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Should charities volunteer at companies?

Should charities volunteer at companies?
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Should charities volunteer at companies?

Fundraising | Celina Ribeiro | 21 Nov 2012

If corporates see so much value in having staff volunteer, maybe charities should start sending their employees off to give their time to companies, says Celina Ribeiro.

Corporate philanthropy can be a tricky thing to come by, so charities may be forgiven for not being too demanding when they do manage to bag a corporate partner. But perhaps it’s time for charities to think more about what they can get from corporates, rather than what they can receive.

It’s more than just a rhetorical difference between getting and receiving. Getting implies that you know what you want. Receiving means you take what you’re given.

Often to the chagrin of charities, a great proportion of charity of the year partnerships involve staff volunteering by the company. It’s not because corporates are gagging to see the backs of their employees. Altruism aside, it assists recruitment, boosts retention, improves staff morale, develops skills, allows for networking and provides rewards. In fact, Fundraising’s Corporate Partnerships Survey 2012 found that one in five corporate partnerships last year involved the charity having to train or teach the company’s staff, and a further 26.8 per cent of partnerships required that the charity provide networking opportunities for staff and management. Volunteering benefits companies, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.

So when it comes to volunteering, it may actually be better to give than to receive. Charity staff need motivating, need skills-sharing as much as any in the private sector. Why are they denied the benefits of volunteering? Voluntary sector employees might be a special breed, but they are employees nonetheless and would also get a kick out of some of that training, networking and exposure to alternate operations that the corporate sector values so highly.

A recent report by C&E found that companies had a far higher regard for the professionalism and effectiveness of charity partners than those charities thought they did. Charities are efficient, are often exceptional at marketing, have sound management techniques, know how to innovate on a budget, as well as having expert and unique knowledge in specific areas of health, environment, social care and the like. Skills worthy of sharing.

Some of this may take the guise of training programmes some charities, like the Fawcett Society, already run. But there is not enough recognition in the charity sector that the skills within it are valuable and worthy of sharing. Taking this attitude to a corporate partner relationship would mean not only that a charity selects its corporate partners more in line with its own mission and need, but that partnership becomes more equal. For that matter, why aren’t charities calling their corporate partners their ‘Company of the Year’ partners? With the CSR agenda rising higher and higher up the priority list, could it be possible that charities invite companies to pitch for a partnership with them? What company wouldn’t love to be associated with an innovative, effective, loved organisation that ties in with its core market and goals?

I’ve been interviewing companies about their charity partnerships for years now, and repeatedly I hear the call for a partnership. A relevant partnership. For the charity to engage with them as much as they attempt to engage with the charity. What better engagement than sending your people – and not just your CEO or beneficiaries thanking the company – into an office and working alongside others. And what a refreshing pitch to a company, that you value your own staff so much that you would like them to share their skills with the company. If the benefit of volunteering truly is mutual, it should not matter on whose turf it takes place.

Charity brands, charity expertise and charity employee skills – these must stop being under-valued. 

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Celina Ribeiro

Celina Ribeiro is the editor of Fundraising magazine and daily contributor to CivilSociety.co.uk.

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