Learning to give, not just receive

by Human Capital25 Jan 2012

Volunteering conjures up images of businessmen and women swapping their suits for overalls to plant trees and serve soup, but there is another option which has emerged over the past two years and is set to gain even further traction in 2012. Why not volunteer industry knowledge and well-honed skill sets? Skilled volunteering enables employees to put their best business assets to good use, enriching the not-for-profit sector with their own expertise.

Over the last few years CSR initiatives have flourished. Organisations are becoming increasingly involved in innovative and sustainable volunteering programs, from grand scale corporate partnerships to individual collaborations between employees and the social welfare campaigns with which they feel a strong connection. At last count 5.2 million people (34% of the Australian population) participated in voluntary work, contributing 713 million hours to the community, and skilled volunteering is gaining momentum.[1]

For the National Australia Bank, ‘momentum’ is right. Working with community groups across Australia, NAB’s volunteer program has grown 100% over the last three years with 15,839 volunteers taking part in 2010-11.

Natalie Howard, NAB’s manager of corporate volunteering, community & corporate responsibility, credits the program’s success to the ingenuity of employees and an economic climate bruised by the lingering effects of the GFC, which has made volunteers all the more willing to bring lasting change to communities in need. “If volunteering was ever going to get up now’s the time,” Howard says. “We can create an environment that allows our employees to go and do great work in the communities.”

Benefits to communities

While NAB offers employees more traditional forms of volunteering like planting trees, and working in soup kitchens, the skilled volunteer pool is growing.

“Serving a meal is fairly transactional, whereas with skill-based volunteering you get to know the organisation, you get to know the people and you become part of that organisation. The more that volunteers engage in their communities the happier they are. We have people developing business plans for NGOs, writing policies and streamlining systems.”

Traditional volunteering might see staff taking a couple of days out of the office to work hands-on with an NGO, but skilled volunteering is often a long-term commitment. The prospect of working with a community group has not deterred staff, with15% of NAB volunteers choosing skilled volunteering posts. 

The merit of the program is undeniable; NAB estimates the value to community groups is just over $6m.

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