For over 35 years, I have worked in the ‘for profit’ sector whilst also volunteering in the ‘not for profit’ or ‘for purpose’ sector. This has enabled me to gain a broader range of experience and increased skills than either one could have provided on their own, and each sector has gained as a result.
For example, in my early career in Sales, I learnt how to negotiate and bargain – this has stood me in good stead in the charitable sector where the volunteers cannot be cajoled into doing unpopular tasks with ‘it’s part of your job’ or the carrot of a payrise or bonus. Equally, more recently I have learnt how to listen properly, not just to what is being said but also to what is being left out and how it is delivered – this is essential to my role as a Listening Volunteer with Samaritans. I have become a far better manager, more in tune with my team – their ups and downs, where they are struggling and how they are feeling. The result is that my team became more cohesive, happier and thus more productive.
This led me on to thinking about the links between the for profit and for purpose sectors, and how these could be further developed to mutual benefit.
We frequently see pictures in the paper of companies raising money for charity with sponsored sports events or coffee mornings. These are great events and raise much needed funds for the voluntary sector, but does it really add value to either organisation? How much more beneficial if there was real synergy between the for profit and for purpose sector? What skills could both learn and how could each party benefit on a longer term basis?
Anecdotal research shows that most people want to be able to feel they have reached their full potential, they want to continue to learn and develop in a way that suits them. It is also accepted that when people are able to give of their skills and time to help others, it is more meaningful and rewarding that simply just putting their hands in their pocket.
With the plethora of different charities around now supporting animals, children, health, arts, heritage, environment etc. etc. it can be overwhelming to choose one or two organisations, so many just avoid all giving. This is especially true when times are hard and it takes all of your pay packet to make ends meet.
So could businesses find a local community group, voluntary organisation or national charity whose aims and ethos are in tune with their own and offer to pair up? What would be the benefits?
For the ‘for purpose’ organisation, it could be extra hands to help at events or practical help such as painting or maintenance work. It could be help with fundraising or it could be mentoring members of the charity to help them in their role such as finance, publicity or day to day management and administration. Voluntary organisations are always looking for extra help and if your offer coincides with their needs, then they could benefit enormously.
But what is in it for the for profit organisation? Working together on a project that is not linked to people’s paid employment could provide a real sense of belonging and achievement, it adds to the team spirit which will be taken back to the workplace. It is more likely those involved will see the end result of their work; this is particularly true of large organisations, where many employees will only see part of the process and not the finished product – in the voluntary sector, the outcomes are likely to be more instant and more visible. Those participating will learn new skills that they can take back to the workplace. Ultimately though, where businesses have been able to create strong links with one or more voluntary or community organisations, the employees have felt a great sense of self worth and belonging to their organisation which is vital to high staff morale, retention and recruitment. A reputation as a good employer who cares about their community and environment will also enhance the organisations’ reputation in the marketplace.
So hopefully in the future, more businesses will see the benefit of working together with a local community group, charity or voluntary organisation for mutual benefit and not as a one off event.