The Advantages of Skills Based Volunteering

OPINION

OPINION: An increase in Skills Based Volunteering (SBV) is leading the way for companies not only wanting to give back to their communities but also to their employees says Fiona Whittenbury - the corporate partnerships manager at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital Foundation in Adelaide.

As a company, having a competitive advantage to attract great staff and keep them motivated can be a constant battle. Companies who have thought through their corporate responsibility program and who offer employee engagement opportunities such as, volunteering are reaping the benefits. In Australia, it is estimated that about 70% of companies have a policy of providing paid volunteer leave (Volunteering Australia/Australia Cares. 2006, Corporate Volunteering Survey)

However, it is the increase in Skills Based Volunteering (SBV) that is leading the way for companies not only wanting to give back to their communities but also to their employees. SBV involves using individual or collective corporate expertise to support the work of a community group. (NAB, 2007)

The Global Corporate Volunteer Council reported that there is a ‘general agreement’ that SBV is

  • a way for companies to increase their impact on specific problems
  • a capacity-building resource for NGOs and communities
  • a way to better engage their employees and leverage their skills
  • an opportunity for employees to practice their existing skills and learn new ones

It can come in a variety of forms from one off projects that are well defined in scope, short assignments, to regular on-going programs (such as mentoring) and secondments.

One program that is worth highlighting is a unique skills based volunteering programme run by the Citizenship Foundation in the UK. The ‘Lawyers in Schools’ program now in its 14th year has worked with over 10,000 young people across the UK along with law firms, in-house counsel and barristers chambers to link legal professionals with local secondary schools to engage in interactive small group discussions about various legal issues relevant to the young people’s daily lives.

The program has an impressive list of corporate partners and has delivered tangible impacts to the charitable organisation and the school community.

Law firms have also found it a collaborative way to increase their impact on issues affecting the legal profession such as access to and diversity in the legal profession along with developing skills beneficial to both the individual and the employer.

The success of the program has also been through its evaluation process using the London Benchmarking Group indices to individually report back to corporate partners on the impact the program has made on their staff and showcase their return on investment. The program has now found its way onto Australian shores, thanks to law firm King and Wood Mallesons, who have taken part since 2010.

SBV can also develop soft skills that are instrumental in a business environment, such as problem solving, mentoring and communications. It means a company can offer more of its employees the opportunities to engage in SBV opportunities. Many charities, that offer volunteering , are a great place to start looking.

Westpac has made a commitment to investing in long-term partnerships with numerous charities and through those partnerships, volunteering opportunities have been generated. NAB also provides an excellent example by offering a range of opportunities for their employees to get involved.

They have not underestimated their impact as a business, mobilizing their 23,000 employees, contributing 17,060 (15,570 general + 1,490 skill based) volunteer days with an in-kind value of over $6.7 million in 2012. NAB has developed a tool kit with Volunteering Australia to enable skills based volunteering positions as well as providing generalised opportunities for staff to volunteer in the community.

Another fantastic part of SBV is that it can be a powerful tool for cultivating leadership and development skills and enable the company to integrate volunteer activities into talent development and performance reviews which engages human resources within an organization to investigate further.

If one SBV program can help to address a myriad of issues that a business may want tackle within their corporate responsibility programme, then skills based volunteering just might be worth a closer look.

Below are some hints and tips to think about in embarking on a SBV program.

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of working with charities and developing long-term partnerships to deliver more impact 
  • Don’t underestimate the impact your business may have on issues affecting the community and the voice you can have with peers in your sector on social issues
  • Collaborate with peers in other organisations to see what has worked and not worked for them in their programmes
  • Make sure that your program matches your company’s culture
  • Look to best practice examples from the UK and USA and adapt them
  • Utilise the expertise of a brokering organisation such as your state volunteering organisations to help you to successfully run a programe
  • Make sure you take the time to monitor, report and evaluate a programme so you can monitor the SRI and report back to shareholders and employees on impacts

For more information
Lawyers in Schools www.lawyersinschools.org.uk
King and Wood Mallesons www.mallesons.com
NAB http://www.nab.com.au/
Your state volunteering organisation http://www.volunteeringaustralia.org

About the author
Fiona Whittenbury has recently returned to Australia after 10 years overseas working in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility. She has worked with the International Business Leaders Forum and leading organisations engaging with multi nationals offering a range of practical products and programs designed to tackle emerging sustainability issues. She currently works for the Women’s and Children’s Hospital Foundation in Adelaide leading their corporate partnerships.
 

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