Skills-based volunteering in Singapore

File photo of construction workers in Singapore. (Photo: TODAY)

What am I good at? What does the community need? What do I want to do for them?

These were the 3 questions that the Minister for the Ministry of Social and Family Development, Mr Chan Chun Sing, asked the audience at the "Redefining Community Giving" conference last Thursday, 9 October 2014. Organised by Empact, the conference aimed to raise awareness of alternate means of giving that contribute to society and social organisations (SO); beyond the traditional method of giving through financial support or donations to Skills-Based Volunteering (SBV). 

As defined by CSR Asia's publication, SBV uses the skills, knowledge, experiences, talent and expertise of employees and matches them with the needs of communities, social businesses, local governments and not for profit organisations. SO tackling social issues/needs may not have the access to vital resources or skills to function as an organisation efficiently and scale up their impact. Through SBV, corporates support NGOs with resources and skills to build their capacity to scale up their impacts to the community. 

In order to plan out a well-thought SBV programme that benefits both corporate and SO (not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises), both parties need to set objectives for the long-term partnership and SBV programme, understand each other's organisation, individual needs and expectations. SO need to know what they want to achieve and gain out of the partnership and programme. This includes assessing the skills that they lack of and their internal structure and processes for gaps that need to be addressed or worked on. Corporates need to know what their objectives are and what internal resources and skills are available. Preliminary findings from a survey by Empact below show the corporates' and SO's perspectives on top 5 reasons why they engage in SBV and what are the skills offered or required in Singapore.

Motivation factors to engage in SBV Skills that organisations can offer or need support
Corporates Social organisations Skills corporates can offer Skills social organisations need
Opportunity for staff development Access to high quality services Marketing and Communications Fundraising
Better employee engagement Meet current critical organisation skill needs HR & Leadership Development Marketing and Communications
Ensure the success of community partners No budget to hire or pay service provider Finance



Positive public image Long term capacity building for the SO Fundraising Public Relations
Meet the request of the charity partner or internal stakeholders Accommodate corporate partner’s volunteering needs Strategic Planning and Management Legal

Corporate and SO motivation factors and skills offered/required are different and aligning these along with objectives, other needs and expectations that suit the corporate and its internal stakeholders as well as the SO are not easy. Both parties need to invest substantial time to discuss at length and to build the relationship and mutual trust which may require both parties to show vulnerability or limitations based on a built trust that discussions are "closed doors" and details disclosed are treated with confidentiality.

Despite the long and tedious process of planning a SBV programme, the benefits it brings are worth the while.

Benefits to the community/SO
SBV is focussed mainly on building the capacity of SOs to scale up their impact to the community. It allows corporates to share their skills and knowledge to build the SO's capacity and strengthen their infrastructure and services to achieve their community goals. To hire such services would be costly for them.  As the partnership between a corporate and SO is long, both parties build a close relationship and have a deeper understanding of each other’s organisation. Through understanding the SO better, volunteers may introduce useful contacts or suggest other ways in which the corporate is able to help. As a result, additional funding may occur or employees may help to spread the message when engaging their customers.

Benefits to the business
Unlike traditional time-based and general volunteering, SBV engages employees by providing them opportunities to contribute to the community in a meaningful way by utilising their skills. In 2013, skills-based volunteers at HP are 38% more likely to have the highest level of employee morale than non-volunteers. SBV is now increasingly seen by corporates as part of talent development. Employee retention can be improved not only because of the "feel good" factor but because of personal development opportunities. Research by Common Impact showed that 92% of skilled corporate volunteers ‘had a relevant professional development experience' and 92% felt ‘more inclined to recommend their company as a great place to work. The opportunity of utilising skills through SBV is often challenging and employees are forced to think creatively to address a problem (out of the usual corporate environment) with limited resources and time. This is a valuable skill that employees may develop which makes them more adaptable to situations and could also bring about new ideas and innovations for the business.

Measuring the impact of SBV
It is important to measure the community and business impact of the SBV programme particularly because of the extensive support and resources to set up the programme. Based on the preliminary findings of the survey, it is heartening to see 95% of corporates and 91% of SO are interested in measuring impacts.

Does your organisation track the impact of SBV?
Statement Corporates Social organisations
Yes, we do track the impact of activities since we feel this is very important 50% 30%
No, we do not track the impact but we would like to do so going forward 45% 61%
No, we do not track the impact as we do not feel this is very important 5% 9%

Although it is important to measure, it is challenging to fully measure its impact. To begin, the objectives of the SBV programme must be clear in order to establish a set of indicators at the start of the programme so that any changes (positive or negative) can be tracked and measured against a baseline data. Measuring the immediate deliverables (output) is easy and usually quantifiable. An example is the number of SO staff trained in using Microsoft Office software and an annual reporting template. The next level is to measure the medium and long term impact (outcomes or impact) for the community and business. As SBV programmes are long term, it takes time for the efforts of the SBV programme to bear fruit. Carrying on with the example, after the SO staff are trained and the SO creates annual reports which increases transparency and accountability to stakeholders, how has funding then increased as a result of the increased transparency and accountability as compared to the initial state where the SO did not produce an annual report? Measuring the impacts of SBV programmes is a powerful story generator and it is certainly worthwhile to know how the resources and skills invested have bored fruit through the partnership and the SBV programme.

At CSR Asia, we advise businesses on how to measure community projects. If you are interested or would like to discuss further, please get in touch with Mabel Wong.

Source: CSR Asia

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