volunteering: moving beyond the company to engage at local, national and even international levels
  5. Inclusivity
  6. Aligned company objectives with community needs and employee interests. Understanding workplace, employee and community values, concerns and goals is extremely important to the success of ESV programs.


The participating employee

Employees are increasingly looking to work for companies that contribute to the wellbeing of their community.

According to a 2010 study by Manulife Financial, Volunteer Canada and Carleton University, workers see volunteering as an important part of a balanced life, skill-building, and fulfillment of a responsibility to contribute to their community. The study found that ESV volunteers shared five characteristics:

  1. Results-oriented: volunteers preferred short-term, high-skilled roles;
  2. Measuring progress: measurability of volunteer contributions and the program’s outcomes;
  3. Volunteerism as a pastime;
  4. Flexible volunteering: volunteers want to know the minimum required hours and have flexibility of where and when they volunteer;
  5. Structured volunteering: participants value good management of opportunities. This includes clearly defined roles, expectations and time requirements.


Where do I start?

The good news is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Plenty of resources exist for developing, implementing and improving ESV initiatives. These are helpful guides you can offer to interested businesses to simplify their program development. While no cookie-cutter template exists, a rich bank of ESV resources and supports are available to help guide companies in developing ESV initiatives according to their particular context and objectives.

Case Studies Examples of successful ESV initiatives to help inform effective approaches and structures.
Toolkits and guides These include group volunteering, volunteer management and screening resources offered by Volunteer Canada to support the development of ESV programs.
Codes of conduct The Canadian Code for Employer-Supported Volunteering outlines guiding principles and standards of practice for companies designing ESV initiatives.
Support services These include services offered by the Canadian Institute for Businesses and Community Engagement, Volunteer Canada’s Skills Plus tool which helps to evaluate ESV programs, and Volunteer Canada’s consultation services for non-profits and businesses developing ESV programs..



Recent studies have demonstrated that employee-supported volunteering contributes to company success, employee satisfaction and enhanced community relationships. Volunteer Canada states that “Canadian businesses are making the connection between community well-being and their own prosperity” (p. 5), a relationship that echoes the dual objectives for economic sustainability and community well-being in economic development.

Long lists of companies across the country are recognizing the shared benefits of ESV. How can you do the same in your community?


About the author:

Susie Cochran is a master’s student at the University of Waterloo in the Faculty of Environment’s Economic Development and Innovation program. Her research interests include the role of community gardens in local, sustainable food systems, and on translating their benefits into a quantitative return on investment analysis. Susie has worked as the Waterloo Region project leader for Evergreen, She has worked in several volunteer coordination and facilitation roles, and is an active volunteer in the Waterloo community.

About the series

Higher ED: Insights for the Next Economy is a platform for students, guest speakers, staff and faculty of the University of Waterloo’s professional and graduate economic development programs to share knowledge with the field at large. The series takes works destined for an academic audience and reworks them into a fresh, easy-to-digest blog article.

Established in 1987, the Master of Economic Development and Innovation (MEDI) is one of the only graduate programs in Canada focused exclusively on economic development. Students learn economic development theory and practice, and are exposed to leading edge knowledge, tools, and approaches to address contemporary challenges in cities and communities across Canada and internationally.

The Economic Development Program is a nationally-accredited provider of professional training. It delivers certification programs and seminars that offer a deep understanding of the Canadian context in a convenient block format. Peer learning is combined with informative lectures and practical case studies to provide dynamic instruction that is beneficial for junior and senior-level practitioners.

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