Linking Purpose to commerce


“I have a strong opinion that the sooner we can have people addressing social issues through financially profitable businesses, the better. Unfortunately, we live in a world with increasing costs of addressing social issues and if we need to continue relying on donor dollars to address them, it’s going to take us longer to achieve the results we’re after.”

This is a quote from a conversation with my friend and a fellow member of my local entrepreneurial community Omar de Silva, the Co-Founder and CEO of The Plato Project. Omar, like many of us, seeks more than the accumulation of wealth from his life. As a board advisor for The Snowdome Foundation, he has spent the past five years donating his professional expertise to helping the non-profit find better treatments and ultimately a cure for blood cancers. His successes with Snowdome include contributing to the efforts that won the charity a Telstra Business Award in 2016, a victory that proved to him that money doesn’t need to be involved in professional and personal accomplishment.

The Death of Traditional Corporate Volunteering?

If your organisation has ever paid a charity to run a “staff volunteering day”, then you could be wasting a whole lot of money and valuable volunteering resources. Organising an entire company or department to work in a soup kitchen for a day or visit a children’s ward may feel like you’re making a difference, but more often than not, the cause you’re trying to help is significantly disrupted by the time you’re spending there. As a rule of thumb, if you’re paying for the opportunity to volunteer your staff’s services, then you’re doing it wrong. Instead of spending your money and staff’s time on a paid volunteering opportunity, it might be better to donate your team’s time in the form of skilled volunteering. Skilled volunteering utilises the highly valuable services that individuals and teams within your organisation can offer (such as marketing, finance, legal, or administrative services) and donates them to non-profits free of charge.

Tess Melville, Volunteer Services Coordinator for Make-A-Wish Australia, is a witness to the power of skilled volunteering, “The volunteer sector is in a state of change, this is exciting but also a challenge for non-profits to re-think the way we work.” Tess not only supports skilled volunteering but sees it as something that, if ignored, will have dire consequences for non-profit organisations, “The traditional model of volunteering is not sustainable, in order for us to continue to grant wishes for years to come we need to think about how we can change with the sector and not be left behind.” For the same amount of money that you would donate to an organisation for a “volunteers’ day out”, you could also be providing non-profit organisations with access to an online skilled volunteering platform. Not only would that amount provide your company and staff with access to skilled volunteering opportunities, but it would also provide a return of 20x the value of every dollar spent by your business.

The benefit of good CSR to the bottom line

There are multiple reports that link “goodness” to employee satisfaction and retention (a great summary is provided by BCorp here), and there was a significant study back in 2008 that positively linked CSR to “perceived quality of the products offered and consumer satisfaction”. Repeated studies since the early 2000’s have continued to show that businesses who align their commercial activity with community and causes will see a significant return on their bottom line through increased staff retention, productivity, and increased brand desirability. REA Group is one of an increasing number of progressive purpose-driven companies that no longer even view the phrase “Corporate Social Responsibility” as a relevant term, as it implies that a company only invests in its’ purpose-driven activities because it has to. Indeed, REA Group’s track record in giving back to the community shows that the company is viewing “CSR” as anything but a “box to tick”.

In 2014, REA Group and Launch Housing created the national Rapid Rehousing Fund, an initiative which so far has supported more than 1,100 women and children around Australia who were experiencing or at risk of homelessness. As a part of its wider Because We Care employee “give back” program, REA Group also prides itself on enabling its employees to support local communities through a number of different programs. The group’s Head of Community Partnerships & Engagement, Jessica Christie, agrees that the commercial impact the business’ community partnerships & engagement program has on the company is incredibly positive, saying: “When businesses form authentic community partnerships and genuinely support their people to give back to the community, employee engagement goes up and people outside the business want to be a part of it – both the community and the company benefit.”

Australia Post’s Corporate Responsibility Manager, Miguel Oyarbide, affirms this, “CSR is more than just a nice thing to do on top of everything else. We know that the value we create goes beyond financial terms – and from that perspective, CSR is about being true to our purpose.” As a 208-year-old organisation, Australia Post links its long-term sustainability with its focus on recognising and responding to social and environmental challenges, “CSR provides a powerful lens to help us identify and address risks, attract and retain talented employees, meet stakeholder expectations, innovate, gain competitive advantage and respond to changing market demands.”

Purpose: The New Disruptor

What digital started doing fifteen years ago, CSR and the concept of “purpose” are starting to do now. You may not be at risk of suddenly losing drastic market share to competitors who are implementing commercially aligned CSR programs, but the failure to act now will leave you stranded when the tide really starts to change. The risks of not acting include alienation from your customers, disengaged and disinterested employees (particularly millennials), and smaller margins. Investing in a commercially aligned CSR program is not expensive, and the immediate benefits to the causes and communities that you care about are incredibly high.

See also: Serve and Vollie: how Matthew Boyd’s start-up is streamlining Australia’s volunteer sector


About the author

Matthew Boyd is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Vollie, a platform that connects skilled Australians with non-profit organisations to unlock skills-based remote volunteering. Matt has close to a decade of experience working with non-profits, having helped to raise more than $1 million in funding and volunteer value across children’s charities, mental health NFPs, animal welfare groups, environmental charities and more.