They say a change is as good as a holiday and, let’s face it, which small business owner wouldn’t benefit from a change of scenery? It’s important for wellbeing and mental health to break the day-to-day cycle, and there are many ways you can do so. One of which is volunteering.

We know you’re time-poor, but hear us out. As well as giving you a reason to step outside your day-to-day, making you feel good and having a positive impact on your community, there are many business benefits that come from volunteering. It introduces you to a network of likeminded people, puts your skillset to good use and increases your business’s exposure in your local area, all while contributing to a worthy cause.

A Sensis survey revealed that 36% of Australian SMEs are already providing volunteering support for various causes. While their motivations are varied, the report states they are often responding to requests for help, seeking opportunities to build their brand, wanting to demonstrate their commitment to their local community or simply to show their dedication and passion for a community cause.

Heart and soul

That’s how it all began for small business owners Raz and Jodi O’Connor, owner-operators of Newcastle design studio Ronnoco (pictured) – passion and a desire to give back to their local community.

“We’ve always been very keen to give back, to help people, in all sorts of different ways, and working on these local community projects gave us the opportunity to do just that,” says Jodi.

Both Jodi and Raz have been members of The Collective Heart for four years now, a membership-based group of people who are open and passionate about growing both personally and professionally and are keen to actively use their skills for the benefit of others.

“It’s a group of likeminded people who just really want to help other people,” says Jodi.

“We get together once a month to work on different ways we can do that. That’s included trips to visit children we sponsor in the Philippines, painting houses for refugee families newly relocated to our region, allocating funds to support the Hunter Disabled Surfers and supplying backpack swags for the local homeless.”

It’s been an opportunity for both Jodi and Raz to put their graphic design and marketing skills to even better use and, in turn, raise awareness of their creative studio. With individual specialisms in design, branding, management and strategic thinking, together they’ve assisted The Collective Heart by developing their branding, designing their website and managing their Facebook page.

They also actively support Soul Cafe, a cafe that supplies free meals to local homeless people that’s supported by The Collective Heart.

“One of the main ways we support Soul Cafe is through the ‘Sleepout for Soul’ fundraiser, which we’ve taken part in for the past three years. As captain of The Collective Heart sleepout team, I encourage members to raise money and motivate them to sleepout,” says Jodi.

The annual event, which takes place over two floors in a Newcastle car park, works to raise awareness of homelessness in Newcastle and this year alone saw 265 participants raise $141,817.

“All the money raised stays in Newcastle and helps the Newcastle homeless – and that’s why we got involved specifically with Soul Cafe,” explains Jodi. “Because it’s local, and we want to help those around us.”

Down to business

Getting involved in your local community is undeniably a great way for any small business to boost its brand awareness, but ultimately it all comes back to seizing the opportunity to forge new relationships with people who, just like you, want to give back.

“It’s not about networking in a business sense. But as a result of the relationships we’ve built there, we have generated new business opportunities,” says Raz.

“The connection has come about by getting to know them personally, which is a really nice way of generating business. It’s about forging that trust.”

Getting started with volunteering

Unsure where to begin? Ask yourself, what’s important to you? What are you passionate about? And how could you combine that passion with your business nous to help others?

You don’t have to think big, even offering a local not-for-profit access to the use of your office equipment or meeting room can make a real difference. Providing in-kind support to locally-run volunteering projects is another great way to get involved. For example, a hardware store donating paint for building maintenance or a bakery supplying cupcakes and pastries for a community fundraiser.

“You can make a great impact with just a small gesture and a small amount of involvement,” says Raz. “But I do think it’s important for businesses to look at something that’s relevant to what they do.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring the business together and focus on something that really matters and makes a difference.”