How can employee volunteering bring businesses and communities together in a sustainable way?
Linz Darlington was inspired to start Benefacto when he worked as a management consultant for Accenture. With three paid days off a year to spend volunteering, he had a tough time choosing a local charity where his skills could make a real impact. These days he spends his life matching talented professionals with amazing charities.
A Social, Sustainable Enterprise
Benefacto spent quite a lot of time agonizing over how they define themselves. It can be essentially broken into 3 bits – social, sustainable and enterprise. The social bit, for Linz, is really about having a social purpose at the heart of what they do. And that is what makes it a social enterprise. So, their social purpose is essentially doing two things – the first is thing is to strengthen the third sector – to help the charities they work with and second it develops the skills and the perspectives of the volunteers who are doing this.
The second element – the sustainable one, is not so much about the purpose but actually about how they do business. Benefacto is one of the UK’s first BCorps and in order to become a BCorp they look everything from how you treat your staff to how much your highest paid member of staff is paid compared to your lowest paid member of staff, to how sustainable the supply chain is, what proportion of the paper you use is recycled – a real wide variety of different things. It’s very important for Linz not just to do things that have social element, but also to make sure they are doing it in a good way.
And the final one is enterprise. Linz is a capitalist at heart and is very interested in the enterprise element of social enterprise. He thinks it is fantastic when people can find opportunities, not only to do good, but also to make it sustainable by creating a revenue model which works to continue to perpetuate that organisation over time. Linz doesn’t think Benefacto is ever going to make him a rich man, but he would much prefer that people are able to continue doing the good work they are doing because they have found a way to make a living out of it as well. And for Linz all of these – the kind of having the social purpose is really important but the other two bits play a strong part as well.
It is a very formative time for social enterprise and what social enterprise needs. It is very interesting, Linz speaks to lots of people who see social enterprises doing something which is entirely commercial, but then using their returns to do some form of social good.
He spoke recently to a fantastic marketing agency. They make money through their marketing agency, but then they spend it supporting young people. Linz thinks this is good as well, but for him the core thing is actually the core business activity having social purpose while using core business activity in a commercial way to fund social good.
Benefacto is a fairly simple services business so do does not have a massive supply chain. Their main stakeholders – the communities they work with and the charities they work with – are at the heart of what they do.
The focus is about benefiting their stakeholders and trying to supply volunteers while keeping the cost to them as low as possible. This is something which they openly have to consider on a day to day basis.
That said, the BCorp process was very useful because of the number and variety of questions they ask about what you are doing. Linz remembers that very shortly after he did the B Corp’s process he set up a board of directors. Recalling having been asked what proportion the Board of Directors were women and what proportion were men gave him the impetus to ensure that his board was balanced.
Linz believes that it is a lot easier when you are a small business than when you become a bigger business. Linz likes to think that his values and the values of the other members of Benefacto leadership shine through the organisation that they run.
He feels perhaps if you are a bigger organisation – which is more complicated, has more stakeholders and suppliers etc. – you need to start providing more guidance on how to make the make the right decisions and support people in implementing them.
Employee Volunteering and Sustainability
From Benefacto’s perspective they feel they always present a clear business case for volunteering to the organisations they speak to. They tailor the business case to combine it with the values and desires of the organisation.
For example; for companies trying to attract a young workforce Millennials, are very interested in working for businesses which they feel have a good purpose and are not just there to make money. From a kind of staff retention and attraction perspective, volunteering is a good opportunity.
Equally a lot of companies spend large quantities of money on trying to develop the skills of their workforce – volunteering supports this also. At the same time more organisations are being asked when in proposal requests what they are doing to help local communities and how they are going to make a contribution?
Looking on a macro level one of the things that Linz has really felt, which has come out of 2016, is the massive disconnect there is between different parts of the communities, in different parts of society, over economic, geographical and social lines. He feels that volunteering offers a fantastic opportunity to cross pollenate and broaden people’s perspectives so they can understand the challenges the wider communities face.
Introducing Employee Volunteering
The three core elements are:
1. Provide a choice of volunteering opportunities
One of the challenges lots of firms have is that they have a think about volunteering and they narrow it down too quickly – for example they start by trying to introduce a very specific scheme where the staff can only get involved in something which is of real strategic importance to that company or fits with a specific vision etc.
