Skilled volunteering is the new frontier of community work, where experienced professionals donate their time and expertise to community organisations.
The Stride Foundation runs community programs and in-school workshops in some of the most disadvantaged and rural areas of Australia. The programs’ successes rely on staff who are motivated and engaged.
Stride’s leadership team was interested in understanding more about what staff thought of the organisation and its leadership. An extensive staff survey was a potentially expensive undertaking for the not-for-profit, so the organisation turned to GoodCompany, also a not-for-profit organisation, which matches skilled professional volunteers with community groups.
It appointed volunteer Joanne Fitzgerald, who has extensive experience in the implementation of staff surveys, having run her own organisational psychology consultancy, Designed Interventions, for more than 15 years.
Stride came away from the experience with valuable data and strategies for improvement, says CEO Jane Hill. “Management learnt a lot about what we are doing well and what could be improved.”
Fitzgerald also found the experience very rewarding. “Stride is actually doing exceptionally well in its efforts to work with staff and managers to create a very positive employee experience. It was indeed worthwhile for me.”
Volunteering takes off in Australia
It is not surprising that skilled volunteering is taking off in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 36 per cent of us undertake some form of volunteer work each year, and many businesses now give their staff one to two days a year paid volunteer leave.
Sometimes one of the best ways to engage staff, or attract quality candidates, is to let them work somewhere else.
The 2012 RedBalloon and Atlas Q Employee Engagement Capability Report found that time off for volunteering was the activity most likely to improve an employer’s engagement score. A 2011 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey suggests that employees who engage in skilled volunteering programs through their work are often more loyal, satisfied and proud of their company.
Highly engaged employees are also more productive, have higher morale, are less likely to want to leave and are more likely to have a beneficial effect on the reputation of the company.
The volunteering experience is positive in itself, but work-based volunteering programs demonstrate that an employer genuinely values their employees’ skills, even beyond the boundaries of their job description.
Since 2001, GoodCompany has facilitated more than $12 million worth of pro bono services to the community and has helped to match thousands of skilled professionals with groups across Australia. CEO Ash Rosshandler says, “given scarce resources, volunteering (and particularly skilled volunteering) is the lifeblood that keeps many organisations running day-to-day. However, having the time, capacity and skills to advertise for volunteering roles is a real issue for these organisations. The problem impedes organisations from accessing the thousands of professionals out there who are willing to volunteer their skills. And without these skills, many groups struggle to stay viable.”
HR skills are in demand, and professionals are needed for developing staff-satisfaction surveys and position descriptions or assisting with change management and mentoring programs.
“By having experienced HR professionals volunteer, it is our hope that they’ll come to the rescue of hundreds of community organisations listed on our website. We want them to help these organisations get a better and clearer understanding of where the skill gaps exist and once done, help them scope and create specifications to attract further skilled volunteers,” says Rosshandler, who hopes to see the initiative snowball.