Retirement gives Richard Blakeman FCPA new purpose at Volunteering Victoria

Richard Blakeman FCPA uses his extensive corporate experience to give purpose and structure to vital not-for-profits.

Richard Blakeman FCPA sees volunteering as a glue for social cohesion, and good management as a way to make that glue stronger.

The significance of volunteering and not-for-profits fully dawned on Blakeman after he finished his corporate career in 2008.

“I didn’t appreciate how big the sector was in Australia,” he says. “I got more exposed to that after I retired. I had no [idea] of the professionalism involved with supporting volunteers.”

Blakeman entered the volunteering world during a two-year stint as chair of the Third Age Network (TAN) committee, run by the Victorian division of CPA Australia. The state’s peak volunteer body, Volunteering Victoria, lured him onto its board and put him at the head of its finance committee.

Twelve months into the role, he is reshaping Volunteering Victoria’s internal processes to more strongly support the group’s volunteer advocacy staff and managers.

Blakeman notes that volunteer organisations can underestimate the management work that’s needed to make volunteers as productive as they can be. Governments and businesses will more willingly invest in programs when they see their money being used efficiently rather than squandered. That in turn helps to build recognition for the cause.

At the same time, the right support infrastructure can ensure volunteer work is both resilient and rewarding.

All this means not-for-profits may need to actually devote more resources to developing sustainable management.

“If people just turn up and there is no structure, they can actually be a drain on resources,” Blakeman explains.

He saw the value of good support structures when he was finance director of Kodak’s Worldwide Retail Services arm, based in New York. He also headed the company’s Health Group for Australia-New Zealand and ran business operations in Asia.

When he returned to Australia he was keen to rebuild his local networks. Ironically, he found closer involvement with CPA Australia after leaving the profession. Through the TAN committee, Blakeman spearheaded the Mentor the Treasurer program, which now has 150 CPA Australia members registered to assist treasurers of small not-for-profit organisations.

He also helped establish the elder financial abuse taskforce.Blakeman is a passionate advocate for volunteering. He believes giving time to causes is powerful and mutually beneficial for communities and the individual, at any stage of life.

Richard Blakeman with the Country Fire Authority’s Angela Reach, a fellow Volunteer Victoria board member“It brings opportunities for your own personal development and adds credit to the profession,” he says. “Through it you develop new skills, new networks, and you find new interests, so that can be enormously satisfying.”

Like Volunteering Victoria, Blakeman has big ambitions for the volunteering movement. He wants not only to grow the movement, but to make it more important to the economy – and to help bind people together. “All the things volunteers do make for a better society,” he says. 

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Time is money

Volunteers’ time is as precious as money, and the dollar value of volunteering in Victoria alone could grow to more than A$30.3 billion a year by 2021, says the 2012 The Economic Value of Volunteering in Victoria report.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that sport and physical recreation draw the most volunteers, followed by community and welfare, religion, parenting, children and youth groups.

“It is crucial that we as a community acknowledge that volunteer time is a real donation that is as valuable as money,” the report states. “This is especially important when time is the only resource many individuals have to offer. By exploring ways of putting a value on volunteer work we help to make this sort of work more visible.”

The primary aim of Volunteering Victoria, says Blakeman, is to champion robust, sustainable structures around volunteer activities, so people’s hard work has a meaningful effect.

This article is from the April 2015 issue of INTHEBLACK.

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