At Realized Worth, we love epiphanies. It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t, but we really love them. Why?
Epiphanies are the moment you step outside yourself, when you realize there is something bigger than your immediate task list. Moments of epiphany leave you with a renewed sense of purpose and hope – and often a big smile on your face.
Although they come in many forms and happen for different reasons, we know from experience that getting involved and helping others is a surefire way to summon the epiphany gods. A well designed volunteering opportunity often creates the space for this to happen.
There are so many social issues we can contribute to, and so many ways to help others. One of the biggest issues we’re facing as a society is climate change. We need to help the planet if we want to keep helping others; now more than ever, Earth needs your epiphany.
The irreversible effects of climate change on the oceans, forests, soil, and creatures on Earth are happening as you read this, and they will be the defining issue of the century. How we manage this issue, how we deal with the impact it has on us and on our planet will be the true test of humanity’s intelligence, compassion, and resilience.
Yet for centuries, philosophers from Aristotle (“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous”) to Thoreau to Neil Young have extolled the virtues of living in balance with Mother Nature. It’s one thing to walk through the woods or swim through a coral reef; it’s quite another to take restorative actions to heal the planet. If you can do these things simultaneously, the space and opportunity for epiphany can only get bigger.
Here are a few simple things you can do:
Call EarthShare Join Amazon, Home Depot, American Express, and hundreds of workplaces across the country that partner with EarthShare to engage their employees in connecting, contributing, and volunteering with the environmental causes that matter to them.
Contact a nearby State or National Park Most parks have sophisticated volunteering programs, including many opportunities to bring your family. You could clean up a trail, host a campout, or lead a school group. Organizations like Tree People regularly hold environmentally restorative volunteer events and opportunities, and there are plenty of similar groups throughout North America.
Join the 30×30 Movement Led by world renowned scientist David Suzuki, the program encourages everyone to spend 30 minutes in nature, every day, for 30 days. Workplace challenges and peer-to-peer networking help to make it fun. The benefits of doing this are described well in this infographic.
For easy access, we’ve taken the same questions and answers and posted them here. Let us know if you’d like to dig deeper into these topics! And take a look at the book which features chapters from 35 experts in the field of volunteer engagement. In this series of blog posts, get to know the other #35experts and their areas of expertise.
Q: What do you do if the CSR/foundation manager wants to implement a volunteer program and the CEO says our employees don’t want that?
He’s apparently not open to seeing CECP studies, higher ROI studies, benefits, etc. Time for a coup?
A: This is a great question (and we hope it never comes up!). The answer is actually quite simple: there is no substitute for experience.
Your employees can only be convinced of the true impact of volunteering when they experience it themselves. This begs the next question: how do you give the CEO a meaningful experience? One way is to use good old fashioned peer pressure by leveraging the social capital of the people around him or her. This includes trusted advisors, peers, and even family and friends. If the event is run well – with clear linkages to the beneficiary of the cause – transformation can occur. And when that happens, the CEO can realize the influence the company plays in helping everyone achieve that. This may take a while, but it’s an essential step in ensuring you have buy-in from executives.
Q: Do you have any advice on how to shift focus to quality of volunteer events vs. quantity of events, and how to communicate this to get buy-in?
I believe if the markets in my company (we have about 60) focused more on fewer, higher quality events per year, we would see more participation from employees. We are currently experiencing volunteer fatigue because there is just too much going on – some markets have 2 or 3 events per month!
A: There are many answers to this question. Without knowing your specific circumstances, here are a few tips to prevent volunteer fatigue:
Ensure there are diverse opportunities available covering many different causes. If the events are only driven by the company (helping to achieve a “signature” cause), you may be alienating some people. Find out what people care about and encourage people to follow their passion
Meet people at their highest level of contribution. Find the volunteers that may be showing signs of fatigue and ask them to play a leadership role for the people in their department; give them the tools to plan 2 or 3 meaningful events that match the interests of their colleagues.
Focus your measurement on engagement rather than participation. This includes measuring leadership development, skills development, manager support; you may find that higher engagement happens with fewer (but more meaningful) events.
Involve non-traditional players. Find out what results HR, marketing, finance and others would want to see from a volunteering program.
Q: How aligned does volunteerism need to be with a company’s funding focus areas?
We have employees who want to volunteer for causes the company does not fund. Does this matter?
If you limit volunteer opportunities strictly to the company’s desires, you make the tent smaller than it already is. Generally, providing three tiers of volunteer opportunities can help satisfy the company, your employees and the community.
Here’s one way to do that:
Tier 1: Signature Programs These could be quarterly, big events (or more frequent events with a select number of non-profits) that match a cause and the company’s strategic focus. For example, a bank’s signature program could be financial literacy.
