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Why sharing skills can be more valuable to charities than money donations

Donations of time and skills can help achieve ‘profound change’ within charities, says Goal

Donating to charity isn’t only about money. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Donating to charity isn’t only about money. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

Donating to charity isn’t only about money. A properly thought out corporate and social responsibility (CSR) programme can support charities through the donation of valuable employee time and skills too.

Though the common perception of CSR is of employees helping to clear gardens or paint rooms, in fact charities are much more likely to ask workers for expertise.

“Skill sharing is something we look for, particularly those skills we wouldn’t have ourselves,” says Amy Carr of Focus Ireland. “So for example it could be a technology company who partners with us to help us with IT training, both for ourselves and for our beneficiaries.”

One of the companies it partners with is catering and facilities management company Sodexo, which provides Focus Ireland beneficiaries with internships, to help them get back into the workplace.

New skills

“Securing an internship can help someone get back into the routine of going to work, or can help them build a CV and develop new skills,” she says.

Focus Ireland has also worked with companies specialising in human resources. Helping a young person develop a good CV can be transformational, particularly for someone who may have come through Focus Ireland’s services and who may, for whatever reason, have gaps in their formal education.

Organisations such as Business in the Community Ireland do enormous work showcasing the benefits to companies of getting involved in CSR activities. It runs a CSR accreditation standard, the Business Working Responsibly Mark, which a growing number of companies have achieved.

Different businesses will have different goals when it comes to CSR, and for the most part charities will always try to accommodate these.

“We try and be creative about working with them,” says Carr, pointing to the team involvement element of its partnership with Applegreen, and the more strategic approach taken in its partnership with Bord Gáis Energy, which has funded major new research into homelessness.

The benefits of CSR don’t all flow one way, she points out. It brings goodwill to the company and helps with recruitment, retention and engagement of staff. “Our clients tell us that the question of their CSR activities comes up all the time at interview stage, and has done since the recession,” she says.

For Eamon Sharkey, director of fundraising at Goal, donations of time and skills, particularly in relation to a special project, can help achieve “profound change” in how charities operate.

“Charities don’t have the same resources or potential for investment of the business world and therefore those with specialist talents, such as digital marketing, project management, communications, auditing and change management, are needed in charities,” he says.

Commitment

However, they only work if people are committed on both sides to optimising time and creating clear projects with well defined outcomes and timelines, he says. “Goal has benefited tremendously from the professional commitment of the business sector and the amazing commitment of volunteers who want to give back and do so in a very responsible manner.”

Concern has a number of corporate CSR partners, including Zurich Insurance and Kerry Group, which famously committed €1 million for Concern’s food programme in West Africa.

Many companies, including micro-enterprises, will select a charity to support each year. Whether that involves fundraising events, simple bucket collections or more formalised CSR activities, all can be a fun and bonding way for your employees to do good, points out Concern’s Richard Dixon. It can also help your business meet its own sustainability goals.

Having the people at the top share their skills is invaluable. Right now Ireland has visionary chief executives, founders and entrepreneurs across all sectors, from ICT to life sciences and financial services. “What we want are visionary donors who will come and bring that vision into the voluntary charities sector,” says Mary Gamble of Barnardos.

Enabling charities to get to grips with new technologies such as data analytics, which is being so successfully mined in the consumer sector, is an obvious case in point.

While charities will always need drive-by donations, what they crave when it comes to CSR is longer-term commitment. “At Barnardos Ireland we like to partner with companies that will stay with us for three to five years – and make a massive impact.”