Volunteering takes many forms. One of them is using the skills developed in the corporate world to help a charity. Graham Frankland, National Grid’s Corporate Responsibility and Citizenship Manager, explains how skills exchange can benefit everyone involved.
One of the guiding principles at National Grid is supporting and helping the communities where we work and operate so those communities can thrive. Employee volunteering is one of the ways we do that.
Community action days and work parties are the traditional face of company volunteering. Working alongside community groups on jobs like gardening and painting helps build personal relations and community spirit. Our volunteers find the experience rewarding from a team building point of view and while charities do benefit, lawyers or other professionals painting a wall might not be the best volunteering work they could do for that charity.
Increasingly, we’re finding our business skills can make a significant difference to charities. Any help we can give in areas such as HR, the law, bookkeeping, mentoring and project management is of huge value.
Matching businesses with charities
We support a national network of organisations called the Skills Exchange Alliance which promotes skills based volunteering. National Grid is a core member of the alliance and I’m proud to be its chair.
Our goal is to promote and encourage more companies to get involved in volunteering through skills exchange, and to look for opportunities around where they live and work.
Exchanging skills means employees typically work alongside a charity or community group over a number of weeks or months supporting them on a specific project or goal. The employees share their skills and experience with the charity and crucially also learns new skills themselves.
At National Grid, our Good Leaders programme matches our people with charities. It placed Asset Health Manager Matt Hateley with the Westfield Community Centre in Hinckley, Leicestershire. He was able to provide strategic insight, expertise and input into a recently developed sustainability plan. For Matt, the placement was just a start. He continued working with the centre in his own time and is now one of its trustees.
Opportunities to develop
The benefits both ways are huge. Charities tell us it greatly helps them and ultimately the people using their services, and from our point of view it gives employees opportunities to develop as well. They gain fresh skills and engage in a whole new area with a new set of people. They find out about working with bigger teams, including ‘virtual’ teams, and also learn about and connect with the communities where they live and work. About 40 National Grid people are currently volunteering through skills exchange.
As funding becomes tighter in the charity sector, we’re also seeing a need for a different kind of community action day that is a true skills exchange.
For example, we will send a team to help a group of young people with things like CV writing and interview skills. Here there’s a double benefit. While the young people experience a mock interview, our employees have a chance to be the interviewer and develop their skills in that arena.
Important role of brokers
The Skills Exchange Alliance is a government-backed initiative, run through the Office for Civil Society (OCS). The OCS is heavily involved alongside the private sector, the charity or ‘third’ sector, and also broker organisations. Brokers help businesses find charities and volunteering opportunities.
This can be quite an important role. The UK is rich in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which don’t necessarily have the luxury of someone looking after their corporate responsibility full-time. So if a business doesn’t know where to start or get involved in volunteering, a local brokerage company will help it find local charities or community groups with volunteering opportunities. It’s a good way of volunteering in the community where you’re based.
I’m delighted to be chair of a group of fantastic organisations and to work alongside people who are passionate about skills exchange and volunteering to help local communities and charities.
You can find out more about the Skills Exchange Alliance and a survey carried out by Zurich Insurance Foundation here.