First and foremost your scheme needs to engage employees by presenting them with a choice of opportunities they feel passionate about, that suit their other commitments and how their diaries work.
When Linz started Benefacto 4 years ago, he realised that we live in the age of the iPhone. People are used to transactions having a low element of friction in whatever it is they want to do. Benefacto therefore makes it easy for people to get involved. They can just go to the website and make a booking. To Linz providing convenience is really important.
3. Build a need into the culture of your organisation
People need to understand that they are being given paid time off to volunteer. They also have to know that they can enjoy it and that they can make a difference.
It is important for them to know that their boss and colleagues support them in volunteering and that ultimately taking a day out of their working year and volunteering is actually going to add more to the company they work for rather than detract from it.
Lots and lots of companies Benefacto speak to, spend lot of time strategising and building lovely plans. Linz advices to get on with it, be enthusiastic, build it in an interesting way and get people engaged and out volunteering!
Commitment to Sustainability
Linz thinks that his nature experiences probably haven’t impacted him enough. If he thinks about his life, there are some things which he feels quite strongly about and he has managed to achieve. One example of this is that he tries to be as ‘unconsumer’ as possible. He tries and buys as few things as he possibly can and makes sure that he wears everything out.
Linz would like to do more – however, feels it is actually it is quite difficult to be sustainable as an individual (as compared to a small business). He thinks that in some ways we need some help in order to be more sustainable – we need to look to other organisations, in absence of personal ecosystems, to help us do that.
Impact on Daily Life
Linz became quite disillusioned with the capitalist model over the last four years. Benefacto is a big part of his life, and he is keen that what he does not just benefits him but it benefits lots of other people as well.
Linz wants to create great organisations and great initiatives which benefit the wider community and do not just benefit him. It is fascinating to him that so many people are out to make money, and that your status is often tied quite closely with your wealth.
He would love to get to a point where it becomes socially unacceptable to feather your nest with more than you need and that when people did good things for the benefit themselves, they also thought about how they could benefit and add value for other people as well.
The fear for Linz is – on one hand he would like to feel at the end of his working career that he had been successful and done well; on the other hand, he wouldn’t like to feel that his happiness has been at the cost of anyone else’s. Linz thinks this is something everyone should take into account.
Linz is a country boy living in the city. He grew up in Somerset and his parents still live in Somerset, though in a different house. One of his guilty pleasures when he goes home is to park the car in the drive and then walk the 20 or 30 meters to the end of the drive to close the gate.
This was chore when he was a child, which he would have done kicking and screaming! Now he really savours that moment. It is always dark when he gets there, late on a Friday night, and it’s always quiet. It either smells of nothing or smells of farmyard!
It’s not a scene you think of when you think about nature, but it is something he really misses when he is in the city. As much as possible, Linz does get out of the city. He enjoys the opportunity of being out in the countryside and getting away from the hustle and bustle.
It has always been important to Linz to find opportunities to get outside and feels that however short that moment, and however compromised that version of nature is, you should take it if you can.
Takeaway from this Episode
Thinking about what a social enterprise means;
As mentioned earlier by Linz, it is quite a formative time for social enterprise. He spoke about whether a social enterprise is about social purpose, or whether it is about reinvesting in surplus into the community or into positive initiatives. To him on top of this it is also about how you can do business and how you can create a sustainable model out of it.
Linz Most Admires
People who take their own visions, something which they are keen on realizing, and they actually do it!
So many people Linz knows want to do great things, but end up working for somebody else – either doing something which is either a watered down version of what they wanted to do, or completely different.
Having followed his vision and created an organisation himself, to a fairly modest level, Linz admires anyone who has built an organisation from scratch – whether that’s a charity, a social enterprise or business. They have realised that vision and while doing so they’ve made that vision sustainable. It feels to him like it’s making something out of nothing.
Linz thinks that it would be great to build a culture whereby people who go and do their own thing are really supported – given lots of moral support, have doors opened for them and introductions made. Where other people, if they are able to, buy the services and use them.
“It is fantastic when people can find opportunities to do good, but also to make it sustainable by creating a revenue model which works and continues to perpetuate that organisation over time.”Linz Darlington