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The benefits of volunteering for agencies and beyond

by Emma Tozer - August, 2019

We’re extremely proud of our social purpose and have championed Volunteering Time Off (VTO) for staff since the day we opened for business. In our latest post, founders Emma and Jake share their thoughts on why volunteering is integral to Media Bounty’s culture and the positive impact it has.

What is Media Bounty’s volunteering policy?

Emma: Employees get five days of paid leave per year to undertake volunteering opportunities of their choice. We’ve had people undertake a huge range of activities over the past ten years: listening to children read in school, running youth camps for disadvantaged children, preparing meals and offering support at homeless shelters, supporting urban bee projects, and even establishing artificial coral reefs in Thailand. We’ve also organised our own company-wide volunteering with a Brighton beach clean for our summer social.

Jake: One of the things that we also try to do is use our skills to make a more permanent difference. We co-founded the Conscious Advertising Network, a volunteer coalition of over 100 organisations helping the ethics catch up with the technology of modern advertising.

Isn’t this just the latest employee benefit bandwagon for businesses to jump on? Why does it matter?

Emma: Organised corporate volunteering days with big charities do feel a bit like that. And it’s questionable how much value they add to the charities concerned. Essentially they often end up as revenue-driving opportunities, as opposed to the volunteering itself making a meaningful difference. We would prefer to be a help rather than a hindrance, by carefully seeking out opportunities to add genuine value.

Jake: It’s a bandwagon if it is only used for a communications reason. The fact is we had volunteering in our staff contracts and donated to international conservation charity, World Land Trust before we had any revenue and before we even knew that we should try to build our own brand. It really is about values. Are we all here just to make money and try to be famous, or are we here to make a contribution?

Why is volunteering important to Media Bounty?

Emma: Volunteering is a very valuable experience for our employees, and for the brands we work on. We all know how easy it is to fall into a marketing bubble – experiencing people and life outside of our usual sphere of reference makes us better marketers, as well as being hugely personally rewarding. Also, as a social media agency with a conscience it’s part of our DNA – it’s been part of our agency since day one. This year alone our volunteering hours have totalled 281.5hrs, which is the equivalent of 37.5 days!

Jake: Media Bounty is not an agency where everyone is motivated to make as much money as possible. It’s back to the values. What do we stand for? Being a social media agency with a conscience has meant that we have turned down briefs from the biggest tobacco companies, and the biggest oil companies, as well as gambling and weed killer briefs. It’s no good calling yourself conscious and putting values like ‘kindness’ on the wall if you don’t act like that. The same is true of volunteering. It is about making a positive contribution to society rather than just employing people and paying our taxes.

What difference has it made to the agency and the organisations you volunteer for?

Emma: Impacts do vary depending on the volunteering opportunity. By far the best way to organise your volunteering is committing to a long-term relationship and offering expertise rather than an extra pair of hands. We have had a long-term charity partnership with World Land Trust. As well as making donations on behalf of our clients for each project we take on, we have provided ad hoc pro-bono marketing support over the last ten years – most recently with a refreshed social media strategy and content calendar support for their latest appeal. The depth of the relationship ensures we can be agile, we’re trusted, and we can add genuine value.

Jake: One of our other long term commitments has been the Conscious Advertising Network. In terms of impact we have helped remove the funding for climate science denial content in Germany, far right extremist content in the UK and anti-LGBT content in Poland. We have even influenced the agenda of the UN Secretary General!

Are there any pitfalls to a Volunteering Time Off policy? How do you make it a success?

Emma: It can be tricky to find opportunities that add genuine value.

Jake: Balancing a long-term commitment to a particular cause or charity can bring conflicts into time management. It is much easier to clear your diary for a day rather than every month for years.

What advice would you give to someone that would like to introduce it to their business?

Emma: Be prepared to support people in finding opportunities and ensure that you’re adding as much value to the causes in question as you are to your business.

Jake: Make sure that there are opportunities for the team to volunteer for causes that are really important to them as well as looking for long term partnerships that are true to the values of the business and the leadership.