How to Make Employee Volunteering Work for Retail

Have you noticed that lately you can’t go online without getting unsolicited advice from, well … everyone? Usually in list form, there is no shortage of helpful tips for how to solve life’s challenges and achieve success. The Huffington Post wants you to sleep better;  Jillian Michaels offers 5 secrets to a better workout; Oprah tells you how to deal with a difficult co-worker. How many times have you bookmarked an online article, fully intending to apply its recommendations to your daily routine, only to remember it three weeks later when you realize nothing has changed? We’ve all been there. Advice often looks good on paper, but it can be difficult to apply to the realities of every day life.

ss-fashion-retail

By Angela Parker

The same can be true for corporate volunteering programs. Again and again, we see practitioners launch programs that seem to cover all the requirements for a successful outcome. They take into account what employees want; they align with business initiatives; they provide multiple opportunities; they launch a cohesive communications plan; they provide paid time off. But months later, these brilliant programs typically suffer from lack of awareness and low participation.

There are a few reasons companies run into these challenges, but this article is not one of those aforementioned lists of advice. This is a real-life example of what actually worked on the ground for a large company’s recently launched volunteer program. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the story … (or just skip to the summary at the end).


” …since the start of the program we’ve seen an engagement bump of 12% … absenteeism has dropped by 22%.”


Realized Worth co-founder Chris Jarvis and I often conduct ad hoc research for our clients whenever possible. So when we found ourselves in the retail store of a client for whom we had just completed a long series of trainings for their Volunteer Champions, we were curious to see if the program was working as well as we hoped. So we asked a store associate, “Does your company support employees who want to volunteer?” (Had she said no, we would have been devastated.) She said yes and looked at us quizzically as if to say, “Are you a nonprofit? Do you need help?” We quickly explained that we work with their corporate team to support the program and she jumped with excitement. “Oh! Let me introduce you to our store manager and our Volunteer Champion!” She literally skipped to the back of the store and led us through the employee door.

Back in the staff room, the associate asked us to wait while she went to get the manager and Volunteer Champion. The room was full of other associates and so we continued with our research.

”Hey, do you guys know about dollars for doers? When you volunteer, your company will donate money for every hour you volunteered.” They looked at us dully.

“Of course we know that.”

We were surprised. “Really?” We pointed at someone else. “Do you know?” He nodded.

“You?”

“Yep.”

“Well … have you actually used the online tool to record your hours and donate money?”

Again, all 9 people in the room answered affirmatively.

We were amazed. We had hoped the strategy was working this well, but we weren’t sure. “How did you all learn to use the tool?” They pointed to the computers in the back of the room. “Our store manager and the store’s volunteer champion gave everyone a demo on those computers.” At that point, the associate we had spoken with earlier came back in the room followed by two colleagues.

We introduced ourselves and the store manager proceeded to tell us the story of their store’s local implementation of the company’s volunteer program.

He explained:

“A prevalent issue in this city is mental health. Some of our staff have dealt closely with tragic results of mental health issues and so we decided it would make sense to focus our volunteer efforts on something close to home. The first step was education. We spoke to some local partners who have expertise in mental health and work directly with the local community. Then, we invited all of our staff, customers, and business partners to come to the store before opening hours on Sunday mornings, once a month, to hear from an expert and talk openly about mental health. And while we were expecting maybe 20 people to show, the room quickly filled up with ten times that number, incredibly. Then, during the month, we would volunteer with one of those organizations in order to transfer our knowledge to the kind of understanding that comes from direct experience.

But we didn’t want to focus on only the outside community. Mental health is everyone’s issue; it’s a conversation that’s difficult to have even though it affects us all. We decided to inform our associates that anxiety, depression, and other conditions of mental health legitimately qualify for sick days, the same way as the flu or strep throat. This created a new freedom to acknowledge the feelings and difficulties that many of us face.”

