Volunteering is big business

September 1, 2016

Corporate Australia is striving to affect positive change in communities, enhance brand reputations and increase employee satisfaction and loyalty.

A national survey of Australian volunteers found that in 2011, about 25 per cent of all volunteers worked for an organisation that offered employee volunteer programs. Since then, big business has become more aware of the role volunteer programs can play in an organisation’s overall approach to employee engagement and business strategy.

Volunteering Victoria Corporate Program Manager Vanessa Veldman says the benefits of a volunteer program to companies and their employees are many and varied.

“Employees are demanding more meaning from their work, customers shop more ethically and there are always communities in need,” Veldman says. “A strengthened and more productive workforce, increased brand recognition, enhanced reputation and a competitive advantage are just some of the benefits that will affect your bottom line.”

Deloitte’s 2016 Volunteer Impact Survey suggests volunteering experience helps to build leadership skills and is highly valued by HR professionals as a cost-effective, high impact training and development opportunity for staff.

Brands such as Lion, Wesfarmers, Vodafone and Mercer have carefully selected sponsorship agreements as part of their corporate social responsibility programs.

Wesfarmers aims at creating community value through partnerships that fit with its core business values, says Alister Jordan, Coles Director of Corporate Affairs and Coles Online.

“In the spirit of ‘a little better every day’, we support national and local charities with fundraising activity, donations of food and disaster relief,” Jordan says. “Our team members are passionate about making a positive contribution in the communities in which they work and live.”

Since 2011, Coles has donated more than 15 million kilograms of surplus fresh food to its shared value partner SecondBite. The items support community food programs for disadvantaged Australians. The supermarket chain has also raised more than $19 million for families affected by cancer through its partnership with national charity Redkite.

“In addition to our national charity partners, our team members drive our local community programs and every year they proudly raise awareness and funds for charities across Australia,” Jordan says.

Vodafone general manager of organisation effectiveness Vanessa Hicks says the telco helps charities that use mobile technology to improve the health of Australian communities and encourages employees to donate their expertise to community projects.

“Employees are empowered to get involved by using our charity partner apps to improve their own health and wellbeing,” Hicks says. “They can take a day per year to volunteer for a cause and have their fundraising matched by the Vodafone Foundation.”

Mercer’s people and culture leader Michele Glover says community partnerships are “authentic to our purpose of creating better lives”.

Mercer is the event sponsor for the South Australian Mercer SuperCycle charity fundraising ride and employees help organise, plan and run the events.

“We want to make a difference to people’s lives and encourage our colleagues, their friends and families to participate and donate to worthy causes,” Glover says. “Our involvement has grown to a true partnership that enables us to share professionalism, experience and knowledge.”

Libby Davidson, Lion general counsel and sustainability director says the company offers employees two days of leave each year to volunteer with the community organisation of their choice.

“We know that promoting community involvement correlates strongly with high levels of motivation at work,” Davidson says. “We aim to make a positive social contribution because it’s the right thing to do and will grow people and stakeholder engagement, improve trust in our brands and also, crucially, deliver new avenues for growth.”

It's all about making a difference in people's lives

In his efforts to cycle for charity, Travis spends many hours a week riding or coaching others to get fit and mentally ready for Mercer SuperCycle.

Travis was one of more than 90 people who volunteered time and effort to raise funds in this year’s ride to build houses to accommodate patients receiving cancer treatment in Adelaide hospitals.

He was captain of the Mercer team and helped train nine other riders in Melbourne. In giving back to the community Travis, who is part of Mercer’s learning and development team, has in turn gained many benefits from riding, such as improved fitness and forming firm friendships with work colleagues.

“Most people are either directly or indirectly affected by cancer - for me it has been my uncle, my colleagues and my friends,” he says. “All you want to do is help...  this is my way of doing that. What I do to help pales into insignificance when you consider the life of a cancer patient and their families. If I can help others make a difference then it is worth it.”

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