The value of volunteering – Law firm urges business community to rally round

L-R – Sue Arrowsmith Rodger with Linda Swan and Arlene Napier of Tayside Cancer Support

ONE OF Scotland’s largest law firms is urging other businesses to commit to staff volunteering, claiming it adds value to employees’ professional and personal lives.

In 2020, Thorntons signed up to Dundee-based Social Good Connect, looking to help staff feel connected during the challenges of lockdown.  Launched by CEO Caroline McKenna during the first lockdown, the social enterprise, driven by doing good for others, makes employee volunteering simpleby connecting employees with their perfect opportunities through digital search and match technology. 

Sue Arrowsmith Rodger, Legal Director in the firm’s St Andrews office has now been volunteering with Dundee-based Tayside Cancer Support (TCS) for around 18 months. She has joined the charity’s team of befrienders, providing a fortnightly phone-based service for the charity’s clients, many of whom are living with cancer.

Sue, who volunteers outside her working hours, said:

“Although the part I play at TCS may feel relatively small and I can volunteer in small chunks of time, I know it makes a huge difference to the people I’m helping. The people we support are on an emotional rollercoaster, with diagnoses and treatment options for cancer changing all the time, and it’s a lot to process and cope with. I supported one client for a year whose family member had cancer, and now I am supporting someone new, who has a diagnosis of cancer herself and has just started her treatment journey.

“Often people just need a place to offload and vent in confidence about the challenges they’re facing. They don’t want to burden their own families with their deepest fears or concerns and I can feel that they’re keeping their emotions locked up. Speaking in confidence to a volunteer gives them a chance to drop the brave face and open up.  Working in law you tend to be solutions-oriented, whereas befriending is about listening. It’s a useful distinction to make in life as well.”

Caroline McKenna believes businesses can make a significant difference to charities. She said:

“We are often approached by charities seeking skilled support to run and grow their operations. They’re seeking board members, trustees, PR advisors, SEO specialists, HR help, the list goes on.   What’s more, many of us are unaware of how useful our professional and personal skills really are, and how giving back can be as simple as spending 30 minutes or an hour sharing skills we already have.”

“Too many charities are crying out for expertise, in-depth knowledge and specialist skills that are in abundance in every type of business – tech firms, law firms, sports education businesses, schools, data-crunching firms and many more.”

“When skilled professionals give their time and expertise to causes they care about, they feel good about themselves and return to the workplace with a new energy, perspective and new connections, boosting staff motivation, retention and even recruitment.”

Echoing Caroline’s sentiments, Craig Nicol, Partner at Thorntons believes volunteering should become a way of life and part of the company culture going forwards: “Social Good Connect was ready-made and it fits our culture.  Volunteering with the support of your company adds value to your job and your personal life. What makes this platform different is that it matches employees with causes that really matter to them and helps them find specific opportunities to volunteer in that area. Half the work is already done for you once you’ve entered your profile.”

“Joining the platform has channelled our community spirit – for staff and the wider community – in a more organised way. People are stretched in most businesses like ours, but if you look hard enough, pockets of capacity do exist in most in organisations to help the community in some way.”

Sue’s contribution has made a significant difference to TCS, which often struggles to recruit befrienders.

Arlene Napier, Befriender Supervisor at TCS, said: “It’s a delicate role that needs intelligent listening skills, empathy (as opposed to sympathy), an understanding of counselling techniques and an appreciation that it’s not about giving solutions, advice or opinions. Sue has been wonderful, and we’ve had outstanding feedback. Contributions like hers are like a lifeline to people in need.”

“We’ve had eight new recruits in total through Social Good Connect, five of whom are still with us, and that’s no mean feat during a pandemic.  As a charity we need to keep an open mind for new ways of attracting volunteers, especially as it’s easy to lose them, especially long serving ones, when their own circumstances and focus needs to change. We take great care over the ‘matches’ we create. Thanks to Social Good Connect we now have a much wider pool of potential matches. It’s enabled us to bring new, skilled people on board and get us moving quickly and efficiently.”

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