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How has business marked volunteers week?

Businesses should spare more time for volunteering and charities need to reciprocate equally for effective social corporate partnership

Today marks the end of this year’s Volunteer Week, a time when the charity sector celebrates the crucial role volunteers have in social change. But I wonder, has the private sector been celebrating with us?

The rise of corporate responsibility means that the private sector has been supporting staff to volunteer for many years. But when it comes to business volunteering it’s important to recognise the difference between a staff activity that is done as a team-building exercise and professional skill sharing that genuinely and effectively helps a charity.

There is a place for practical volunteering, like renovating buildings or clearing gardens, but sharing professional expertise through a structured project can help create a step change in a charity’s performance. Most charities do not want bankers to paint their walls; they want decorators to paint their walls and bankers to help them with their finance. It’s as simple as that.

This type of executive volunteering requires commitment from both sides. Businesses need to back their CSR rhetoric with time; a one-or-two-day annual volunteering allowance will work for occasional team days but professional skill sharing might need a minimum of six days in as many months. High-level volunteering opportunities can be used to reward and incentivise staff with very satisfying work that reflects the values of the organisation.

Equally charities need to recognise the opportunity in having a top pro bono expert on board and commit the necessary time too. They need to ensure the project the volunteer is supporting is a genuine priority and has management backing; if it doesn’t, it is unlikely to have traction; the volunteer could leave demotivated and a corporate partnership is damaged.

Often, the chief executives of the charities we invest in tell us that at first, they just wanted the unrestricted money we were offering, and were prepared to accommodate the pro bono experts in order to get it; but as the investment period progresses, they say they come to realise that the greater value is in the expertise.

Last year Impetus Trust worked with business partners to invest £2.1m of pro bono expertise in building the capacity of the 13 portfolio charities in our active portfolio, in areas such as business planning, financial management and marketing. The impact of this approach is huge – Impetus-backed organisations increase the number of people they support by a staggering average of 40% a year.

If more charities were given the potential to work with businesses to develop in this way the potential to tackle disadvantage would be huge. In its recent white paper on Giving the Government announced that it would host a Giving Summit this autumn. I hope to see professional volunteering high on the agenda.

Daniela Barone Soares is chief executive of Impetus Trust

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