Tier 2: Community Programs These would be smaller, community focused events that match a cause with a specific social/environmental issue in a community. Many large companies have offices all over the world. Community programs need not be related to the company’s giving focus, but should have direct local proximity to the cause.
Tier 3: Employee Choice These would focus on supporting causes that matter to employees.
Lastly, when you allow employees to follow the causes that matter to them, they will more likely want to get involved in events featuring the company’s focus. Generating this kind of quid pro quo could end up boosting support for your signature programs.
Q: How can we take desk based or lunchroom based volunteering efforts (because of business demands, folks can’t always leave) and make them transformational … ideas?
A: This is an excellent question, and a common issue for many practitioners.
Q: Do measurements such as Social Return on Investment (SROI) look at the impact of volunteering?
A: There are a number of measurement experts in the field. Two that come to mind are VeraWorks and True Impact.
Strong SROI measurement tools include the impact volunteering has on the beneficiaries and the community. We encourage you to explore some of these models and adapt them to what you need.
One recent advancement in the measurement space is determining the benefit volunteering has on the company. A group of companies in Canada has recently launched a project to tie volunteering to retention rates and employee satisfaction scores; the hope being that knowing the financial impact of volunteering can help boost internal budgets and support for increased community activity.
Q: How can you maximize the passion of really engaged employees?
A: As mentioned on the webinar (and above), a key attribute of transformative volunteer programs is the role of the third stage volunteer, AKA champion, ambassador, or guide.
In any given company, approximately 6% of employees fit this model – and you can spot them a mile away! They are always passionate about volunteering, supporting local causes and asking you to sponsor their next walk, run, or bike-a-thon. The best way to maximize the passion of these individuals is to elevate them to a leadership position. Their highest level of contribution may be bringing others along for the ride. And they want nothing more than to share the transformative experiences they have had already. They’ll love you for it – and they’ll return the favor by digging deeper into their passion reserves!
It’s that time of year again! Realized Worth presents all the best CSR and corporate volunteering conferences for the Fall and Summer of 2015. This abridged list (click here for the full version) is limited to those events that address the niche issues facing CSR practitioners; you’ll notice that all-inclusive conferences on general issues such as sustainability are not included. If you’d like to list those events or any CSR and employee volunteering events we missed, please do so in the comments section! Also, connect with us on Twitter or Facebook and send us a note and tell us where you’ll be – we’d love to say hello.
Business4Better’s (B4B) China & Social Giving Services Committee Annual Summit is the most important gathering of community partners to connect the growing mid-sized businesses and nonprofits in China and explore high impact community initiatives in social causes like never before. B4B as a forum seeks to inspire actions and create partnerships through openminded dialogues. Realized Worth had the opportunity to attend the 2013 B4B Summit in Las Angeles and were blown away by the networking opportunities, resource rich booths, and challenging topics.
IAVE (the International Association for Volunteer Effort) and Credit Suisse, one of the world’s leading financial institutions, are jointly hosting “The European Conference on Corporate Volunteering,” August 31- September 1, 2015 in Zurich. All businesses, of any size and from any industry, headquartered or operating in Europe, are invited to participate.
The goal of the conference is to significantly advance both the discussion and the practice of corporate volunteering in Europe, engaging key thought leaders as well as executives and managers of companies committed to developing strong, high impact volunteer efforts.
A fun note regarding the Zurich IAVE conference: Realized Worth is a founding member of Impact 2030, a business led global collaboration between the United Nations, the private sector, and civil society organizations. Impact 2030 will work with all sectors to increase the number and impact of corporate volunteers on a global scale and in alignment with the United Nations’ Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the headlining speakers of the conference is Richard Dictus, Executive Director of United Nations Volunteers, who will be discussing the SDGs in depth. Be sure to check out Richard’s talk at the conference to learn more. You can prep by reading about the SDGs on the UN website Additional IAVE conference dates and locations this fall.
September 8-9, 2015 Sheffield Hallam University, UK
NCVO and VSSN Members
Early Bird: £ 260
Regular: £ 290
Early Bird: £ 347
Regular: £ 376
If you’re in the UK or can make an excuse to cross the pond this fall, this is the primary UK conference for the voluntary sector and volunteering research community. The conference brings together academics, practitioners, and policy makers with a shared interest in the voluntary sector and volunteering. There’s also a special session taking place for “new” researchers, so students and researchers who want to shift their focus should definitely attend.
The International Forum for Volunteering in Development (Forum) is a global network of organizations involved in international volunteering. Forum’s annual conference of International Volunteer Cooperation Organisations (IVCOs) brings together leaders of international volunteering agencies from around the globe, in a unique dialogue focusing on the challenges and opportunities currently facing international volunteering – long standing, and newly emerging. IVCO allows Forum members to exchange ideas and practice innovation, build supportive peer networks, and participate in shaping national and international development policy.
