Fancy a challenge? Running up mountains, trekking across deserts or mentoring city children can not only raise money for charity and make you feel good, but hone your work skills too. And your employer is likely to cheer you on.
City financial institutions, especially investment banks, increasingly run corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes to help charities and local communities. They actively encourage staff to take part, reasoning that everybody benefits.
Nick Wright, Executive Director, corporate responsibility and community affairs at UBS says, "By sharing expertise with the communities of which we are a part, our employees enhance their skill set and voluntary organisations benefit from the resources and experience that otherwise might not be available to them. Everybody wins."
Wright says volunteering can have a positive impact on communication skills, professional behaviour, drive and leadership. UBS operates a volunteer programme which matches potential volunteering projects for employees with internal appraisal measures, enabling employees to develop their skills.
"Volunteering often has an impact on communication skills, professional behaviour, drive and leadership," he says. "The UBS Volunteer Plus programme maps volunteer projects against internal appraisal measures, thereby seeking to develop and maximise the skills of employees. It can help managers identify, trial and nurture employees' talents and skills as well as promote teamwork, flexibility and adaptability."
For the same reasons a recently developed UBS talent development programme will have a community/employee volunteering element.
Kate Cavelle, head of Deutsche Bank Citizenship UK, who deals with the bank's community development and investment projects, says, "Community challenges provide benefits to a wide range of audiences. Not only do they help the relevant community, but they also promote team work within the bank across divisions. This can help bring together employees from diverse areas of the bank who otherwise might never meet."
Volunteering projects sometimes address individual training needs. Cavelle says, "If you want to improve your communication skills we may help you volunteer to explain your work to a class of schoolchildren. To develop project management skills we encourage people to plan team challenges."
The bank spends 3 million annually on community programmes, and gives staff two days off a year for volunteering as well as giving them flexibility to fit in volunteer work. It estimates that 500,000 of staff time is spent on volunteering annually.
At JPMorgan Cazenove, Tessa Murray, head of CSR and director of corporate communications, says, "Volunteering helps charities and communities with our time, skills and financial support, but also benefits staff development. It is often quite challenging for staff to step outside their workplace comfort zone, and it leads to wider benefits such as improved confidence and presentation skills, especially for more junior employees."
From Deutsche to Ethiopia and back
Those taking part in challenges and charity work say they see benefits on all levels.
Paul Hill, who works in the controlling department at Deutsche Bank and specialises in balance sheet and risk control, trekked in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia, and helped build a medical centre in the village of Ambaras.
Hill says, "We were mixing concrete and lugging breeze blocks at 3,700 metres so we ended up shattered. But there was a great community spirit and we provided footballs donated by Chelsea FC to the local children. It was great to see their faces."
Thirty eight bank staff joined the sponsored trek, in February 2005, to raise money for Great Ormond Street hospital, last year's chosen charity for Deutsche Bank AG London.
In the past Hill has been on an expedition to Ecuador and taken part in the London Bikeathon for charities, and now sits on the bank's Charity of the Year committee. He says, "Challenges give you a bit of perspective - it's easy to end up with your head in the sand if you work in finance."
"I think it also helps your career too, though that's not the main motivation. The networking side has brought me two or three good contacts every year, which give me more avenues to explore when I need information, and it helps raise your profile with managers and colleagues. Raising sponsorship has put me in touch with senior colleagues I would not normally meet," Hill says.
Deutsche Bank colleague Martin Pengelley, an ACA who works in corporate broking, trekked 100km across the Sahara for Macmillan Cancer Relief.
Pengelley says, "I was impressed by the stars, the silence and hearing things from several miles distance - it was fascinating." At the start he knew only two of the 50 trekkers from the bank. "I walked and talked with people from other departments whom I would never have otherwise met. I still keep in touch with three of them in particular, and meeting the others has made it easier for me to access information."
He adds: "It also made me feel more part of the wider Deutsche team and I enjoyed raising the money - Macmillan nurses helped when my father had cancer. Many of my clients were sponsors and it was good to have something different to talk about with them."
"I'd recommend others to do something like this if they get the chance - it was great fun."
To CV, or not to CV?
But since charity work and volunteering pays dividends all round, you may want to mention it in your CV - which brings the dilemma of how you go about it without appearing to brag.
David Leithead, director in the City office of recruiter Michael Page, says, "While this kind of thing is likely to enhance your CV to some extent, boosting your CV will not have been your principal motivation, so highlighting it too strongly will detract from your sincerity and look a bit tacky."
Mention it, towards the end of your CV in the section about social and charitable contributions, but it is perhaps best to leave details of the skills and experience you acquired for interviews.
Leithead says, "If you are asked for instance, for examples of your leadership or team working skills, it's fine to mention how they have been developed through volunteering or charity challenges as well as through regular work."