Monday, 20 January 2014

Reportage: UK-wide role for charity skills broker

A Yorkshire social enterprise project which acts as a broker between businesses and charities has expanded across the UK.

Skill Will, which was founded with £45,000 of investment in 2011, matches volunteers’ skills with the needs of charities.

Michelle Beckett, managing director of Skill Will

It was originally set up for businesses and charities across Yorkshire and the Humber, but the organisation has now spread nationwide.

Under the scheme, businesses offer targeted assistance to charities and third-sector organisations, enabling volunteers to improve their skills, create new contacts and raise morale within businesses.

Michelle Beckett, managing director of Skill Will, said: “Instead of sending corporate lawyers to paint a wall in a community centre or a charity, which is what a lot of businesses equate volunteering with, we get them to help the charities with business strategy or legal work.”

She added: “It’s the type of stuff that charities really need help with.

“So if they can save money by getting business experts to do things for them for free, more of the money that people donate to these charities goes to the people who really need it.”

For charities, the benefits are obvious – they are able to capitalise on skilled volunteers to improve their services.

Simon on the Streets is a Leeds-based charity offering moral and practical support for homeless people, or those on the verge of becoming homeless.

The charity was linked with 
Geoff Shepherd, Skill Will founder and also founder of Leeds-based business networking organisation Yorkshire Mafia.

Helen Beachell, general manager of Simon on the Streets, said: “It’s still early days, but it’s already been really successful.

“Geoff spent about two or three hours looking at everything we do as an organisation – how we run it, what our resources are, what our weaknesses are, where our strengths are.

“One of the things that came out was that our main area of weakness was IT.”

She added: “Every time we had a problem with a computer, I’d take it to the local corner shop and the man in there would charge us £50 before he even looked at it, and then four days later we’d get the machine back.

“For us, this wasn’t cost effective or good in terms of time.

“Within an hour of Geoff leaving, I had a phone call from a company called System Works who now manage all of our IT for us remotely as part of Skill Will – they manage it all for free, it’s fantastic.”

For businesses, Skill Will says the benefits are numerous.

According to the organisation, being connected with social enterprise and volunteer organisations enables a company to be perceived positively within local communities, which can lead to strong PR and positive media exposure.

Research by Skill Will found that 92 per cent of employees who engage in skills-based volunteering are more inclined to recommend their company as a good place to work with other people. It said employee wellbeing reduces staff turnover and increase morale within an organisation.

David J. Israel has worked with a number of charities across Leeds through Skill Will. The fundraising manager for Leeds Museums and Galleries and the chairman of the Institute of Fundraising in Yorkshire said his skill-set can provide support to charities.

“I’ve been involved in fundraising for over a decade, and I’ve picked up a lot of skills and experience in that time, and Skill Will’s been a way for me to share that knowledge with charitable organisations,” he said.

Mr Israel was linked with the Leeds-based charity St Vincent’s, an organisation that provides support for people living in financial and social deprivation.

“I started off by offering practical advice and offering them potential contacts they could approach,” he said. “They are already seeing tens of thousands of pounds of difference in terms of raising funds.

“If I was charging for this work, it would probably be several hundred pounds a day.”

Mr Israel said the benefits for him are simple. “Doing this makes me feel good about myself,” he said.

“I get a great deal personally from working with all the charities that I do – a good deed is its own reward.”

But there are also practical benefits involved in sharing skills. “Every time I work with a charity, I learn more about fundraising, more about how other charities work, so I’m more informed and more in touch – it’s very cyclical.” he added.


This article was published in the Yorkshire Post on January 20, 2014.

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