Details about this year’s conference are yet to be posted, but the Chamber consistently provides insightful resources and valuable networking at its annual events. The Chamber’s Corporate Citizenship Center is known as a leading resource for businesses dedicated to making a difference. For more than 10 years, the Chamber’s programs, events, research, and relationships with key NGO and governments have helped businesses as they work to make the world a better place.
It’s a pricey one, but it’s a lot of fun! The SB community started the “New Metrics” conversation in 2011 and began working toward translating environmental and social impacts into corporate financial performance indicators. This is the kind of measurement we’ve all been looking for! We look forward to hearing the insights presented at this year’s conference which promises impressive speakers, inspiring attendees, and great information.
And if you can’t make it to the SB event in Boston, don’t fret – there are multiple events around the globe to choose from. Fees and further details can be found on the SB website.
March 18-19, 2015, Bangkok, Thailand
April 27-28, 2015, Barcelona, Spain
May 26-27, 2015, Istanbul, Turkey
June 1-4, 2015, San Diego, CA
August 25-27, 2015, Rio de Janiero, Brazil
September, 2015, Buenos Aires, Argentina
October 12-13, 2015, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
“Sustainable Brands® events were founded on the belief that unleashing the best of our human ingenuity and innovation can change the shape of business, and with it, the world. Connect with professionals from different perspectives and disciplines in an optimistic, collaborative environment, and create a shared vision of what is possible. Attend an upcoming event and learn more about our past events by watching video highlights.”
Like the Boston College and Charities@Work event, the annual Points of Light (POL) Conference is an incredible place to meet and reunite with all your favorite people in the field. This year’s conference will mark the 25th anniversary of POL, now the largest organization in the world dedicated to volunteer service. Points of Light was founded by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 to encourage all citizens to engage in volunteer service. President Bush’s son Neil chairs the Points of Light board. This year, the conference presents multiple tracks to appeal to all types and sectors. Extensive details can be found at the website.
Realized Worth has not had the opportunity to attend this event, but we’re impressed by the topics plus the speakers and attendees they’ve welcomed in the past. IS Conference is an opportunity for people from across the nonprofit and philanthropic community to examine pressing issues facing our organizations and the communities we serve. The conference uses innovative formats to draw on the expertise of staff and board members from nonprofits, foundations, and corporate philanthropy programs. If you attend, let us know how it goes!
No price yet, but sign up here to receive details as soon as they’re posted.
One of these days, RW will make it to this event. We love Net Impact and the work they do – and we love Seattle! This event is the leading forum for students and professionals who want to tackle the world’s toughest social and environmental problems. If you are a millennial, you’re recruiting millennials, or you work with millennials, attend this event! In addition to the 10 conference tracks, 100 sessions, and 300 speakers, each Net Impact Conference offers a whole host of special events, including networking opportunities, boot camps, offsite business tours, and impact workshops.
November 16-18, 2015 Marriott Copley Place, Boston, MA
Early bird: 250 €
The IARSLCE annual research conference is targeted to scholars, practitioners, students, and community partners interested in research on service learning, community based research, campus community partnerships, and civic learning outcomes in P-20 education. Attendees include faculty, administrators, and scholar-practitioners in higher education, community partners, educators in K-12, and professionals and leaders in educational policy and community development.
Day 1: VolunteerMatch Summit – Open to leaders in CSR and employee engagement fields, as well as nonprofit leaders Day 2: VolunteerMatch Client Summit – Invite only
We love the team over at VolunteerMatch and we are so impressed at the new approach they’re taking to this year’s conference! Rather than keeping the nonprofit and corporate tracks separate, this event will bring these groups together, enabling the collaboration that will empower positive social change. The 2015 VolunteerMatch Summit is the realization of the online VolunteerMatch ecosystem, in which companies, nonprofits, and volunteers come together to connect and learn how we can truly make a difference.
Please let us know who we missed by leaving a comment below, emailing us, or connecting with us on Facebook and Twitter! Be sure to include the date, location, and web address.
Looking for an inspiring speaker for your conference? We can offer a few from our very own Realized Worth team! Feel free to e-mail us at email@example.com.
When you’re the head of your company’s CSR, finding transactional volunteer options is easy. But what about transformativevolunteer options? What happens when the volunteer work gets done, but it just feels like … work? What happens when the nonprofit doesn’t show your employees the connection between their efforts and the impact it creates? And more importantly, how can you make something transactional feel like something transformative? You have the power. Let me prove it.
By Ben Bisbee
It’s 4pm on a Thursday and a hundred of your fellow employees are just finishing up a long day cleaning acres of community park land. The park authority was extremely gracious, making sure everyone was hydrated and got their free t-shirt, and … that was kind of it. People certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. Great work was done. Now what?