Chris and I took turns expressing how impressed we were with the store’s program, but we did have one question: “When you started allowing time off for mental health issues, did your associates abuse the privilege?” The store manager smiled, “You’re going to love this,” he said. “We didn’t intentionally measure the business results of the program, but once we started, we noticed distinct changes in the results of two of our regular surveys. The first was our employee engagement survey. We don’t have a problem with engagement – most of our employees are excited to be here – but nonetheless, since the start of the program we’ve seen an engagement bump of 12%. But even better than that? Since allowing time off for mental health, our absenteeism has dropped by 22%. We believe that giving permission to openly talk about mental health made people who struggle feel more comfortable coming to work.”

The store manager and Volunteer Champion continued to share stories of their amazing program results while Chris and I listened in awe. In hindsight, I can see four distinct elements that not only look good on paper, but in this real-life example, led to meaningful impact – and all of them are easily applied to volunteer programs globally.

Identify a relevant, local issue.

What matters in your community matters to your employees. Look into what they face when they go home, what they hear about on the local news, what is discussed at their community groups or churches. Identifying a relevant, local issue is the first step to addressing a real problem and achieving meaningful impact.

Offer information and experience.

Humans love learning. Provide the opportunity to glean information, facts, statistics, and stories about the issue, but then take it one step farther. Experience takes us beyond knowledge to understanding. By providing both information and experience, employees are able to internalize the issue and make it part of their own personal story.

Make it real by bringing it home.

Focusing too externally when volunteering and giving can – in its most negative iterations – lead to objectification. When we acknowledge that the men and women we work with every day may have experienced some of the challenges facing our local communities, our posture often becomes more respectful.

Partner.

Embrace partnerships of multiple types. Allow nonprofit organizations who are focused on your cause provide the expertise and community connection necessary for impactful programming. Partner with employee volunteers to direct your cause and lead their colleagues in transformative volunteer activities. Partner with other managers (like the store manager and Volunteer Champion in the story) to set an example and share responsibility.

Not a bad story, right? If you’d like to discuss how to make your employee volunteer program work at retail stores, drop us a note! You can get ahold of us via email (contact@realizedworth.com), or reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter. We design and implement employee volunteer programs all over the world – we’d love to help with yours.


Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
Follow Angela on Twitter
Connect with Angela on LinkedIn

This post has been viewed 1,760 times

Introducing RWI …

It was 2008 when the name Realized Worth was born. On Toronto’s Queen Street, Chris Jarvis and I walked the length of the streetcar tracks and painted a verbal picture of the future. We spoke in broad and colorful brush strokes of CSR programs built for efficiency and trainings that inspire action and of volunteering as a conduit for transformation. As ideas took form in the air around us, the months and months we had already poured into developing our business finally began to feel worth the struggle.


“… we are offering people the opportunity to be transformed by the experience of volunteering. We are giving them a chance to give of themselves, realize their own value, and offer that value to others.”


And it was a struggle. We believed in what this company would become, so while we maintained a living with our day jobs,  we spent every spare hour in learning from people who knew more than we did. The most important thing we did those first few years was just listen. And as we listened, the identity of our company took shape.

By Angela Parker

It was a hot evening in Toronto, so we stopped at the park just after Woodbine to sit in the cool grass and continue our conversation. As we watched the evening stream by, Chris’ tone became more reflective.

“Who are we to help companies ask their employees to volunteer? Who are we to ask anyone to voluntarily give their time to anything?”

After a brief pause, he finished his thought:

“But you know what? That’s not what we’re doing. Instead, we are offering people the opportunity to be transformed by the experience of volunteering. We are giving them a chance to give of themselves, realize their own value, and offer that value to others.”

That afternoon, we started referring to the work we were doing as “Realized Worth.”

Needless to say, it stuck.

Since then, the consulting practice of Realized Worth has grown dramatically. We’re proud of our fabulous clients and honored to guide them in the design and implementation of their programs. But the most important thing we do remains what it was in 2008: listening. Our work requires us to learn, to perceive the needs of the field as it changes, to adapt to the challenges practitioners face, and to innovate beyond best practices. Listening requires hours of time spent on special projects, research, and thought leadership outside of our consulting practice. It also requires collaboration with academics and researchers, as well as partnerships with foundations and nonprofit organizations. Together, we learn, push the field forward, and achieve greater ends.

