19 January 2018

Canberra Business and Volunteering ACT - Business and community making a difference

| Suzanne Kiraly
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The practice of corporate giving to the Not-For-Profit (NFP) sector is not a new concept, but it has dramatically evolved over the past few years, into a brand-new model that is conducive to community citizenship of the very best kind.

I was reminded of just how dramatically different this landscape has become at an event I attended recently which was jointly hosted by Volunteering ACT, The Canberra Business Chamber, and Callida Consulting; a private firm epitomising these new trends, who were also the sponsors of this event. 27 not-for-profit organisations were in attendance as well as 19 businesses. The event was sold out.

In the not-so-distant past, I remember the days when corporates giving to charity was in the form of a token gesture. It was almost as though such boardroom decisions came as a ‘PS’ – an afterthought, so that the company could look good and be seen to be doing their bit for the good of the community. It was not necessarily heartfelt.

It was more like, “Oh, we’d better donate to a charity or two, so we can keep our reputations intact and look good.”

But it’s (now) 2018 – and all that has dramatically changed. Today, it’s abundantly clear that some businesses are building a corporate social-responsibility element right into their base business model, and it’s a positive innovation indeed. Given that we are living in an age of collaboration, the business sector and the NFP sector ­– backed by the support of the coordinating peak bodies like the Canberra Business Chamber, and Volunteering ACT ­– are collaborating for real win/win/win outcomes.

The event I attended was a panel discussion celebrating International Volunteering Day. The speakers were: Robyn Hendry, CEO of the Canberra Business Chamber; Vicky Darling, Volunteering and Contact ACT; and John Lewis, Partner of Callida Consulting. Each speaker contributed to a discussion on how to leverage corporate volunteering in a meaningful way that creates value for NFPs, businesses, and the community.

Callida Consulting is the inaugural business member of the Volunteering Works program. Through this program, Callida offers skills-based volunteering placements to Volunteering and Contact ACT members each year. In 2015-16, Callida undertook pro-bono work in the volunteering sector to a value of over $30,000.

Vicky began the panel discussion by defining Corporate Volunteering, as the situation where volunteers (from a variety of businesses) offer their time and expertise to do skills-based volunteering to benefit an NFP organisation. It was mind-boggling when she gave the figure of 173 NFP-member organisations within their net reach. John from Callida Consulting, gave a bird’s eye view of his company’s active programs. Callida said they found that volunteering not only enriches their staff members’ whole work experience, but also contributes to worker satisfaction and the retention of happy staff.

Robyn Hendry, introduced as our ‘corporate whisperer’, had (as always) some practical advice for businesses: “(Volunteering) makes business sense. We all try to make our workplaces pleasant and lived values is one area where employers can attract talent, distinguish themselves, and at the same time attract new clients who align with their values.”

John shared with us that when his employees go out on these assignments, they find them to be personally very satisfying. They become more engaged workers and are proud of the work that their organisation does to make a difference in the community.

According to Robyn Hendry, of the 26,000 small businesses in the ACT, 97% have fewer than 20 employees. Referring to corporate volunteering, Robyn said “survival is everything and cash flow is never perfect, but looking at the ebbs and flows, which differ from business to business, and tapping in to their staff passions in a ‘horses for courses’ way, is the strategic way forward for small businesses to get ahead in this respect.”

“Our strategic document, 2030 Vision Statement, is all about all the boats rising together. We need more engagement and it’s all about whole community.”

Importantly, John mentioned that of course, it’s a two-way street and businesses need to succeed so the recognition both ways is important too. Callida Consulting is happy to publicly mention the NFPs they are supporting and their important work in the community and would appreciate the reverse considerations. That’s collaboration.

Vicky echoed these sentiments in saying that the corporate sector has so many skills to share and both sectors want a long-term ongoing relationship, so honesty is important.

According to Robyn, human resources are vital to businesses and NFPs alike, as people join organisations because of the cause, but gave two pieces of advice to business and NFPs who are considering embarking on a volunteering partnership, that are fundamentals for successful models:

  • For the businesses – don’t be deterred by the volunteers not being paid. Treat them like your other staff who are being trained up;
  • Being organised and having training advice and support makes the whole process smooth and easy to implement (e.g. having clear, shared goals at the outset).

It was heart-warming to find that recent research highlighted Canberra as a city with high volunteer rates and Robyn shared a few examples of firms where it worked well, such as Meyer Vandenberg, where communication was a two-way street. She also mentioned there are numerous examples in Canberra already.

In 2018, two events to look forward to are the Volunteering Awards in May and the Volunteering Week activities in June.

Corporate volunteering and social responsibility is alive and thriving in the ACT and aren’t we glad to be living here!

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