Transformative volunteerism occurs when a volunteer experiences facing an organizational or societal problem and can leave feeling like they were part of a solution. These transformative experiences create a sense of accomplishment and a sense of awakening. They don’t just offer aha! moments; they actively promote them.
There are three basic elements required to ensure a volunteering experience moves beyond transactional to transformative:
Start with the why.
Just prior to the volunteering experience participants must be heard about why their contribution matters. It’s not difficult to do but almost all corporate volunteering experiences fail at this most fundamental step. Here’s some guidance.
Finish with critical reflection. Asking participants to make sense of their volunteering experiences is simple, but again, hardly ever happens. But it’s important because this step is what ensures attitudes and behaviors are changed by the experience. Read more.
But what if they don’t? What if all you get out of a local volunteer experience is welcome, work, thank you and free t-shirt? What then? How do you take a transactional event and approach it from a transformative perspective? And more importantly, how do you do this as your company’s CSR professional after the event has already taken place?
You know what would have been great? If the park staff would have thought to gather everyone up at the end of the day, thank them, go over the day’s accomplishments, tell them about the thousands of park enthusiasts who will directly benefit from their efforts, share a touching story, ask for feedback and then applaud the day’s work. Right? Something like that. It’s not a Disney movie. There won’t be any fun musical montages with birds and rabbits holding hands, singing your praises. But a little debrief would have gone a long way. So why too often doesn’t it seem to happen?
Because simple enough, people in control of the day rarely think about it. That’s transactional volunteerism for you. The merits of the day’s efforts are counted by the number of bags filled, the hours of the labor devoted, the distribution of those t-shirts worn. It’s not a bad system, mind you. It’s just not always fulfilling, inspiring or—you know—transformative.
Oh sure, it’s frustrating. You feel like a cog in the machine. A machine called “volunteerism,” but felt suspiciously like work. But the work was done. And will a lack of transformative experiences take away from the transactional nature of the event? No, actually not at all. But it does matter. It does start to tear at the fabric of the point of the whole thing. “Wait … I took off work to … work?!” Abort mission.
So how do you, as the head of your company’s CSR program, turn transactional into transformative for your employees – especially if you were unable to build in the three key elements we listed above? Well, here are a few thoughtful suggestions:
The headline is not the story.
Why did you choose this event? Maybe the opportunity just fell from the sky. It more likely sounded like a really great opportunity, like something that could be transformative. So … was it? What was the story that was created by your employees that day? What was the why? Call the nonprofit back. Ask them. Ask them for tools or stories that you can share in the days following via email or your intranet that reminds people—even after the t-shirts are in the hamper and the hard work is a fading memory—that they did something important, something profound. Essentially, you helped create the day’s headline, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to help create the story associated if it didn’t immediately present itself.
Build a place for reflection. Often the butterfly has to look back at the cocoon to remind it how amazing its wings truly are. How can you create an environment for the employees to look back and reflect on the day or their own personal transformation? As we mentioned already, critical reflection is an essential step to bringing meaning to experience. So if you were unable to debrief at the event there are some options that you can follow up on later. Ask employees to write you a brief email telling you one transformative or enlightening thing they are willing to share that you can convert into a “thank you and reflection” email to everyone later in the week. Sometimes another person’s aha! moment can help ignite their own. But more importantly, you’re asking them to reflect and you’re creating a space to do it that can be shared and valued.
Close the loop by creating concentric circles. Ok, you’ve gotten some tools to help remind them of the story they created. You’ve asked for written reflections that have been shared. Now it’s time to bring it all home and close the loop by creating a shared mission: a common center. So what’s the next headline? And how can those who are in on the transaction offer ideas or insights to ensure that next time it can be more transformative? Now is the time to ask those who are engaging, post-event, to continue engaging. Don’t lose track of these people! These people are gold. Ask them to help you on the next visit. Ask them for suggestions for new places to volunteer. Ask them to help you make sure all future events can be as amazing and transformative as possible.
Transformative volunteerism is hard, while transactional volunteerism is fairly easy. The process to set up a volunteer event with a welcoming beginning, actionable activity, and thank you-close isn’t too difficult for the average nonprofit. In fact, it’s probably a fairly standard event structure of their daily programming. But anyone can offer an orientation, a slick t-shirt, something worth doing, and then an end-of-the-day-pat-on-the-back.
However, not every nonprofit will take the time to help you create a transformative experience for your employees. Don’t let that stop you from doing so. Don’t let the last thing your employee volunteer experiences be just an invitation to the next event. You have the power to make the exception to the rule exceptional. This, frankly, separates CSR managers from CSR masters. Which one are you?
Reach out to Realized Worth on Facebook or Twitter, email us via firstname.lastname@example.org, or just leave a comment below!