The People of Perth love to give. Data shows that we give our time, our money and our energy to support a wide range of social initiatives. However, giving effectively is becoming increasingly challenging, as there are so many deserving organisations in our city that need support. Not-for-profit (NFP) organisations that deliver essential services to our community are too often under a tremendous amount of stress, working hard under financial constraints to deliver as much impact as they can. The recent surge of social enterprises, social businesses and start-ups in Perth demonstrates the perceived need to find alternatives to the NFP model due to financial sustainability challenges. However the social enterprise shift isn't an easy one to make, especially when an organisation is maximising its current budget to deliver services to the community.
In late 2013 the Perth Global Shapers Hub reflected on all of these issues facing our city. We asked ourselves the question, how can we best support these organisations that are creating real and important social results, but struggling in so many areas? How can we help these organisations take the steps they need to run more effectively and more efficiently, without compromising the standards of the much-needed services that they deliver? We created Project Connect to address these issues.
Our project connects NFPs who wouldn't necessarily have the time, or the budget, to source higher-level organisational support with students eager for professional experience and skilled mentors who want to offer their support to the community. Far from expecting any party to simply tell the other what to do, our team hosts a collaborative scoping session where each player meets for the first time. The NFP is asked to explain what they need and then the mentor and students then work to fit this need and input their skills and expertise in the best way they can. A defined project scope is then created and the students get to work.
Students are recruited from all of Western Australia's universities and come from a range of educational backgrounds. We look for passion, professional competency and a desire to generate positive social outcomes. Students go through an application and interview process and we then select individuals who we believe will be able to produce excellent results with the direction and supervision of their mentor. Mentors are often in a stage of their careers where they want to give back to the community in a meaningful way, but are time poor. This opportunity allows them to invest a lower amount of time, usually no more than one hour a week, to support a student at the start of their career and also support a local cause. Mentors have come from local boutique professional firms as well as companies such as PwC and Deloitte.
The NFPs we support gain valuable help as professional services are given to them free-of-charge and the quality control provided by the mentors ensures that they do not have to spend their time closely supervising the student interns to ensure their work is of an appropriate standard. In fact, NFPs have praised the work that our interns have been able to deliver and we have received feedback that the mentors add a dimension of professionalism that was previously lacking in the student volunteering space. Beyond only working to fundraise, we have supported NFPs in creating communication plans, reconciling database systems, new online platforms and advocacy campaigns to name just a few. We support NFPs in the kinds of areas that commercial businesses fund and source because they know they are necessary for effective operation, but without support in these areas NFPs are greatly inhibited.
The project is now in its second phase and is still going strong. We hope that in the future we can increase our range even further, assisting more NFPs, more students and more mentors in Perth. Sometimes the best solutions are the most simple. Get passionate, capable people with shared goals together in one room and see what can happen!