24 May 2023

Is volunteering part of your professional development programme?

Volunteering is a great way to support communities, but it can also help develop employees’ skills and build networks

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More and more employers are encouraging their staff to make use of their annual volunteering leave during working hours. It’s a great way to support charities and communities, but it can also help to develop employees’ skills, as well as creating new connections between different parts of the business. In a recent NCVO survey 71% of the volunteers said they had gained new skills and experience, which rose to 85% amongst the youngest group of volunteers.

Ganesh Swaminathan, Head of Technology Engineering Architecture & Strategy at T. Rowe Price UK has actually added corporate responsibility to his skillset as a result of his volunteering and is now co-chair of their London corporate social responsibility team. “Being involved with Chapter One has opened up a new area of learning and understanding to me around where the world is going and how corporations like T. Rowe Price can engage and play a part.”

Research shows that volunteering can enhance job performance by developing skills, with personal development being an important predictor of continued volunteering. Employees are particularly likely to develop their capabilities when volunteering on projects they find meaningful and when they feel they are making a difference (Caligiuri et al., 2013).

Samantha Scott, Head of Communications at Sodexo Government Energy & Resources explains: “From a personal development perspective, volunteering with Chapter One is really good because it is something different, and learning something different is always really good for you. It challenges you, makes you think differently and uses a different part of your brain.”

Building confidence

In the NCVO study, almost three-quarters (74%) of volunteers agreed that volunteering had given them more confidence, with 18–24 year-olds most likely to think that volunteering had given them confidence (84%).

We have volunteers of all ages and at all levels in our partner companies, from managing directors and senior partners to admin staff. Most of them say they feel quite nervous before their first online reading session with a 5- to 7-year-old, even if they have young children themselves. That’s because they are doing something outside their comfort zone of family life and work. But after a few sessions their nervousness is replaced by a feeling that they are actually able to make a difference to the child by using skills that they might not have used for a while, if ever.

Kirsty Robb, Change Practice Manager at Royal London, explains: “In professional life there's a lot of us that will spend a lot of time worrying ‘Am I doing the right thing? Is this okay? Am I an expert?’ To the child you’re reading with, you're always going to be an expert.”

Communication skills and teambuilding

In our own survey of volunteers in 2022, 42% said they had improved their communication skills and 46% said they had increased their understanding of and empathy with other people.


Employee volunteering can also form bonds between individuals and teams who would not normally work together. Christian Goldsmith, a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, explains: “People in the office volunteer with Chapter One across all levels… Chapter One helps break down barriers by providing us with a source of conversation and connection.”

Emily Middleton, Senior Marketing Manager in ESG, T. Rowe Price adds: “One of the nicest things about Chapter One is that it’s enabled me to meet so many other people. As well as extending my networks it’s giving me a sense of shared experience and team building.”

Awareness and understanding of social issues

Volunteering can also improve empathy and an understanding of the challenges faced by different groups in society.

“That has been a bit of an eye opener for me”, says Ganesh Swaminathan. “The fact that children are struggling to read in the UK, that they're falling behind their peers so early in life was not clear to me before I started with Chapter One. So the takeaway for me has been that we often assume things are a certain way when in reality they aren’t.”

And Eddie Durrant, Privacy Programme Manager at NCR Corporation adds: “I keep up with the news and social affairs so I had some awareness, but I had never witnessed it first-hand.”


26% of our online reading volunteers felt that the experience had improved their adaptability.

As Ganesh Swaminathan explains: “It's about trying a few things, not getting anxious about it, asking for help, following the tips, guidance and training that we have been given by the Chapter One team and finding a rhythm that works.”

And Eddie Durrant adds: “I think the things I've learned are that you need to be consistent, persistent, and introduce variety in each session and don't be scared of tailoring them to the child.”

Supporting employee volunteers

Given the extensive benefits of volunteering for employees and their work, companies should encourage staff to do this on company time. Many employers now offer between 1-6 paid volunteering days each year, but this needs to be supported by senior executives and line managers. They can set a good example by volunteering themselves, but should also ensure that individuals do not feel under pressure to prioritise work over volunteering. Another option might be to include KPIs for volunteering or charitable work in each employee’s personal development plan.

Karen Dobrin at Sage, explains how the Chapter One volunteer experience has developed her as a person: “I’m not sure if my pupil realises how much she’s actually taught me over this past year, but I have certainly grown in many ways thanks to this incredible future superstar!”

If you want to know more about employee volunteering with Chapter One, do get in touch with our Business Development Manager Sarah Taylor at sarah.taylor@chapterone.org.