Encouraging your employees to make a difference makes business sense, says Chris Smith of Vannin.
When I started working with Vannin, it was immediately obvious that the team has a clear social conscience. Cases that were otherwise investable had been turned down for funding because of concerns around the impact they would have on vulnerable communities and individuals. Identifying what our charitable commitment should look like was, therefore, pretty straightforward. We found a great London-based charity partner – the Bar Pro Bono Unit – who support our vision of access to justice for all and provide them with long-term financial support and assistance.
Making a difference can take many forms – for example, you can make a direct financial contribution to an existing organisation, you can provide your time and expertise free of charge on a pro bono basis, or you can hold an event to raise money. My view is that for these efforts to be meaningful, and, therefore, successful, the people behind them have to believe in what they are doing and feel that they are really making a difference. Accordingly, maximising the success of charitable initiatives requires employers to be flexible about the initiatives they allow their employees to get involved with.
Doing things differently
The legal industry is very focussed on pro bono – that is, delivering legal services free of charge to those in need. I fully support these efforts, but they will not engage everybody. What are the alternatives? Here are just three ideas:
During my time at Weil I was living in South East London and felt that I wanted to give back to my local community. I came across the business mentoring scheme at the Harris Academy in Bermondsey and asked Mike Francies (Managing Partner at Weil London) whether as a firm we could get involved. He was very supportive, actually becoming a mentor himself despite his manic schedule, and we ended up with a team of about 20 staff from across the firm heading to the school on a regular basis for sessions with their mentees. Anybody able to get to Bermondsey and keen to get involved as a mentor can find out more here: http://www.harrisbermondsey.org.uk/69/external-mentoring-at-hab
The funding environment for charities is increasingly tough. Government funding is being cut and demand for the charities services is increasing. Coming up with an event that is new and different will help get you noticed and raise more money. A former colleague of mine from Olswang, Nick Crosbie, was part of a team that decided to play 72 holes of golf in a day. Doing something a bit different got plenty of attention in the firm and even more on the golf course, where sane golfers were happy to hand over money to Nick and co as they went round the course.
But if you want to do something really different, have a look at the Mongolia Charity Rally. This 10,000 mile cross country trek from London (or thereabouts) to Ulaanbaatar sounds like an enormous challenge which lets you raise money for Go Help and, once you have reached £1000 in donations, a charity of your choice. In addition, the vehicle you take with you gets donated to a local charity in Mongolia.
The business benefits
Employees who engage in any of these (or similar) activities learn additional skills which they are unlikely to gain in a working environment. Being away from the office allows time for unhurried thought and reflection which is vital to deliver good quality work (something that it increasingly overlooked in private practice). And allowing employees to engage in charitable activities that they really believe in is likely to make them feel more engaged and view their employer more favourably.
For further information contact the Mongolia Charity Rally or www.vannin.com