General Philanthropy

Corporate volunteering - more than wrapping presents at Christmas

Ruth Lee / 25 June 2019

A pile of smartly wrapped gifts, teddy bears with bows and a bunch of satisfied corporate volunteers - a quick happy snap for social media and it’s back to work.

Of course, wrapping presents at Christmas is a valuable thing to do and yes, it brings some seasonal joy to those in need. For the corporate, it involves gathering a team of willing volunteers, booking a vacant slot, paying a fee or donation to cover costs and making sure everyone knows where they need to be and what they have to do. For the charity, it involves coordinating a venue, devising activities which are not TOO challenging, ensuring health and safety controls are in place and that the volunteers are able to complete the required tasks within the designated timeslot. At the end of the day, everyone feels good and it’s a mutually beneficial transaction.

But corporate volunteering can offer so much more. The real gold is unearthed through genuine partnerships, where both the corporate and the community organisation are comfortable asking for help, committing to practical and sometimes untried solutions, exchanging honest feedback, making constructive suggestions, and exploring the possibilities.

In 2015, Origin Foundation introduced a deliberate strategy with the aim of increasing volunteering participation and impact. The strategy was based on three key elements:

  • Align our volunteering program to the Origin Foundation focus on education
  • Offer a volunteering program which would contribute to employee engagement
  • Provide volunteering opportunities to build the capacity of our not-for-profit partners

Through grant funding, Origin Foundation supports education programs which align with our own focus areas, but we’ve also identified opportunities where our skilled volunteers can add value – for Big Picture schools, we’ve helped them to reshape their Constitution. Through support with search engine optimisation, we’ve helped the Gawura school to attract a large donation. For Stronger Smarter Institute, CareerTrackers and Beacon Foundation, we’ve mapped their reach in our Geographical Information System (GIS), giving them a great visual to share with potential funders and supporters.

Through our traditional volunteering relationships, we’ve packed hampers and prepared food for those in need, but in addition, our skilled volunteers have provided call centre support to Foodbank’s fundraising campaigns, and helped to set up a subscription call centre, with mentoring and ongoing training to support marginalised women at The Big Issue subscription enterprise in gaining essential skills and confidence. Our multi-cultural workforce has translated volunteering forms and procedures, enabling The Salvation Army to expand their program delivery by utilising refugee and migrant volunteers. And one of our gas fitters fixed The Big Issue’s barbeque so that people in need were able to enjoy a hot breakfast, cooked and prepared safely by our volunteers.

How does all this happen? For us, the Eureka moments have come about when the words “what if we” become part of the conversation…

  • What if we could?
  • What if we connected?
  • What if we collaborated?
  • What if we overcame the challenges?
  • What if we just made it happen?

And, somehow, it does. Off the shelf offerings become outside of the square solutions.

We deliberately work towards achieving multi-dimensional relationships with our partners – identifying ways to boost their capacity and augment their program delivery. We’ve taken the SolarBuddy program into classrooms in Origin’s metropolitan and regional communities, vastly increasing the number of Australian students able to participate – with the support of Origin Foundation, they’ve assembled around 2000 individual solar lights for their counterparts living in energy poverty along the Kokoda Track. Our IT support team has also guided the implementation of SolarBuddy’s customer relationship management system, and many more volunteers have assisted with quality assurance. Not forgetting our on-ground team in Papua New Guinea, who have assisted the Kokoda Track Foundation with distribution of the assembled lights into remote village schools.

Identifying the opportunities is the first part of the equation. The second part is building awareness, encouraging volunteers to get involved, participate and to bring their skill sets. In planning our program of volunteer activities, we follow these guiding principles:

Alignment: all volunteering activities align with Origin Foundation focus on education, and/or Origin’s purpose of getting energy right for customers, community and the planet.

Flexibility: To fit varied workloads, operational constraints and partners’ needs, volunteering leave is unlimited and can cover an hour of online mentoring, skilled volunteering across several months, or a single day out of the office tree planting.

Accessibility: volunteering can be online, at an Origin office or site or an off-site location. Registration is straightforward and logistical support is provided.

Visibility: our volunteers, including senior leaders, are keen to share their stories on our internal social media platform – exponentially increasing the “feel-good” factor.

Meaningful Impact: volunteering activities are requested by our long-term community partners to meet their specific needs (not “invented” to meet corporate demand). Our volunteers feel that their time is valued and many return to Origin with new skills and abilities.

Over the past five years, volunteering participation has increased from around 15% to 40% of employees, in the past year contributing over 8000 hours through close to 2000 volunteering experiences. And in 2018, Origin Foundation received the inaugural Workplace Giving Australia Gold Award for “Best Pro Bono / Workplace Volunteering”. Judges commented on the impact demonstrated for both employees and partners, including through independent evaluation.

Feedback tells us that 84% of our volunteers feel the experience has increased their pride in working at Origin. 93% of managers who have approved volunteering find that volunteers return with new skills and useful perspectives. 80% of our corporate partners tell us that our volunteering program is valuable to them – through independent survey, but also through comments like this:

"We really do appreciate all the hard work and effort you have all put into this. I'm so proud of this partnership and this as proven again how important partners like Origin are to us. Thank you once again.” Billie Murphy, SolarBuddy

I hope volunteers will continue to wrap presents at Christmas. It’s an important and necessary task and it makes a difference. I also hope that corporate organisations will open their eyes, hearts and minds to the myriad of other opportunities to help – at Christmas and throughout the year.

Ruth Lee manages Give Time, the Origin volunteer program.

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