Pilotlight: Can volunteering improve your own business skills?

We’ve all been stopped in the street and asked to give money to a certain cause. But have you ever been asked to donate your business skills to a charity? Probably not, but giving time and skills to charities is becoming increasingly popular amongst senior business executives and not just to give them a warm glow at the end of the day.

Increasingly, many companies are seeing engagements with charities, that involve an exchange of skills, as a way to get their ‘high fliers’ thinking outside the box — developing their leadership skills, as well as engaging with their local community.

At Pilotlight we’ve been bringing together senior business people with charities for over ten years. In that time we’ve seen how companies really value charity engagements that are well managed and give senior executives learning and development opportunities.

Businesses increasingly tell us that they want to be more strategic in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR); while volunteer days for employees can see them carrying out worthwhile activities in their local community, such as painting a youth-club wall, many are increasingly looking for opportunities to use, and stretch, their business skills.

“We’ve all been stopped in the street and asked to give money to a certain cause. But have you ever been asked to donate your business skills to a charity? Probably not”

Many of the executives we work with have never volunteered before, and are sometimes uncertain how to manage their time and skills to make a real contribution to charities. We have found that facilitating the process, and measuring the outcomes means that time is spent efficiently and effectively.

Six months into the year long engagement (meeting once a month with the charity leadership team) the most common thing we hear is how much they have learnt, how they have honed their own skills by being placed in a team with executives from other companies and how working with a small charity has made them rethink the way they work. All skills they take back into the workplace. Elaine Maddison from Alliance Trust, the Dundee based investment and savings business, says she learnt a lot from working with a charity in this way:

It made me remember the passion that I have for what I do and I was able to take that back into my own organisation. It also gave me a fresh perspective and re-invigorated me when I went back to work.”

The charities gain too of course. As the charity sector continues to face a tough financial environment, many are looking for ways to gain business skills to enable them to grow and be sustainable. On average, after a year of working with their business team our charities increase their income by an average of 20% and are able to help 40% more people.

So what should people consider before getting involved with a charity?

  1. Determine how much time you have to offer and be disciplined about sticking to this. Many people feel unable to say no and are frustrated if too much is being asked of them, but if you’re clear about your commitment from the outset this can be avoided.
  2. Think about whether you’re looking to apply and use your commercial skills to offer strategic help to a charity or whether you’d like to help by rolling your sleeves up on some practical task.
  3. Consider carefully the types of organisations and causes you’d like to support and decide if it’s important to focus on a local community project or whether you can spread the net wider for the right volunteering opportunity
  4. Think about what you hope to gain from being involved and make sure you are clear with the charity about this. If you want to learn and develop your own skills then be sure to find an opportunity that will bring you satisfaction. The engagement is extremely powerful when both sides feel they are benefiting in some way.

Find out more about Pilotlight here: http://www.pilotlight.org.uk/discover/ 

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