Volunteers: Where to Find Them, How to Use Them
"This is awkward. I’m leaving.”
My heart sank. This time I had screwed up, big time.
We had 10 volunteers from a big corporation coming to volunteer with us for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The HR person and I had exchanged a couple of emails. I thought I had been clear that we needed people to do a phone-a-thon with us to fundraise for our cause. In hindsight, I should have made sure that people knew what they were coming for.
Volunteers thought they were coming to tutor kids. When they arrived and didn’t want to do a phone-a-thon, I said, “Well, I guess you could clean up the office.”
That did not go down well, at all. The volunteers made a halfhearted attempt to clean up some of our shelves, and then one of them said, “No, this is awkward; I’m leaving.”
She took nearly everyone with her, except for one stalwart volunteer who used to work at our nonprofit, and who did the phone-a-thon with me, like a trouper. And though we made $5,000 that day with that phone-a-thon, I felt like a failure as a fundraiser, volunteer manager and nonprofit professional.
Since then, I’ve learned what corporate volunteers want, and I hope that you can learn from my mistakes.
Corporate volunteers expect a meaningful experience
One of the hardest things to do in a small fundraising office or a one-person volunteer recruitment office is to find ways of engaging volunteers, especially corporate volunteers. Saying, “Uh, I guess you can clean up the office” does not cut it anymore.
Even though this corporate volunteering experience backfired on me big time and creating a meaningful volunteer experience takes time, it’s worth it.
Why? Three reasons:
- Because corporate volunteers can get a visceral experience of your mission, they are much more likely to become donors.
- You can get exposure to a whole new audience for your nonprofit.
- You can get money from their corporations that comes with their volunteer hours.
What do corporations want out of nonprofits?
More and more, corporations don’t want to give you money. They want to give you people.
Why? Because studies have shown that volunteering helps corporations retain staff. It positively affects their bottom lines to retain staff. That makes shareholders happy.
According to a recent study of 240 companies by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP): “As corporate profits declined in 2008 and 2009, cash giving budgets were tightened and some corporate contributions professionals looked within their companies to find unique ways to continue supporting communities.
“Many U.S. companies offered volunteer support to nonprofit partners, in addition to funds, in a given year.
“As you can see from the diagram [figure 18 in the right box], Paid-Release-Time offerings increased both for companies that increased total giving and decreased total giving from 2007 to 2012.”
Bottom line: More and more corporations are shifting from direct cash donations to the corporate volunteering model.
How can you apply this? Did you know that corporate volunteers expect more?
If corporate volunteers volunteer through their companies, they expect you to be organized. They want to know in advance exactly what they will be doing. So to get ready to give corporate volunteers the time of their lives, start by getting organized.
Why not try creating an information pack for corporations? An information pack can show you’re more organized than the average
If they know you’re organized, they’ll be much more interested in volunteering with you.
Your corporate volunteering information pack should include (via volunteer.ie/resources/factsheets-guides):
- Mission and values of your organization
- Information about how your programs change the world
- How volunteers support the work of your organization.
What you do with volunteers
- How many volunteers do you normally have at any one time?
- What roles do they generally have?
- How could corporate volunteers be included into your programs? What type of role could they have?
Examples of projects you need volunteers for
- Do you have the capacity to take on teams? If so, how much planning notice do you require?
- Are you willing to develop projects, especially for a company?
- Do companies need to give you money to work with you? (Hint: Yes, because it takes a lot of your time to create opportunities and manage volunteers.)
- How will you manage the company’s employees while they volunteer for your organization?
- If volunteers require background checks, will your organization pay for this cost?
- Who will supervise them?
- What training, if any, will they do?
- Can they use their work skills? (Hint: This is a big draw for companies if employees can use their skills — for example, having financial analysts teach at-risk teens about basic budgeting.)
How will volunteering benefit their company?
- Benefits volunteers get (professional and personal)
- Benefits to the company (such as employee retention, PR and positive association with your brand as a way to counterbalance negative PR)
Other ways you can grow your relationship with a company
- Can you do a presentation to its employees about your organization?
- Can you include the company on your e-newsletter or in your events calendar?
- Can you use something the company manufactures for in-kind donations and get press about it?
- Include key contacts and your organization’s website address so they can check out pictures of other companies volunteering with you. This is a principle of propaganda called “bandwagoning.” Everyone is doing it! So they should do it too.
What can you do to engage corporate volunteers now?
What if you want to engage corporate volunteers, but you don’t know how to start?
If you want corporate volunteers, and you want to take advantage of their skills and expertise, you may need to change your volunteer program. Try to develop a range of tasks so potential volunteers can find something that suits their interests, skills and (limited!) time.
Top tip! Short team projects appeal to corporate volunteers and their employers. Think cleaning up a park.
Don’t just make work for volunteers
OK, here’s a story of volunteer engagement gone wrong. I remember volunteering to clean up a park with my Girl Scouts troop in third grade. The park was clean. We got there, and we had nothing to do.
The Girl Scouts troop leader dumped over a trash can and made us pick it up. Then we got our trash cleanup badges.
Can you imagine a more boring, make-work job?
That’s what you don’t want to give your corporate volunteers. They can smell a make-work job a mile away.
David Warshaw, founder and principal of VISTAS Volunteer Management Solutions, has some words of wisdom before you begin to think about engaging new volunteers.
A good place to begin is to evaluate your capabilities and requirements against the potential ROI needs of the company program.
- What tasks/jobs do you have that are good for done-in-a-day team-building (e.g., facilities work, painting, garden planting)?
- Can you find tasks that will use the professional skills of employee volunteers?
- Do your client services offer opportunities for casual (rather than ongoing) volunteerism by groups of employees? (For example, helping host or chaperone a holiday party or taking over an entire shift cooking or serving meals.)
- How convenient can you make it? Do you have opportunities in the evening or on weekends? Or can you “bring the volunteering to the workplace”? (Maybe a project that a group of employees can do during lunch in the company cafeteria? This can make volunteering very convenient.)
Which companies are most likely to volunteer?
According to CECP’s Giving in Numbers, the most likely kinds of corporations to help you (in the U.S.) are information technology, financials, health care and the service industry.
In Canada, according to Imagine Canada, the numbers tell a different story (at least in 2010). The companies that were most likely to have their employees volunteer for nonprofits and supported their fundraising for nonprofits as well in Canada were the financial services and professional services industries.
Aside from knowing that these general categories are going to be the ones who give, what else can you do? Start by contacting companies physically closest to you.
What are you prepared to offer in exchange for the company’s help? (Example: gaining skills, making social and professional contacts, PR opportunities.) What type of help do you need? Are you hoping to use the company as an access point to individual employees, or do you want to recruit employees as a group? How flexible are you about scheduling? What resources above and beyond people are you hoping to get? For example, if the company says, OK, we’re coming to trim your shrubbery, are you expecting volunteers to bring their own tools?
Answer these questions and take your corporate volunteer program to the next level!
Mazarine Treyz is a fundraising speaker and the author of wildwomanfundraising.com, as well as author of “The Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising,” “The Wild Woman’s Guide to Social Media” and “Get the Job! Your Fundraising Career Empowerment Guide.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @wildwomanfund