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Celebration of Service

Small charities benefit from big business expertise

IBM volunteers in UK use experience to help not-for-profits develop know-how

“Give someone a fish and you’ll feed them for a day, but teach someone to fish and you’ll feed them for a lifetime.” For the last several years, IBM volunteers in the UK have been sharing their knowledge and years of business acumen with small charities, through an organization called the Small Charities Coalition (SCC), in an effort to round out the skills and capabilities of local not-for-profits.

The managers of a charity may not be the most experienced marketers or administrators, but they are dedicated to improving some issue in our society. However, at some point, passion usually needs supporting elements to fuel its spread and growth. As SCC writes on its web site, “It’s difficult to possess all the skills it takes to run a small charity most effectively.”

Mark Wakefield, IBM’s manager of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs in the UK says, “The overwhelming number of our charities is considered small, with very worthy causes but limited resources. Though they’re incredibly resourceful, inevitably an organization needs some guidance in matters their very small staff has limited or no experience in.”

It is estimated that more than half of the UK’s 170,000 charities have budgets smaller than £10,000, about $16,000 US.

A few years ago, IBM and the Small Charities Coalition—a registered not-for-profit that matches small charities with organizations that have the skills and experience the small charity lacks—came together to offer workshops in topics such as project management, technology planning and Web design.

Making a match—charities looking for experts, and experts looking for charities

As part of IBM’s centennial year of service, Deborah Richards, an IBM consulting services team leader in London, brought an idea to her manager Evan Grant. “I suggested that our team should get involved and run a day of training for small charities,” she says. “He gave me his full support.”

Similar to a charity looking for assistance on the SCC Web site, Deborah searched for an opportunity to help a charity on IBM’s On Demand Community Web site—a global community that combines the skills of over 160,000 IBM employee and retiree volunteers with the power of access to IBM technology and training. And that’s where she found SCC, which would serve as the link between her team of experts and the charities looking for guidance.

There are ready-made and proven workshop presentations that IBM volunteers can access, and Deborah chose a perennial favorite among not-for-profits: measuring impact. “The eight IBM teammates who joined me have skills ranging from consulting to sales to marketing to operations. I believe we were well suited to run the workshop,” says Deborah.

With SCC playing the matchmaker role, the workshop attracted participants from 12 charities in the London area—bringing together knowledge seekers with knowledge givers.

“Our day jobs are focused on IBM business and various strategic initiatives. Yet the content of the charity workshop was very relevant to what we do and know—measuring our impact in improved sales and revenue, which have equivalents in the not-for-profit world,” says Deborah.

While the IBM team provided insight into impactful measurements—which can mean more, larger donations or increased volunteer participation for a nonprofit—the charity participants also benefitted by sharing their own pitfalls and successes with one another.

Non-billable hours, but excellent ROI

Earlier in 2011 IBM awarded a Catalyst Grant to the Small Charities Coalition to build on their success. The grant will allow SCC to connect more charities—enabling them to share resources, ideas and materials which can in turn strengthen the individual work each charity undertakes.

Mark Wakefield also believes the grant will contribute to SCC’s sustainability, helping them become even more of a fixture in the not-for-profit sector.

In the past 12 months more than 100 different charities have participated in IBM-led skills workshops with SCC acting as the matchmaker. In post-session surveys 100% of attendees would either definitely attend or like to attend a relevant, future workshop. One participant in Deborah’s workshop said “it was a perfect blend of being very informative but also accessible and practical.”

According to Mark, who manages the relationship with SCC, the workshops, sometimes called Charities Skills Master Classes, succeed partly due to the high ratio of volunteer experts to charity participants. “We regularly send bulletins recruiting volunteers, and typically get five to ten volunteers for each class—with about 20 to 25 charity participants we achieve a high level of interaction,” says Mark.

“It is quite humbling to see and hear about the commitment of the people who work for and run these organizations,” says Deborah.

Perhaps proving another saying that the best things in life are free, Mark says that he thinks “the charities are surprised that our very professional, highly qualified employees are willing to devote their time to help them.” He adds, “This is something that makes me very proud of our IBM teams.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.