Volunteering: the ultimate act of kindness

23 Sep 19

There is great reward in the act of volunteering. Those engaged in volunteering benefit from the feel-good factor of knowing their time and contributions are helping someone in need. It’s a powerful dynamic with valuable rewards, writes Community Sector Banking CEO Andrew Cairns.

At its heart, volunteering is a selfless gesture. It’s a way of giving time, offering your skills, or lending resources to someone who could use the help. It’s a valuable way to build community, encourage collaboration and strengthen social connectivity.

Perhaps it’s not surprising to know that one of the hardest tasks for organisations and not-for-profits is finding people willing to give their time as volunteers. Many not-for-profits are struggling under the workload of helping others, giving of their own time and resources but find it difficult to recruit volunteers to support their work.

Organisations working with homeless families or with teenagers in recovery, or with developmentally delayed adults seeking employment could be transformed with the help of volunteers. Those on the fringes of society, those who are struggling to find their way, those who have been isolated, neglected or rejected need our help and support the most. They rely on the kindness of strangers.

Volunteering is the backbone of a strong civil society. The more selfless communities are, the more we all pitch in and participate, lend our time or our skills, the stronger we will become.

Corporate volunteering is growing – more businesses are introducing programs under their Corporate Social Responsibility action plans to give back to the community. But volunteering is not just a box to tick. It provides numerous benefits for employees – building a positive internal workplace culture which is proven to improve productivity and contribute to long-term sustainability.

So how do we harness the act of volunteering in corporations and businesses and go beyond simply volunteering of our time? Corporates and businesses have an opportunity to create and embrace a culture of giving. They have so many valuable resources that would benefit organisations. Start with intellect. A company who specialises in innovation and development may be able to assist with training on systems, software or company processes. A company who specialises in communications can offer training on social media or media outreach. And think about resources.

Building websites and designing marketing material are valuable skills that many not-for-profits wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise – so businesses specialising in those areas could volunteer their resources to make a real impact. Finally, think about space. Larger companies may have wonderful conference rooms, auditoriums, or garden space. The cost to hire space comes at a premium. If businesses volunteered their space for organisations to host an event, put on a talk or facilitate a workshop, it would make a great impact.

Businesses have skill sets, knowledge bases and resources that are invaluable to organisations who may not have the funds to hire professional help. If corporates and businesses volunteered to train organisations and offered to share some of their valuable resources like space, the benefits would be immense for not-for-profit organisations.

So how can we grow volunteerism in businesses to build a stronger civil society?

First, we need to shift from programs to movements. Programs are limited in scope and scale – it’s volunteering for-season rather than for-reason. By shifting to social movements, there is room for exponential growth which delivers real change and impact in communities.

Second, we need to foster a sense of agency – encouraging employees to volunteer for real change, not to complete corporate participation rates. This is vital to establish long-term, meaningful and beneficial relationships between businesses, employees and not-for-profits. There needs to be shift away from output metrics, such as hours or invested dollars, to employees actively seeking opportunities to support communities. This can be managed internally by reaching out to local not-for-profits to identify opportunities for professional assistance, guidance and outside-of-work volunteer support.

Last, we must change the perception of volunteerism. It should no longer be viewed as a transactional model of helping, but rather an act of making a difference and addressing key issues in society. By understanding that volunteerism is a key to inclusiveness and belonging, we can create a stronger civil society, where communities are united, and all are able to maximise their potential.

For their part, not-for-profits can’t sit back and wait for these opportunities to appear – they must seek them out, ask, and make them happen. There are numerous opportunities available – from pro bono support to accelerator and think tank opportunities and even donation-matching and grants. Not-for-profits need to invest in determining what skill sets would benefit their organisation. Once those skill sets are identified, they need to invest time in approaching larger companies to work with them in volunteering their training or services. Chances are, when asked, many businesses would happily lend a hand or lend their talent to help a struggling organisation or under-resourced not-for-profit.

Once we embrace the idea that we are all connected, that asking for help is ok, and that offering help is even better, our society, our communities and our organisations will thrive. We will be able to embrace the act of volunteering for reason, not for season and we will come to realise that even as strangers we can be connected by a simple act of kindness in the form of volunteering.

This article was originally published in Pro Bono Australia.