Skilled volunteering a win-win

by 05 Jan 2012

Skilled volunteering is the latest trend to sweep corporate Australia, with benefits that filter through every level of the organisation.

Traditional volunteering might see staff taking a couple of days out of the office to work hands on with a non profit, but skilled volunteering – which enables employees to leverage their industry knowledge and well-honed skill sets – offers a new way for employees and organisations to give back to the community.

According to Natalie Howard, National Australia Bank’s manager of corporate volunteering, community and corporate responsibility, a well-planned skilled volunteering program not only helps to awaken the social conscious of employees, but also promotes personal development and practical experience.

“Our philosophy is that 70% of learning is done through experiential education or on the job training, so skilled volunteering in a perfect fit,” she said.

NAB’s volunteer program has grown 100% over the last three years, swelling to 15,839 participants in 2010-11, which Howard said had been achieved through a program that “creates an environment that allows our employees to go and do great work in the community.”

She put the value to the community at just over $6m, but clarified that it’s not just community groups that benefit from the program.

“Staff go out into community organisations to transfer their skills, but it’s not just one-way,” Howard said.

“With skills-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.”

Typical tasks of NAB’s skilled volunteers included developing business plans for NGOs, writing policies and streamlining systems. For instance, volunteer Fiona Page recently spent five weeks developing HR procedures for a women’s refuge, the Gawooleng Yawoodeng Aboriginal Corporation, in the East Kimberleys.

During her time she drafted employee contracts that reflected new state award conditions, and developed a range of basic HR policies and procedures to deal with everything from annual leave requests to performance management.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to apply my skills in a context that is completely different from my norm,” Page said. “It was about testing myself an learning about our indigenous population, learning about being able to influence people, and being influenced myself."

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