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Volunteering your mind

“These items enable them to walk through their school gates equipped to start the school year on an equal footing with their peers.”

The value of volunteering is widely known in society - people coming together to serve food to the homeless, to plant a tree in an effort to save a local environment, or raising funds for a number of worthy recipients. But one, lesser-known style of volunteering is skilled volunteering.


Skilled volunteering is when people use their abilities, talents, networks and resources to get a volunteering commitment completed. Many large organisations encourage their employees - a large pool of highly-skilled resources - to use their time to help others in need.


For more than 15 years, the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) has partnered with ANZ to ensure different types of support can reach rural, regional and remote areas of Australia for projects local leaders have identified as important to sustaining their community. That support can be channelled through things like grant programs, most notably the ANZ Seeds of Renewal program, but companies and employees can also provide support in other ways.


Equal footing


Five ANZ employees recently took time away from their day-to-day roles to share their expertise with FRRR through skilled volunteering, where the group reviewed the administration of the Back to School (BTS) program.


This program provides $A50 vouchers or gift cards redeemable at either Target stories or select local stationery or uniform retailers to help give children across rural, regional and remote Australia access to the basic school items such as uniforms, shoes, stationery and backpacks. These items enable them to walk through their school gates equipped to start the school year on an equal footing with their peers.


In 2019, FRRR distributed almost 12,000 vouchers through the BTS program to families in need. ANZ also contributed to the BTS program through the support provided to FRRR in 2018 as part of a drought relief package worth $A500,000.


While the administrative mechanics of the program have changed and improved since the program was launched almost 15 years ago, a significant portion of the administration is still highly manual - including hand-gluing vouchers to cards.


The program needed some fresh and highly-skilled eyes to look over it so the ANZ volunteers were asked how they might re-design the program to provide improved outcomes for recipients, community organisation partners and FRRR.


Pic: (L-R top row) Jeanice Henderson (FRRR), Trent Mills, Jeremy Schreurs, Sarah Matthee (FRRR). (L-R bottom row) Andrew Beck, Jenny Lau, Nadia Saleem.

Goldilocks ideas


ANZ employees Jeremy Schreurs, Jenny Lau, Nadia Saleem, Trent Mills and Andrew Beck reviewed the main elements of the program and workshopped a range of process improvements for FRRR to consider. These processes ranged from the recipient, community organisation and FRRR perspectives, seeking opportunities and considering the implications for implementation. There were discussions about equity, the value of the act of giving, feedback surveys, donor recognition and even the benefits of using macros in Excel code.


FRRR appreciated the volunteer team’s willingness to explore the administrative nuts and bolts of the program as they came up with a range of practical, Goldilocks-like ideas to explore - not too big, or too small, but just right!


FRRR left with clear process improvements for the major administrative steps involved in the BTS program with plans to work through the implementation and piloting of the options.


Working with the ANZ employees was a great reminder of the importance of leveraging the skills and knowledge of volunteers to provide beneficial outcomes. While no one should underestimate the resources and effort involved in organising a fit-for-purpose skilled volunteering program, the benefits to recipient not-for-profits can be significant.


Sarah Matthee is Partnerships and Services Manager at the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal



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