Manawatu employers told volunteering a win-win-win

Notes for speech by Who Did You Help Today Chief Executive, Sue McCabe.

To the Manawatu Chamber of Commerce Business After 5 Function

Hosted by the Volunteer Resource Centre and the Palmerston North Community Services Council as part of the Community Toolbox, and supported by Ricoh.

13 July 2017

Kia ora koutou.

Congratulations to the Volunteer Resoure Centre and the Palmerston North Community Services Council for their Community Toolbox Day.

I never cease to be impressed by the amazing work occurring in communities - by volunteers, not for profits, local and central government, funders, sponsors, and companies.

I’m a believer in the need for us to develop ‘megacommunities’ if we are to fix some of the really entrenched problems our societies face.

Megacommunities bring together government, corporate and not for profits to work determinedly and collaboratively towards shared objectives.  Megacommunities recognise and respect the different, complementary and vital role each sector plays in a healthy society.

Manawatu will already have megacommunities working on key issues. Tonight we have the makings of more megacommunities in this room, with influencers and changemakers present.

My challenge to you is: who else can you work with that has different skills, perspectives, networks and levers they can pull, to effect greater positive change?

What is the issue that you’re going to focus on and who do you need in your megacommunity to make it happen? Who are you going to help?

I work for a trust called Who Did You Help Today? The trust’s name comes from its founder, Stacey Shortall. She has asked her children every night since they could talk: Who Did You Help Today?

As Stacey says - it doesn’t matter whether the act is a small gesture or a big effort - helping makes a real difference to the lives of others.

The trust works to grow the helping movement and also runs skilled volunteering programmes that offer more pathways for New Zealanders to take action. Mobilising more helping and volunteering is our contribution to the outcome that most of us want – a happier, healthier and wealthier NZ.

There are many employers in this room. As an employer you have huge power to help your community. You’ll know there are many options as to how you make a contribution, so you can pick one or a few that fit with your values and interests.

Tonight I’m going to focus on one really good option – volunteering. Employee volunteering is a win-win-win. That’s three wins – for the community group, the volunteer, and the employer. It’s one more than your usual win-win. Volunteering is that good!

The first win is for the not for profit. This is the benefit people usually think of. Not for profits are full of hugely talented and committed people, but they often don’t have enough hands to do the work.

Many are not sufficiently resourced to employ all the specialist skills they could benefit from. So if you could volunteer your skills – eg your business planning nous; your coaching skills; your digital marketing or IT expertise – it’ll really help.

General volunteering boosts a NFPs capacity and skills-based volunteering boosts capability. In NZ not for profits contribute nearly $5.96b to our Gross Domestic Product. They deliver vital services as well as often being intangible glue strengthening communities. So we should support them and volunteering is a good way.

The second win is for the volunteer. Data abounds showing how volunteers benefit from the experience.

Statistics NZ says volunteers have higher life satisfaction than non-volunteers. So if you encourage your staff to volunteer – you’re increasing their happiness.

They learn: about a new topic; how a differently structured or sized organisation works. They may engage with different working styles and need to think more carefully about how to apply their transferable skills.

Its good for career development.  In preparing this speech I looked at 2016 research by Deloitte that showed volunteering develops communication skills, strengthens accountability and commitment. It helps individuals develop strong character. These are all traits described as leadership “must haves”.

92 per cent of respondents in the survey said volunteering improves employees’ broader professional skillset and is a way to improve leadership skills.

It often gives staff confidence and they can ‘step up’ to take on new roles in volunteering. I’m co-founder with Gail Marshall of a volunteer scheme called the Community Comms Collective. We match experienced comms professionals with community groups.

We’ve sometimes gently persuaded a volunteer to step outside their comfort zone – knowing there was enough of a knowledge gap that they’d deliver real value to the organisation. We’ve had feedback about the increase in confidence that this has delivered. We’ve encouraged senior advisor-level staff to step up to provide ‘coaching’, where coaching involves a mix of asking the questions but also providing technical advice.

The third win is for employers. Volunteering increases staff engagement and staff engagement increases productivity.

Younger staff are increasingly looking to work for employers where there are aligned values. Working for an employer that enables them to ‘give back’ is desirable. So if you want to attract and keep younger top talent – think broader than pay and  traditional professional development techniques.

