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Is volunteering right for senior managers?

By 3p Contributor

Corporate volunteering is on the rise. Tom Idle reports on the emergence of skills-based volunteering schemes for senior managers.

Mahatma Gandhi once said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. Generally, people like to help others. When the company you’re working for gives you the freedom and blessing to take time off to help others, they love it.

As such, corporate volunteer programmes have become hugely popular in recent years. In the UK alone, around 11 million people are given paid time off to volunteer within charities or in community and neighbourhood projects. The Office for National Statistics recently estimated the annual value of regular formal volunteering to be £23.9bn.

Volunteering schemes aid the recruitment and retainment of the best employees. When Millennials apply for a job, their top priority is what the company actually sells or produces. But as the Millennial Impact report suggests what matters most to them — beyond compensation and benefits — is the company’s work culture, and its mission and purpose. Volunteering offers a fairly easy way for companies to present and practice their brand values and foster community engagement at the same time. A recent survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says that 65% of people are more likely to work for an employer that encourages and promotes volunteering.

Giving staff time to volunteer makes good business sense, too. The same CIPD analysis points to communication (66%), confidence (59%), mentoring (51%), resilience (51%) and teambuilding (40%) as the most popular skills and competencies people say volunteering has helped them to develop.

However, what often gets overlooked in this mission for companies to find their soul and for employees to fill their hearts is senior management. In the pressure-cooker environment of the boardroom, managing directors, directors and other senior managers commonly miss out on all the fun—and value—created by volunteer programmes despite, arguably, having the most to give when it comes to skill sharing between the corporate world, and third and public sectors.

An initiative developed by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Trustees Unlimited is designed to change that. The board-level volunteering programme, Step on Board, trains and places business professionals onto non-profit boards as trustees.

The UK bank Barclays, which has worked hard in recent years to foster better relationships with the communities in which it operates through its Citizenship Plan, has pioneered the approach. The Barclays Board Placement Programme, a forerunner to Step on Board, has placed 60 staff from the bank into charities as trustees.

One of those 60 is Andy Challis, a 17-year veteran of the London-headquartered bank who is currently head of strategic investments. With two young children, the work of local charity Dreams Come True – giving children with life-limiting medical conditions a memorable experience that fulfils their dreams, like swimming with dolphins – had long been close to Andy’s heart. A simple screening and filter process matched his interests with the right charity and Andy jumped at the chance to become a trustee. “To be able to help the charity continue to grow and achieve its aims is an honour,” he says.

The truth is, as Andy says, charitable boards and school governor boards are getting more sophisticated. Where once a board might be made up purely of retirees with time on their hands, a more diverse group is now required, with the commercial skills to back up ambitious plans.

Dreams Come True is now able to make use of Andy’s skills. As part of his job, investing in companies of strategic importance to the bank, he already sits on a number of company boards. His business acumen and experience in financial analysis, strategic planning, sales and relationship management will, no doubt, financially support the charity, contributing to long-term success. “It’s a two-way thing: charities get access to senior management skillsets from commercial businesses – and Barclays managers get to develop a more rounded skillset,” says Andy.

“My commitment is about four days a year and I help the charity’s finance committee understand business plans and give them guidance on how they can measure success and the outcomes of initiatives in a way that creates a positive feedback loop to those that are donating to the charity.”

In return, Andy says the experience of working within a charity has taught him how to be more collaborative and how to use the ‘softer’ skills needed to work closely with management and the CEO – something that isn’t so easy to do inside the large employer. “It’s taught me the power of teamwork – where everybody has a clear vision and is working towards that. It’s something that perhaps I would have paid less attention to in my day job without this experience.”

Crucially, the volunteering scheme has been an effective tool for fostering an improved connection between senior management and the company’s day-to-day CSR activity. Before the Board Placement Programme was place, Andy says he hadn’t been involved in any of the big Citizenship schemes his colleagues had organised. Now, he’s motivated to do more and is certainly more aware of the broad range of programmes the bank operates.

The NCVO’s Cristina Tiberian adds that Step on Board works not only for established senior professionals, but for aspiring leaders too. “Trusteeship is the perfect spring board for a non-exec role further down the career path,” she says.

All of the evidence points to the fact that volunteering creates enhanced internal engagement; and better engagement produces higher performance. It is no wonder more and more companies are getting in on the act. According to Benevity, the number of companies providing skills-based and pro bono programmes like the one Barclays is running has jumped 40% since 2012 in the US. The company’s director of employee engagement solutions, Janelle Saunders, says that skills-based volunteerism is about “recognising that the employees within your company have a variety of skills that they can lend to charitable organisations”.

And with more companies trying to overlay what people are doing in the community, the skills that they might be developing and their core competencies within their company, “it’s a win-win-win situation,” she says.




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