One of the features of the life of Blackfriars Settlement is the frequent visits by individuals or teams of volunteers; fulfilling the widest array of activities imaginable. I want to record our most grateful thanks to all those from our Corporate Sponsors who have given their time, imagination and commitment to support our work.
From a skilled group of city bankers working collaboratively with my colleagues to write a Business Plan for one of our Services or a posse of Santa’s happily preparing, cooking, serving and washing up after a Christmas Dinner for 70 older people in our community; and everything in between.
For many of those who volunteer, both individuals and groups, a narrative develops along these lines:
The phone rings and it’s the CSR Manager of a large firm of Lawyers just over the river (Our location to the south of Blackfriars Bridge makes City based volunteering so much easier to administer.) We haven’t spoken before and as she begins, I sense in her voice something of the dilemma she faces. Her Board have given every employee 2 CSR days each year; can Blackfriars Settlement offer any opportunities for her to place these highly skilled people that will give them a worthwhile experience and widen their knowledge of the city in which we all work?
She is using all the right language! Opportunities are what we offer, not tasks. Of course, the task is important and there is a sense of satisfaction in completing it, but what really matters to us is that the volunteers meet new people, maybe share a meal with a group who have had episodes of serious mental illness, and all of them (volunteer and service user alike) with different perspectives on life than their own, that can inform each other.
And in Blackfriars Speak, all of them are our members. Just by walking through our front door you become a part of who we are, with all the opportunities and challenges that can bring.
Back to my caller: We agree an area of work, it could be with Young People, with those learning new vocational skills, with our older members or with those in our Mental Health and Wellbeing service. We agree dates and times and the number of volunteers and, apart from any checks we might need to do to ensure the safety of our more vulnerable members we are good to go.
As we have been talking I’ve fired up KindLink and begun to enter the details into a new Donor Record. It allows me to select Individual or Corporate donor and to state that this is a volunteering connection. I can also link the lawyers to a particular project within the Settlement.
The day of the volunteering opportunity arrives and our group of lawyers are coming to cook lunch for 50 Positive Ageing members. After lunch two of the group will give an illustrated presentation on a climbing trip to the Himalayas, with a rucksack full of equipment and a slide show, I know it will go down well.
I’ve been looking forward to today and have planned a bit of Social Media activity to show the link between our two organisations. KindLink is connected to our Facebook and Twitter feeds so its really easy to post an update that mentions the Lawyers, us and the things the volunteers will be doing. During the day, I’ll pop down and take some photos which can also be posted via KindLink.
I see the group in our foyer and welcome them. They show all the signs of a group visiting somewhere new, quiet and diffident, speaking in hushed tones to colleagues, looking round at this new place.
This is, of course, entirely natural, most of us are nervous about new places and people. But there’s nothing like the common task to unlock the imagination and the tongue and very soon the conversations become animated, bringing a sense of fun and anticipation to the Settlement.
Lunch is a triumph, with new relationships formed and many stories of life around Blackfriars Road told, some of them for the umpteenth time! But something significant is happening. The disparate group of people who have come together from different places and viewpoints, are forming into that new entity; Members of Blackfriars Settlement.
If I visit the kitchen after lunch (not that I hasten to add to help with the washing up!) that quiet group of people who arrived only a few hours earlier are chattering away, often retelling the often retold stores of South London Life! The volume tells me all I need to know.
I can only imagine how the next stage takes place, but in my imagining I see my group of volunteers going to the office the following day still bubbling from their experiences of the previous day. They tell their colleagues of their day volunteering with us and soon the CSR manager is on the phone again setting up new experiences for new volunteers.
And so it goes on, new teams arrive, sometimes with familiar faces, stories are told; some of them are familiar too!
Not everyone who comes once will come again, but we have found that a significant number do and some of them ask us how they can become more involved. In this way we have recruited trustees and other committee members, we have benefited from the energies of Marathon runners and Quiz Night organisers. A very big thank you to all of them.
The beauty of KindLink is that I will not only have the details I entered into the Donors page, but also a record of what happened last time on Facebook.
The final stage of the journey I am describing happens when the volunteers go back to the office and talk to their managers about the work we do at the Settlement.
The decision about how a company uses its charitable giving budget is decided on in a wide variety of ways, but we have found that when donations are made, as it were out of the blue, there has very often been some sort of volunteer engagement by staff at the Settlement.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect this last stage to materialise every time a group of volunteers comes to the Settlement, but when it does we are extraordinarily grateful, and the first thing I do is to go to the Donations page of KindLink and enter the details.
So now I have everything under one roof and the ability to publicise the contribution made by our firm of Lawyers.
The focus of my CSR Journey has been on how we record the links we have with Corporate Sponsors but for the lawyers, there is a major benefit of using this platform. It’s a response to the problem of how a business with a real commitment can demonstrate the difference to makes through its CSR activity.
KindLink makes this as simple for the business as it is for us. A subscribing business has its own KindLink page where the updates that I post about the volunteering day will automatically be published, giving content to the lawyers without any action taken on their part.