Opinion

The charity sector – a space to enhance your leadership skills

7 min read

27 December 2017

If you think typical corporate charity sector giving consists of painting community halls and transforming gardens, then think again.

When it comes to supporting the charity sector, corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes are often a common part of the business environment, and it’s likely the company you work for fundraises for a number of charities each year.

However, inside the office, the frantic pace of the corporate world can sometimes cause professionals to switch off to the social issues that exist in our communities, when in fact, we should place charitable partnerships centre-stage of our efforts to engage the charity sector.

Lendlease is an organisation grounded in the belief that supporting the community is fundamental to business. During my time at the company, I have seen the work of the Lendlease Foundation trigger real change by enabling employees to grow their leadership skills in a charitable setting and give back in a meaningful way.

When I joined Lendlease Foundation five years ago, our focus was more aimed at developing our employees rather than outward looking. But things have moved on since then and now we are able to be more active within the communities near to our construction projects. 

And if you think typical corporate charity sector giving consists of painting community halls and transforming gardens, then think again. There is one charity partner in particular that really makes the most of all that employees have to offer.

Pilotlight is a charity that matches business people with charities and social enterprises to offer consultancy to help them become more strategic and impactful.

Since signing up to the scheme, senior leaders within the business have been matched with charities in need of strategic support to help them move their operations into new and positive directions. At a time of government cuts and other drains on resources, this scheme offers some long-lasting impacts.

Over 20 senior leaders have signed up to the charity sector scheme from Lendlease so far, and they have worked with many charities, ranging from LD NorthEast, which helps people with learning difficulties and their families, to Sport 4 Life UK that transforms the lives of young people through the power of sport.

The Pilotlight model does not require anyone to have charity sector experience and is expertly managed, meaning the time spent with the charity is efficiently planned and well utilised.

To put the employee benefit into perspective, 79 per cent of Pilotlighters reported higher job satisfaction after taking part in the programme last year and 70 per cent said the initiative had complemented their career development.

In terms of delivering a meaningful benefit to charities, 28 per cent of charity sector CEOs reported an increase in income after taking part on the programme and 53 per cent say they are reaching more people as a result of the partnership.

So, the evidence is there – there’s no doubting the effectiveness of the programme, but businesses need to have the dedicated time and resource to oversee such a project. It’s not a venture to be rushed, and having the space to allow for holistic business planning is invaluable.


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Quick conclusions result in less effective outcomes and ploughing full speed ahead is not the approach to take if your aim is to reach a meaningful conclusion. Unless you take the time to dive deep, you won’t fully understand the challenges faced by the charity and your consultation will serve as a temporary fix as opposed to a long-term solution.

And the benefits are not solely restricted to the charities involved. Business professionals can develop their skills outside of their usual day-to-day environment, giving them a renewed focus and perspective, both professionally and personally.

This in turn allows your colleagues to grow leadership skills outside of the corporate setting and expand their knowledge in a variety of different fields. Working with a charity also helps you recognise exactly how broad-ranging your experience is and how it can be applied to solve several business critical issues.

For example, although I don’t work in HR, I have seen how it really boosts the so-called softer skills when volunteers go on the programme. One woman reported how much confidence it has brought her when she attends meetings back at work.

The other benefit is those who are selected to join the programme become part of a unique network of peers from different parts of the business. This is highly prized when you consider our workforce numbers 13,000 people.

Of course, it’s not all plain sailing, and there are various hurdles to be overcome, but by bringing together the skills and expertise of two very different sectors, you can enhance the social impact and business effectiveness of the charity, and indeed the business you work for.

That said, working with a charity is hard work. It’s not for the faint hearted, nor is it without its challenges, but business professionals from across all industries could do well to enhance their engagement with the sector.

The professional skills you take for granted can actually help change lives, and the experience may even change your own.   

Laura Caporossi is global programme manager at Lendlease Foundation