You can enhance leadership while making a difference

volunteer

In the first series of the Small Business Success series GIO presents instalment seven: ‘Enhancing leadership whilst making a difference: SME Outreach.’

Can small businesses represent the next outreach of organisation volunteering?

Traditionally, the helping hand offered to smaller and less funded organisations has extended from the larger corporates in a position to advocate their community arm. The outlook that small businesses do not have the resources to offer their services in a volunteer setting may be one that lacks strategic thinking, as there are many opportunities that volunteering presents for both the business owner and their staff which go beyond profit.

The sense of leadership gained from volunteering is invaluable and establishes a place for businesses within the community. SMEs should be readily embracing this practice more as it is far reaching and could pay long term dividends for a business profile.

Do small businesses in Australia engage in volunteering?

According to the latest Sensis Business Index around 36 percent of SMEs are volunteering their support and expertise in a community setting.

What is involved?

An SME can extend business support by giving their employees allocated volunteer time to utilise within the greater community. Larger corporate organisations have an allocation of one paid day per year to volunteer their skill base within an environment or organisation which can utilise the assistance of a third party work authority. SMEs may not be in a position to have this as a mandatory practice, however it should be encouraged.

A business owner may ask ‘can I afford to offer my staff one paid leave day a year for volunteer activities? And will I be able to cover their absence?’ These are all constructive points to raise. But when thinking about reducing retention it could be a preventative measure which uplifts staff morale:

“Employer-led programs could take the form of an individual annual staff team activity, or a weekly task which many different employees could share. If you are a sole trader, you can simply volunteer some of your own time and skills to a good cause,” Volunteering NSW, 2012.

Who benefits?

Volunteering has dual benefits for both the SME and staff who are offering and engaging their time, and as well as the receiving organisation.

Think of industries which are exposed to a small cross section of the community, such as a corporate office worker, and expose them to a day working in a low socio-economic environment. The benefits are invaluable; the employee gains a sense of appreciation and a larger, realistic perspective on the world, meets new people, improves their communication skills, quietly raises their business profile, sees how another organisation operates, and is able to offer expertise in their field.

For example, every year ANZ offers all their staff at least one paid volunteer day a year in order for them to participate in a community setting through a wide range of initiatives and projects. Since 2005, their employees have contributed to more than 500,000 volunteer hours to outreach programs. Larger organisations like this set an example for smaller businesses wanting to give back to the community, as it is scheduled into the working calendar and is treated as professional development.

Why should small businesses be offering their professional services to the community?

SME volunteering is a well-rounded exercise which contributes to higher staff morale, professional development, decreases retention, raises a company’s sense of social consciousness, and is also a good way to connect to potential new customers.

Is it relevant to my business?

Any small business which offers a service or customer base can extend even the smallest amount of support for those in need of professional assistance, such as not-for-profit organisations with small operating budgets and resources. Unfortunately, not all organisations are in a position where they have good infrastructure, government support, adequate staffing, and technology. They rely heavily on Good Samaritan patrons and public support to keep their businesses running. Think of it as a karmic business practice to offer assistance to an organisation that is less advantaged. For example, a small business operator for a café or restaurant could offer their professional services to volunteer for food services, assisting as a community restaurant assistant, kitchen hand, food packer or meal delivery driver. 

Ways that you may volunteer your services:

  •  Business mentoring
  •  Administration and office ad hoc
  •  Marketing and PR
  •  Hospitality
  •  Retail
  •  Event Coordination and Management
  •  Fundraising and Community Partnerships
  •  Environmental

A small business which is tight on resources can still volunteer expertise but can operate from their home base so they are not overly inconvenienced for their time. For example, some SME executives offer administrative experience in the way of databases – an area which many not-for-profits struggle to maintain. This could involve a day of building up a spreadsheet and administering off-line work that can be done easily from home, and distributed over email.

Recommendations

Operating as Australia’s peak body for membership and organisational volunteer placement for the last 15 years, Volunteering Australia recommends choosing an organisation which aligns with your business model as this may grow your profile in the long term. As important as it is to think about the ‘heart’ momentum, it’s also just as vital to think strategically about how you can benefit from the volunteer exchange:

“Consider whether the charity or non-profit organisation is aligned with, or related to, your company’s industry, product segment, or goals because if it is, you are more likely to be volunteering alongside others who may have an interest in your business,” Volunteering Australia.

Joining a voluntary-focused organisation means that SMEs have an opportunity to participate in accredited training, receive the latest in industry information, and receive on-going leadership incentives which are streamlined for business owners looking at community volunteering in the long term.

You can grow your SME leadership skills and volunteer with your community with the help of Volunteering Australia.