Corporate-Community Volunteering 'Relationship' Needs Better Management
23 February 2008 at 12:09 pm
Corporate-community volunteering relationships in Australia need to be better managed to ensure they are mutually beneficial to both sectors according to a new report.
The report has been produced following a workshop with the organisations that facilitate corporate volunteering to discuss the challenges (particularly for the Not for Profit organisations) in managing corporate (employee) volunteering and how these challenges might be addressed.
The workshop took place in November 2007 under the former Prime Minister’s Partnership (which is now defunct) through the Department of Family, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FACSIA) and the change of government resulted in a delay in the final report being released until now.
Workshop participants included key organisations that have significant experience in working with the business sector and/or Not for Profit organisations to promote and support employee volunteering.
Participants highlighted the growing recognition of the importance of directing volunteers into areas that address real community need.
However, participants claimed that small community organisations are often limited in their capacity to host or resource a corporate volunteering program. These organisations, it was argued, often have trouble coordinating and resourcing volunteering opportunities.
Partly, to address this, some participants claimed that corporates need to be trained and educated with respect to the challenges that community organisations face. That is, goodwill from the corporate is not enough to ensure that a volunteering experience is useful to the community organisation.
At the same time, participants also acknowledged the need for the community sector to better understand the business sector and its drivers. It is not always a guarantee that a corporate is or will be 100% engaged with the volunteering opportunities offered to them. In fact, participants claimed that often the effort they had invested into making a ‘match’ had not eventuated into a volunteering opportunity.
The question around community organisational capacity was further highlighted on the issue of ‘relationship management’, where the importance of having a ‘partnership manager’ to maintain the relationship with the corporate partner was acknowledged – particularly by the brokers.
Challenges associated with this were raised whereby participants consistently highlighted issues around the additional resources required to better manage relationships with the corporate sector.
Participants argued that the community sector needs to be much clearer on its motivations for engaging in corporate relationships so that their program objectives are met. Community organisations need to ask: Why are we in it? and What are we willing to put into it?
Participants recognised that for corporate-community volunteering to be sustainable, implementing a robust evaluation system will be increasingly important.
Some participants have the awareness that the types of evaluations that can demonstrate the impacts of a volunteering program on the corporate, the community organisation and the communities impacted by the program are a very strategic next step. However, what to evaluate, how to evaluate and finding the internal resources (financial and non-financial) within the community organisation is currently a challenge.
Community organisations were yet to realise the possibility that their corporate partners might fund such evaluations – and this possibility should be seen as an important next phase.
Adding to these pressing challenges, community organisations face increasing demands made by funding bodies to acquit and report on funding expenditure and outcomes. The administrative demand of this consumes valuable time that could be otherwise spent hosting volunteers. Furthermore, administrative time involved in conducting criminal checks on potential corporate volunteers also limits the time capacity and exerts further pressure on the resources of community organisations.
Participants argued that business often has high and unrealistic expectations of what the community organisation can deliver. This is because business does not understand that many community organisations rely on volunteers. It was argued that business does not understand the machinations and challenges associated with volunteer based organisations.
Adding to the frustration, is the rising pressure on community organisations by corporates who want to determine where their volunteers will be placed and the activities they should be engaged in.
Brokers expressed the challenge they have in managing and accommodating the needs of their multiple corporate relations. Although the power balance between business and the community sectors is slowly shifting, many community organisations still accommodate, what are at times, unrealistic demands made by the corporate sector.
For some participants, too many negative experiences have resulted in serious consideration of a refusal to continue the engagement with corporate volunteering.
Some participants also argued that corporates need to be much more strategic and commit long-term to volunteering programs rather than participate in one-off cause-related events such as fundraising for breast cancer.
Participants further expressed their frustration at corporate volunteers that "just want to see the poverty" rather than volunteer or fund initiatives that build organisational or community capacity. These initiatives include volunteers transferring important skills such as strategic planning, research, IT support and so on.
In this sense participants highlighted the need to better educate the corporate sector on the types of support that it can provide to community organisations. This will ensure that outcomes are mutually beneficial and that corporate-community relations are aligned.
Some participants argued that they need more support from government and peak organisations like Nonprofit Australia.
One avenue of support could be for governments and peak bodies to take on the role of better educating the corporate sector.
It was claimed that the role of brokers needs to also be more clearly defined as well as the benefits of having a broker. In this way, brokers can better act as a hub for learnings as well as more effectively collaborate with and support smaller community organisations.
Participants also articulated the need for public education processes regarding standards of volunteering and commitment.
One of the challenges that the corporate sector faces is how to embed its community engagement approach rather than have it bolted-on, and the report says it is fair to say that most companies are yet to have developed systems and practices to achieved this.
Bernice Mahoney, the Volunteering Program Coordinator for South East Water, emphasised in her presentation a new shift in the company’s approach, claiming that South East Water is now taking a much more strategic approach to its volunteering program to ensure that it is more meaningful and with better outcomes.
In part, this involves a screening process that better matches the values of staff to causes. Employees that do not demonstrate a commitment to engage meaningfully in a particular program are, therefore, steered to a different opportunity that is better aligned with their values.
For many participants at the workshop, this corporate approach was seen as positive and demonstrated that some corporates, at least, are serious about their engagement.
The importance of this debate on the notion that volunteering is actually community engagement, is that it highlights the growing recognition that there needs to be a tighter link made between corporate volunteering and community capacity building outcomes.
The report says taking this argument to its logical conclusion means that there is no point in corporate volunteering if it is not going to effectively meet community need. Indeed, many participants made this argument.
It says this conclusion is progressive in that it opens avenues for much more strategic and meaningful engagement between both sectors where the outcomes are real and meaningful.
Pro Bono Australia was a participant in this workshop.