The importance of volunteering skills, not just time

Posted on 01 Jul 2024

By Michelle Zahra


The definition of volunteering has become more complex, but that’s not a bad thing, says the head of the Origin Energy Foundation, Michelle Zahra.

Over the years, our thinking about volunteering and how we contribute to the community has evolved.

The days of cleaning up Australia, packing Christmas hampers and the beloved sausage sizzles will always have an important role to play in our nation’s giving. But today, Australia’s volunteers show up differently.

Michelle Zahra
Origin Energy Foundation head Michelle Zahra.

There is now greater understanding of the role and enormous potential of volunteering, especially corporate volunteering, in our community. This is because it encompasses a range of opportunities that allow people to apply their skills and expertise to benefit others, not just their employer.

Last year in NSW alone, 4.3 million people gave time as a volunteer, contributing $178 billion of value to the state of NSW demonstrating the enormous social and economic benefit that volunteering provides.

While historically the focus has been on the value of people volunteering their time to the community sector – people volunteering their skills and expertise can be even more valuable.

Through the work of the Origin Energy Foundation, I see first-hand how skilled volunteering opportunities can transform lives, both for those receiving support and those lending a hand.

It brings people closer together, fosters connections and can make a meaningful and lasting impact.

While we recently celebrated this year’s National Volunteer Week with the theme “Something for Everyone,” the community sector is confronted with the challenge of meeting increased demand for services amidst a cost-of-living crisis, where people have less money to give.

Charities are even more dependent on in-kind donations. Skilled volunteering is a great way we can support our communities, both individually and through our employers.

A TADSA volunteer working on one of their projects
"Skilled volunteering allows people to lend their expertise in a range of different fields including marketing, IT and finance to non-profit organisations."

The benefits of giving reach far beyond those on the receiving end of support however. For employers and employees, there is a level of flexibility in some of these skilled volunteering opportunities that is compatible with new flexible ways of working – much can be done virtually, without even having to leave your desk.

Skilled volunteering allows people to lend their expertise in a range of different fields including marketing, IT and finance to non-profit organisations.

Through the Origin Energy Foundation, we help facilitate a variety of opportunities for Origin employees to participate in skilled volunteering.

One example is the volunteering work that many of Origin’s senior leaders, including CEO Frank Calabria, undertake through Kilfinan Australia – a charity that creates mentorships between senior business leaders and their counterparts at not-for-profit organisations.

These partnerships are impactful for the people directly involved, but also the many Australians who rely on the support of these charities and not-for-profits.

Another example is the establishment of the Origin Legal Pro Bono Program which helps support the critical needs of the Foundation’s not-for-profit partners – from commercial contracting to specialist intellectual property and employment advice – via a dedicated team of lawyers across four states.

This type of work is invaluable to the non-profit sector in helping to build capacity and skills, while avoiding costs and saving money that can be better funnelled towards supporting communities.

These examples are only made possible with Origin’s support and encouragement of employees to participate in volunteering opportunities – recognising the mutual benefit to the individuals, the business and the community.

To help make sure that there truly is "Something for Everyone,” we must continue to collaborate across business, government and the non-profit sector to think creatively about how we can work together to help address complex challenges and drive lasting change.

And to each and every person who volunteers in this country – thank you.

Michelle Zahra is head of the Origin Energy Foundation – a philanthropic organisation focused on improving educational outcomes for young Australians.

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