Corporates misusing volunteering, say non-profits in research
29 August 2006
by Leon Gettler
A special report has found frustrations and recriminations spilling over from both sectors.
Non-profits claim that corporations are just using volunteering as a cheap team-building exercise. From their side, the corporations say it's not about team building and that the charities are just chasing handouts.
The report from Sydney's University of Technology researcher Hayley Hext identified massive gaps and proposes strategies that could help the two camps understand each other better and work more effectively together.
Based on interviews with 10 non-profit organizations and 10 corporations, all of them unidentified, the study found that charities felt the corporations were just using volunteering as a cheap way to build teams, with the non-profits often picking up such costs as paint, gardening, equipment, barbecue lunches, travel costs, even hiring someone on $30,000 to $40,000 a year to manage the corporate volunteers. According to the study, many non-profits felt the corporations should be making some sort of financial contribution.
But most corporations had budgets to pay for the costs, or could bankroll the programme other ways with, for example, the team's business unit paying for it out of a discretionary fund, or fund-raising to cover costs.
But while most corporations were happy to cover costs, they did not warm to the idea of the non-profit making money out of the exercise by charging a fee for service as a way of raising funds.
"Corporates thought that non-profits should move away from the mentality of chasing cash donations as corporations cannot fill the funding gap left by government not providing sufficient funds for ongoing core programs," the report said.
Another big problem was finding suitable volunteering opportunities, particularly when it came to having contact with the non-profit's clients — for example, disadvantaged young people, in what could turn out to be awkward and uncomfortable situations.
As one non-profit worker said: "They say they want to do a volunteer day where they play games with the kids, etc, and they get there and none of them speak to the kids …
"The corporate needs to pick people who really want to work with disadvantaged young people and are going to be understanding of the issues that they face."
The corporations said their employees preferred activities where they could see their work making a difference.
They did not want the non-profits manufacturing volunteering activities, such as painting a wall, that were not needed.
Gina Anderson, chief executive officer of Philanthropy Australia, said both sides lacked an understanding of the other.
She said one solution was for the corporation and non-profit organization to write a memorandum of understanding, or have written agreement, when going into partnership.
Another idea was for the corporations to invite the non-profit partner into the workplace to give them some idea of — for example — what a dealing room or call centre looked like and how it operated, and to learn about reporting lines.