100,000 skilled volunteers needed

9 October 2023

New research from Pilotlight estimates that 100,000 skilled “climate volunteers” are needed to accelerate environmental action in the UK. Published today, the findings reveal an urgent need amongst environmental charities for professional support from skilled volunteers.

As Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rolls back the UK’s climate commitments, pressure is set to fall on environmental NGOs even further to help drive impact. Pilotlight’s survey of nearly 300 environmental charities found that almost two thirds (63%) are actively looking for professional support from skilled volunteers. The skills gap is greatest for smaller charities, with 50% having no business plan for the year, and one third having no way to measure their impact.

Pilotlight is the charity that amplifies the impact charities, business and individuals can bring by facilitating pro bono skilled volunteering. Through volunteering, employees can use their unique professional expertise to help charities access the specialist skills they need but do not necessarily have the budget for.

Those who volunteer with the support of their employer are twice as likely to be people of the global majority as the population at large (23%). Remote working has also opened the door for virtual volunteering, with 31% of those who volunteered in the last year doing some of it online or over the phone.

While unskilled volunteering remains a key resource for charities, volunteering done for environmental charities is most valuable when it is skilled. One of the best-known forms of unskilled environmental volunteering is asking staff to help plant trees – but this can do more harm than good, leading to monocultures and disrupting natural ecosystems, if not done with care and expertise.

Pilotlight’s research underscores the need for volunteers to help close the skills gap, as it shows a lack of time and resources is preventing charities from upskilling existing employees and volunteers. About 40% of respondents spend 1% or less on training and development, and one in ten (10%) is spending no money at all.

The research also found that while being strong on vision, environmental charities are lacking some of the key management tools for effective planning and benchmarking. Almost one third (30%) have no Key Performance Indicators that they monitor, only just over half (56%) have an agreed business plan with goals for the year, and just one in three (34%) have a theory of change to translate their vision into the work they do.

Ed Mayo, CEO of Pilotlight, said:

Charities are a catalyst for action and are full of innovations for turning climate ambitions into reality. But as our research shows, they lack the capacity, skills and resources to do so. We have found there is a clear appetite and call for skilled climate volunteers to close the skills gap. Now is the time to explore how businesses and charities can learn from each other, to generate greater impact faster.

In terms of the professional skills that environmental charities are looking for in the medium term there are some front runners. Marketing and fundraising is cited as the most common support need (84%), followed by evaluation (76%), diversity, equity and inclusion (69%), strategic planning (67%), and information systems (65%).

Outside of the impacts delivered by their core mission, environmental charities have a lot to give in terms of expertise. Environmental organisations who took part in Pilotlight’s research reported key strengths in engagement and outreach (70%) and general leadership (40%). Pilotlight believes pro bono skilled volunteering is a two-way exchange where businesses have the opportunity to also learn from charities.

As Pilotlight releases this new research it is recruiting Partner Businesses to join its new practical pro bono programme. The ask is that they support their employees in lending their time, expertise and passion to help environmental charities turn their ambitions into action. The programme will enable the sharing of skills across sectors and promote collective learning to spur, spread and scale positive action for sustainability.

Matt Sparkes, Sustainability Director at Linklaters LLP, said:

This is a simple and compelling idea, that businesses like ours who want to take action on climate change can enable staff to flex their workplace skills in order to help environmental charities and social enterprises. We can all learn and benefit from skilled volunteering of this kind.

To find out more about Pilotlight’s survey and its findings, read the technical report.

Pilotlight’s pro bono programme

There are around 16,000 charities and social enterprises in the UK working for a sustainable future. They are catalysts for action and are full of innovations for turning climate ambitions into reality but as our new research shows they lack the capacity, skills and resources, to do so. 

Join our movement today.

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