Volunteering: The ultimate act of kindness
8 April 2021 at 7:00 am
We must change the perception of volunteerism, so it is no longer viewed as a transactional model of helping, but rather an act of making a difference and addressing key issues in society, writes Bruce Argyle from Bendigo Bank.
The benefits of volunteering are well understood across the community. On one hand, organisations on the receiving end receive the help, the time, the interaction and the tasks completed by someone not looking to get paid for their work. For volunteers, there is the feel-good factor of knowing their time and contributions are helping someone in need. It’s a powerful dynamic with valuable rewards for everyone involved. At its heart, volunteering is a selfless gesture. It’s a way of giving time, offering your skills, or lending resources to someone who could use the help. It’s a valuable way to build community, encourage collaboration and strengthen social connectivity.
It’s no surprise, then, that more than 6 million Australians volunteer their time each year. That’s almost one in three people over the age of 15. Volunteering plays an enormous, and sometimes unseen role in our economy and the broader community.
Volunteering is the backbone of a strong civil society, but wider societal change is challenging the traditional approach to volunteering. People are carrying less cash, working longer hours and, prior to COVID-19, spending more time commuting. The demands on people’s time are making it harder and harder for not for profits to find people willing to give their time as volunteers. Demographic changes are also proving a challenge with older people more likely to volunteer their time. These factors are contributing to a decline in volunteering across the Australian community.
Despite this, interest in corporate volunteering is growing. More businesses are introducing programs under their corporate social responsibility action plans to give back to the community. But volunteering is not just a box to tick. It provides numerous benefits for employees – building a positive internal workplace culture which is proven to improve productivity and contribute to long-term sustainability.
Given the importance volunteering plays in the community, it is vital not for profits, corporates, and governments work together to create innovative ways to engage volunteers that go beyond traditional methods. All of us have a role in rethinking our approach to volunteering to address some of the challenges putting downward pressure on volunteer rates. For example, corporates and businesses have an opportunity to create and embrace a culture of giving. Shifting our approach to volunteering away from the transactional and towards a core part of running a successful business is essential. After all, if the community you are operating in is a vibrant, healthy and growing one, the better your business will perform.
Bendigo Bank has recognised this by strengthening its volunteer policies. During the Black Summer Bushfires, the bank supported staff who were volunteer firefighters with unlimited paid natural disaster leave. This meant staff did not have to worry about paying bills while they were helping their local community respond to the devastating events. It is a recognition that building strong communities cannot be achieved in the traditional two days each year. Modern pressures require modern responses.
Not for profits can also think differently about their approach to volunteering. With less people carrying cash, particularly post COVID-19, engaging volunteers to coin rattle at traffic lights may not be the best use of volunteer time. Engaging businesses with corporate volunteering programs to share skills and knowledge that might be otherwise unaffordable for not for profits is a great place to start. For example, a company who specialises in communications can offer training on social media or media engagement. Building websites and designing marketing material are also valuable skills that many not for profits wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise – so businesses specialising in those areas could volunteer their resources to make a real impact.
Businesses have skill sets, knowledge bases and resources that are invaluable to organisations who may not have the funds to hire professional help. If corporates and businesses volunteered to train organisations and offered to share some of their valuable resources like office space, the benefits would be immense for not-for-profit organisations.
We must change the perception of volunteerism. It should no longer be viewed as a transactional model of helping, but rather an act of making a difference and addressing key issues in society. By understanding that volunteerism is a key to inclusiveness and belonging, we can create a stronger civil society, where communities are united, and can maximise their potential.
Once we embrace the idea that we are all connected, that asking for help is ok, and that offering help is even better, our society, our communities and our organisations will thrive. We will be able to embrace the act of volunteering for impact and come to realise that even as strangers we can be connected by a simple act of kindness in the form of volunteering.