Everyone wins with skills-based volunteering

Aligning your community engagement programme with your core business activities makes good sense. It’s even better if your people can develop their skills at the same time, says Adam Garfunkel, Pro-bono Marketing Advisor to Heart of the City and Director of Junxion Strategy in this article in The Independent this week.

Back in the day corporate philanthropy was about writing cheques. Then companies realised their teams could bond over a fundraising or charity challenge. Cue cake sales, sponsored marathons and outings to repaint community centres.

More than morale

Getting out of the office for a day is a nice enough thing to do. And for the most part, we like to ‘give something back’. Surveys show that people want to work for companies that contribute to the community. It’s good for attracting and retaining staff. In a recent Heart of the City survey 96 per cent of respondents reported ‘improved staff morale’ from establishing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme.

But there are far deeper benefits to be gained when a team is focused on sharing their skills. And this is not just for big companies either. Following advice from Heart of the City, seven-person furniture consultancy Dovetail was inspired to focus their community efforts on a single programme that had real impact. This led to them creating an inspirational working environment for human rights charity the Helen Bamber Foundation. Everyone in the business got involved and it has become a blueprint for the company’s future community work.

The Helen Bamber Foundation (HBF) provides access to therapeutic and medical care for victims of torture and human trafficking. After an initial meeting with HBF, Dovetail committed to turning a neglected office building into a functional and inspiring working environment for staff and a safe haven for their clients. Dovetail contributed time valued at £15,000 and leveraged relationships with partners and suppliers in the industry to the value of over £250,000, creating a new working environment with the clients’ needs at its heart.

For Dovetail the benefits were many. As well as a great profile and a feel-good factor, younger members of the team gained valuable project experience and everyone involved in sourcing product for HBF’s office had lots of practice improving their negotiation skills. “The project was included in our staff appraisals and performance reviews, so it was fully integrated into our people strategy,” says director Steve Fitch.

Steps, a drama-based learning consultancy, is another small business that was seeking an opportunity to use and develop its employees’ skills while making a difference in the community. The 20-strong team partnered with London Bubble, a theatre company that works with professional and nonprofessional actors, to train disadvantaged young people in employability skills. Steps delivered one module as part of a wider programme, which was aimed at bridging the divide between young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) and people working in the City.

“The project asked a lot of us because it brought together two very different worlds,” says Steps’ founder director Robbie Swales. “We had to think on our feet and navigate the dynamic between the groups.”

Developing skills by helping others

Companies know that engaged employees perform better. Of course people need to be treated fairly, told what’s expected of them and be given clear feedback. Beyond that — which really should be standard practice after all — leading companies are realising that their community engagement aspirations and their staff development needs can align neatly around skills-based volunteering in the community. And as the examples of Dovetail and Steps show, this does not have to be the preserve of big companies.

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