How voluntary organisations can engage with local business

Becoming involved with businesses is on the wishlist of many voluntary and community organisations reports The Guardian. The obvious reason is that business provides an attractive source of income as funding is cut. But there are other reasons too, not least that funders, contracts and tendering opportunities want volunteer involving organisations (VIOs) to become more business-like. Volunteers drawn from the corporate world can bring skills and expertise that otherwise may be beyond the reach of many organisations.

According to Volunteering England, more than 70% of the FTSE 100 companies have an established employer supported volunteer (ESV) programme. However, many VIOs will be targeting small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who operate in their local community. The bad news is less than a quarter of these companies have a formal ESV programme. So why the difference?

What drives and motivates SMEs very often is survival, and the simple need to make profit. We are operating in difficult financial times so although many businesses would like to support local charity or voluntary groups, unless it makes financial sense they won’t.

When approaching local business, most VIOs forget the above and start their sales pitch based on what their organisation does, who it benefits and what they need to continue or expand their work. This simply does not add any profit to the bottom line of the company they are talking to, so as much as the company may theoretically support their work, the decision to invest is not based on any sound financial footing. If there is no return on investment, there is no incentive to invest.

VIO’s must sell the business benefit of volunteering to the company. They need to answer the important question of what can they add to the company’s profits or how they can help it save money. If, as a VIO, your immediate thought is that the answer is nothing or that you can’t save them any money, think again.

In a 2010 survey by YouGov, 96 per cent of managers believed that workplace skills can be gained through volunteering, with 57 per cent believing that skills gained from volunteering can fill the gaps in the workplace. This is a powerful tool to begin a presentation with when thinking about how much training can cost per employee per year for a business, compared with volunteering. There is some really interesting reading and costings on the subject.

Another way ‘in’ to business is to look at how donating employees time can create tax incentives and benefits, which can save money. There are some great resources that clearly explain the rules and can be a useful starting point on which to base a presentation.

It also pays to research the business you wish to engage with, to understand their ethos and their structure, the skills they have and if possible identify gaps in their knowledge or resources that volunteering may be able to fill. This should help bring together a formal, structured offer that clearly highlights the benefits to both parties, with tangible outcomes.