People or Profits – Why not both?

How volunteering can improve your business and community, a research by Beth Pearson, co-founder of B2B market research company Circle Research



In the research industry respondents are our raw materials.  We use their thoughts and opinions to manufacture our product – insight.

However, unlike most industries whose raw materials are inanimate objects, ours are human.  That poses some unique challenges.  We can’t simply mine, harvest or produce our raw materials, instead we need to persuade them to participate in the ‘manufacturing’ process.  Numerous ways of doing so have been tried over the years, but I want to focus on one particular incentive – charity donations.

Although charity donations may not always boost response rates as much as a personal donation, this approach brings several advantages.  For example, in B2B research the commercial relationship between survey sponsor and respondent means that personal payment can be seen as inappropriate (and sometimes in breach of bribery laws).

So, although to my knowledge there is no hard data on this, the research industry must be a significant source of income for charities.  Interestingly, this is a symbiotic rather than altruistic relationship as both parties benefit.

Outside of incentives there’s another way in which this symbiotic relationship can be built – by volunteering your time.  That could be by offering an extra pair of hands to help out, or better still, by providing specialist expertise.  After all, charities need research insight just as much as any business does, and your research skills are something that most can’t afford to commission.

I did say this was symbiotic, so how do you benefit?  Well, as well as a nice rosy, satisfied glow inside there are tangible business benefits to volunteering.  I know not just because I’ve set up a volunteering scheme in my business, but because there are hard facts to support it.


Last year we partnered with two charities to explore how they could best encourage businesses to volunteer and ensure that it was a genuine win-win for both parties.  The result is the ‘People or Profits Report’ which is based on a survey of 200 business leaders and a series of interviews with CSR experts.

This study reveals that charities can encourage more businesses to volunteer by:

  • Removing the time and hassle of organizing it (18% and 10% of businesses respectively cited these as the single largest challenges to volunteering)
  • Emphasizing the business benefits.  Two fifths (40%) of businesses volunteering saw a boost in employee morale, two fifths (38%) received positive PR and one fifth (21%) found it created a stronger team
  • Emphasizing the positive experience – 63% of businesses have volunteered in the last year and 95% would recommend it to other businesses.

So what? 

Tempted? If so, the study also reveals five tips when setting up a volunteering programme:

  1. Focus on the added value volunteering could bring to your business, rather than what it might ‘cost’. It easy get stuck on what volunteering might cost a business, but with benefits including an increase in employee morale, team building opportunities and positive PR the positives can far outweigh the negatives.
  2. Get dates in the diary as far in advance as possible. This is simple, the more notice employees have, the easier it is to plan workloads and personal lives to include volunteer work.
  3. Have a range of volunteering options. Employees are all different so play to their strengths. Be flexible about when staff can get involved (in or out of office hours) and which sectors they can volunteer in, such as education or construction, teaching or rehabilitation, and so on.  Make sure you cater for everyone.
  4. Work with a broker. In our study time was one of the main factors found to prevent businesses from volunteering. A broker will reduce the time that volunteering takes to manage as they match your skills with community and charity needs.
  5. And finally, take on a challenge! Our study found that business are much more likely to volunteer in sectors with children or community spaces at their heart. But the most ‘beneficial’ areas to volunteer in are the most challenging, such as rehabilitation and mental illness. Considering a less ‘traditional’ approach to volunteering could the most rewarding by far.

Beth Pearson is co-founder of B2B market research company Circle Research (  The full ‘People or Profits Report’ can be downloaded here: