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‘Enriching company culture and togetherness’: Unico Community Fund

Profile of Dom O'Donnell
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 25/11/2020

“We’ve always had a commitment to giving back and helping others in need,” says John Connaughton, Director of Operations at Melbourne-based technology services company Unico.

With over three decades’ experience in solving business and technology problems, Unico is now a leading consultant for companies across Australia and Asia Pacific with a team of over 170 software engineers and technology specialists.

“While our workforce has grown from inception and is wonderfully diverse, the one constant for our team has been our consideration for the community and our determination to actively contribute to it in a positive way,” says John.

In pursuit of this goal, the Unico team joined the Australian Communities Foundation’s giving community in 2008 with the establishment of the Unico Community Fund (UCF).

“…to really harness the good that can come from a collective – in this case, our wonderful team – you have to take a structured approach to ensure regular and strategic giving.”

With a focus on addressing root causes of inequality, the UCF primarily supports organisations in the education, training and employment space.

John and Unico’s Human Resources Advisor, Emily Johnston, recently shared the story of the UCF – how it came to be, what they’ve learnt along the way, and how they’ve maintained their strategic approach to giving during a difficult year for all Australians.

What was the spark that led Unico to set up the UCF?

John Connaughton, Director of Operations, Unico

John Connaughton: Giving back is an important part of our culture and has always had unwavering support from the company owners. But to really harness the good that can come from a collective – in this case, our wonderful team – you have to take a structured approach to ensure regular and strategic giving. With this in mind, we formally established the UCF in 2008.

Was Unico engaged in any giving prior?

JC: We have always had individuals in Unico who are involved and invested in their local communities, providing financial and volunteering assistance. Prior to the establishment of our community fund, the staff would often make one-off donations to appeals. The UCF has not replaced these endeavours but significantly supplemented them and provides a platform for regular and increased giving.

Why are education, training and employment key focus areas for the Fund?

JC: We believe these areas are vital in creating more sustainable and healthier communities. We think it’s better to address root causes and assist in the provision of long-term solutions to problems.

What sort of engagement have you seen from employees?

JC: We have seen all different levels of engagement from staff. I think that’s one of the great things about a Corporate Fund – staff can be involved in the decision-making as much or as little as they like.

We’ve seen everything from the simplest individual engagement (for example, monthly donations into the Fund) to the more involved and team-based engagement, such as fund committee and administration, raising of awareness and granting suggestions, event organisation and participation, and hands-on activities with charity organisations.

Importantly, all donations into the Fund are matched by the company, doubling the impact of each employee’s donations. We’ve found this to be a huge incentive for engagement.

Unico team members participate in a volunteering activity for FareShare, a not-for-profit organisation rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste and cooks it into free, nutritious meals for people in need.

Emily Johnston: When we make a donation and hear back about the direct impact through ACF or the recipient organisation, it is all the motivation needed for our employees to keep giving.

For example, Taralye, a charity that provides oral language education to children who are deaf or hard of hearing, is a regular recipient of ours. It is heart-warming and life-affirming for our employees to hear that their donations have positively changed the lives of these children and their families. Likewise, when we engage in a volunteering activity like tree planting or meal preparations, our employees take great satisfaction from the tangible and visible results achieved.

“…we rely heavily on ACF’s knowledge and strong understanding of the local community to identify and suggest suitable organisations for our focus areas.”

How has Australian Communities Foundation (ACF) helped Unico with its giving? 

EJ: Our core approach with the Fund is to provide assistance to the local community where we see opportunities to have a direct impact. For this, we rely heavily on ACF’s knowledge and strong understanding of the local community to identify and suggest suitable organisations for our focus areas.

Once we decide on the organisation, we simply tell our good friends at ACF, and they make all the monetary exchanges for us. It’s a very easy process from start to finish.

Has the UCF adapted its giving in response to the 2019/20 bushfire season and Covid-19? If so, how?

EJ: Yes, the bushfire appeal was an absolute necessity for us to support and we saw significant engagement from our team as it was so close to home. While having the Fund with ACF enables us to reach out for granting suggestions whenever we like, we had our own organisations in mind for our bushfire response. When we contacted ACF they were more than happy to facilitate the donations to our chosen organisations, again making the whole process smooth and without stress.

With Covid-19, social distancing restrictions meant we were unable to undertake the annual volunteer activities and fundraising initiatives that we would normally do if we were in the office. We therefore shifted all of our attention to monetary donations.

Just recently, we reached out to ACF for some suggestions of organisations that support international students and asylum seekers unable to receive government funding during Covid-19.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned about workplace giving through the UCF?

EJ: Workplace giving is a win-win-win for all involved: the organisation, its employees and, most importantly, the recipient organisations. Setting up the UCF and having administration and compliance taken care of by ACF has given us more time to focus on real discussions and decision-making.

“…a dedicated fund will boost your organisation’s employee engagement in workplace giving, ultimately enriching your company’s culture and sense of togetherness.”

What advice would you offer to other organisations thinking about getting started with a fund?

JC: Aside from the tangible benefits [in terms of administration and compliance], a dedicated fund will boost your organisation’s employee engagement in workplace giving, ultimately enriching your company’s culture and sense of togetherness.

Working with an organisation like ACF, and leveraging their services and outreach, greatly reduces the complexity and effort that comes with fund management and oversight.

“All companies have a duty of care, and with like-minded organisations, we can achieve better outcomes for our communities.”

What do you hope the Fund ultimately contributes to and achieves?

JC: Quite simply, we hope the Fund will make a difference to our world, whether that world is on our immediate doorstep or a little bit further away. All companies have a duty of care, and with like-minded organisations, we can achieve better outcomes for our communities.

Unico Community Fund

Supporting education, training and employment.

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