The Deloitte survey I mentioned earlier found the majority of respondents wanted an employer to give them volunteering leave.

Volunteering supports organisations that strengthen New Zealand, socially, environmentally and economically. It therefore improves the eco-system your business operates in.

Helping out in the community is also good for your reputation – people like corporates who care.

So I’ve just said volunteering helps not for profits; will make your staff happier; give them greater confidence and help them develop new skills and experiences; meanwhile increasing their goodwill toward you and their productivity. Therefore it’s good for your bottom line, your reputation, and you’ll just feel good.  Win-win-win.

I’m sure many of you already have staff who volunteer, but hopefully I’ve convinced the remainder of you to invest in giving your staff two days paid volunteering leave each year.

So let’s move to talk about types of volunteering.

Often when an employer (and many not for profits) think volunteering they automatically go to ‘general’ volunteering – how they can be, or use, an extra set of hands. For example, a team building day weeding or painting a fence.

Or they think of individual volunteering that doesn’t involve your professional skills. Another traditional volunteering type is someone who performs a set amount of hours regularly.  These are all great and needed options.

But volunteer trends are changing. While we’ve got more people volunteering (Statistics New Zealand’s last count was 1.2m NZers), they’re doing fewer hours. With busier lives volunteers are becoming more selective about what they do.

The latest Volunteering New Zealand State of Volunteering Report highlighted these trends and suggested NPFs consider project-based volunteering. This also fits nicely with what an employer will often be able to offer a volunteer – a set amount of paid employee leave.

One of the Who Did You Help Today projects is a platform called HelpTank ( which focusses on skilled volunteering. HelpTank launched last month on June 13 – it’s one month old.

HelpTank will get more NFPs, volunteers and employers engaged in skilled volunteering as a way to support the efficiency and effectiveness of our not for profits.

Research the trust undertook last year of volunteers, charities and not for profits found there is significant potential to progress NZ through skilled volunteering. It found:

  • Not for profits often struggled to find specialist skills pro bono unless they could call on people they knew
  • People with specialist skills who wanted to volunteer found it hard to connect with an organisation that wanted their area of expertise
  • Employers offering paid employee leave were seeing low employee uptake – generally because of the difficulty staff had in connecting with the right charity.

One of the employers doing really well in this area is Z Energy. It has a huge community commitment through its Good in the Hood programme, and it’s gives its staff two days’ volunteering leave. Its leave uptake rate is about 15 percent – and I haven’t come across higher. Z’s belief in the value of volunteering as well as funding charities saw it give the trust a sizeable donation that enabled HelpTank to be developed. 

For bigger companies like Z, HelpTank has features allowing them to see staff volunteer activity, collect data and feedback, and demonstrate the community impact of the investment. As I said before – corporates have so much power to do good – whether a small act or a large gesture.

Our current focus with HelpTank is talking to NFPs about what specialist skills they might need or benefit from.

I’m talking with Norelle from your local volunteer centre about how HelpTank can complement the centre’s efforts in the skilled volunteering space to support its important work to help NFPs to find volunteers, and volunteers to find the right role. One way we can potentially help is our platform offers virtual volunteering where a local community group may need to look outside of the Manawatu for a specialist skill or vice versa.

HelpTank is focussed on pro bono volunteering – where people donate the skills they use in their day job. Rather than volunteering where people seek to get work experience in a new area, or undertake general volunteering - that a wide range of people could do. It’s skills like: strategy, facilitation, business planning, communications, marketing, IT, HR, policies and processes, research, measurement, coaching and mentoring etc.

It’s worth discussing how we can more effectively use volunteers to help not for profits hum. 

I’d like to finish off by talking about the magic of volunteering. There’s a magic in connecting with groups and parts of society we don’t normally come into contact with. This increases our understanding of people and our appreciation of difference. It increases our empathy. I have grown most as a person through engagement I’ve had with people who are different, not those who are the same as me. Sometimes it’s been challenging.

I have issued two calls to action tonight – a strategic and practical one.  

The strategic challenge is that you work out what societal change you’re going to contribute to – if you haven’t already. And, instead of just doing your bit, please work out how you can engage those from different sectors to make your efforts more transformational. Build your megacommunities.

The second challenge is practical – Get volunteering. It’s an easy building block towards a megacommunity. Make magic happen.