05/06/2019 - 15:37

Hands up for volunteers

05/06/2019 - 15:37

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Corporate volunteering has the potential to benefit all parties involved, but making sure it is worthwhile takes careful planning.

Darren Thomas (left), Tina Williams and Michelle Coelho celebrate Volunteer Week at Dismantle. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Not-for-profit group City West Lotteries House provides a great case study of just how many services can be delivered by volunteers.

In the past two years structural engineers, software experts, financial whizzes, risk management professionals, quality specialists and strategic planning consultants have helped the organisation’s two staff members and board.

The organisation, which provides discounted office space for other not for profits close to the city, has been assisted by professionals through Volunteering WA’s skilled volunteers program to undertake life cycle planning of its office space, create an online booking system, write operational policies and procedures, and put together financial spreadsheets.

City West Lotteries House chief executive Tricia Slee said without the support of skilled volunteers, the organisation wouldn’t have been able to grow and provide better services to its tenants.

“For not for profits, they (volunteers) just enable you to achieve so many things you might have dreamed of and pushed aside and thought, ‘Well we just can’t do that, we don’t have the resources to do it’,” Ms Slee told Business News.

“I think one of the best things we have done as a business since I’ve been here is to be able to tap into that level of expertise; it’s been wonderful.”

National Volunteer Week was celebrated around the country recently, which Volunteering WA marked by inviting businesses on the Corporate Volunteering Council – a group of businesses that recognise and promote workplace volunteering – to help build bikes at social enterprise Dismantle.

Beyond Bank, Woodside Petroleum, Shell, RAC, Deloitte and Alcoa of Australia helped put the finishing touches on bikes that had been put together by at-risk youth and mentors in a hands-on youth development program.

Dismantle business manager Darren Thomas said it didn’t matter if volunteers didn’t have experience with bikes.

“We identified that volunteering was a good opportunity for us to raise awareness of the work that we do and to get some community support in helping with that work,” Mr Thomas said.

Beyond Bank Australia state manager Michelle Coelho said her staff benefitted significantly from giving their time to causes they believed in, and the bank’s volunteering program made it a more sought-after employer.

“The feedback we receive from our staff following a volunteer day is resoundingly positive, talking about the amazing feeling they have knowing their efforts that day made a difference,” Ms Coelho said.

Research collated by Volunteering WA found volunteering improves employees’ engagement at work, boosted job performance, encouraged the acceptance of corporate culture, and increased the feeling of belonging to the company.

While volunteering can benefit the whole community, it can be challenging to make sure it is worthwhile and not just about corporate social responsibility.

Volunteering WA senior manager development Traci Gamblin said it was important to ensure volunteers met the needs of the not for profits for both the skills-based program and the team-based volunteering.

“We will only send them a group if they actually need the group,” Ms Gamblin said.

“They are aware that we run these programs so they let us know what their needs are, the size of the group that would be appropriate and the kind of work they need doing so they don’t just have a group that just pops over and says, ‘Hey what can we do?’

“It is all very well-planned, up to six weeks in advance, and they let us know what they really do need.”

In the 2017-18 financial year, Volunteering WA matched 15 skilled volunteers and 54 corporate teams to volunteering opportunities in WA.

Statistics compiled by Volunteering WA showed 96 per cent of skills-based volunteers would recommend volunteering to a colleague, 86 per cent would recommend team-based activities, and 100 per cent of community organisations said they would use skilled volunteers again.

Volunteering WA chief executive Tina Williams said it was important to get the word out about its programs, as organisations often hadn’t considered how they might use a team or a skilled volunteer to benefit their community work.

“Often when I go out talking to people and I tell them about what we do and how we can help,” she said.

“They say ‘Oh my gosh, I really want someone to come out and do a risk management plan or a wrap or help us with our fundraising strategy or marketing strategy’ and I tell them that’s fine, we can organise that.

“We scope that up and post that position within the corporate (website) … so it’s about creating that demand when people know what’s possible.”

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