With this in mind, Realized Worth is pleased to announce the launch of the RW Institute. We finally have a platform to take action on the broader issues that are essential to move the practice of corporate citizenship forward and, most importantly, to invite you to take action, too.

What is it?

The RW Institute (RWI) is a think tank founded by Realized Worth. While Realized Worth continues to concentrate its consulting efforts on guiding companies in the design and implementation of volunteer programs, the RW Institute, functioning separately, will focus entirely on broad efforts to advance the practice and theory of corporate citizenship through innovative projects, research, analysis and public policy advocacy.

How does it work?

The Institute is comprised of an association of stakeholders who are committed to removing existing barriers and promoting the practice and theory of corporate citizenship on a global scale. Additionally, the Institute provides a practical mechanism offering ongoing development to employees playing leadership roles in their company mobilizing fellow colleagues towards voluntary pro-social leadership.

This work is expressed through two primary activities:

1. Stakeholder Tables

RWI Stakeholders are invited to initiate stakeholder tables that work towards the removal of barriers to corporate citizenship such as; a) limited resources, b) issues of scale, c) inconsistent global policy and legislative frameworks, and c) limited data to gain buy in and commitments from senior and mid-level managers. Stakeholder Tables typically represent multiple social sectors and form around the themes of practice, projects and research, allowing for collaboration towards shared goals that promote the practice and theory of corporate citizenship on a global scale.

2. Training and Development

The RW Institute offers specialized regional and virtual campus trainings designed specifically for both program managers and employees leading community investment programs across the company.

Who is leading RWI?

The RWI Leadership Council provides oversight on behalf of its identified beneficiaries and benefactors. These volunteers ensure that the Institute achieves desired results at acceptable cost and avoids unacceptable actions or situations and unnecessary risk. Please learn more about RWI’s outstanding leadership council here.

How can you get involved?

There are three ways to actively participate in the RW Institute:

1. Become an Affiliate

Affiliates are entities (individuals or organizations) willing to formally connect to RWI and invest in the establishment and long-term operation of RWI. The investments may refer to financial gifts, in-kind services or goods as well as investments deemed of value by the RWI Leadership Council. Effectively, RWI Affiliates comprise a giving circle that decides together how best to use collected funds and resources to achieve the objectives of the Institute.

2. Initiate a Stakeholder Table

If you represent an organization that has a vested interest in the practice of employee volunteering or giving, you are invited to explore initiating a stakeholder table. These tables of like-minded organizations and individuals work towards the removal of barriers to corporate citizenship such as: a) limited resources, b) issues of scale, c) inconsistent global policy and legislative frameworks, and c) limited data to gain buy in and commitments from senior and mid-level managers. stakeholder tables typically represent multiple social sectors and form around the themes of practice, projects and research, allowing for collaboration towards shared goals that promote the practice and theory of corporate citizenship on a global scale.

Become an RWI Friend

We are looking to create a broad network of like-minded individuals to create massive social change effected through policy, practice and innovation. We’d love to have you contribute your ideas with us and share in the journey towards a better tomorrow.

WEBINAR

Join us on Friday, April 29 for the first ever RWI informational webinar.

  • Friday, April 29
  • 1:00 pm EST

https://realizedworth.webex.com/realizedworth/j.php?MTID=m64097960578c54c4deb298e72a010fdc
Meeting number: 738 193 860

Join by phone
1-650-479-3207 US TOLL
Access code: 738 193 860


Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs for companies around the world. Want to discuss your program with us? We’ll be happy to hear from you! Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
Follow Angela on Twitter
Connect with Angela on LinkedIn

This post has been viewed 6,506 times

Virtual Volunteering: Technology’s Gift to Volunteerism

The following is a guest post from David Ohta, a Stanford University student passionate about online volunteering and service. It has been gently edited for the RW blog. Enjoy!

With 2016 now in full swing, we are once again seeing innovative new technology take the world by storm. This year is set to be full of technological advancements, like virtual reality becoming more accessible to the public and the inevitable release of the iPhone 7. As technology continues to evolve, it provides new ways for us to connect with one another and better ways to work together. When it comes to volunteerism, advancements in technology have played a big role in bringing people together to create social impact. Virtual volunteering has been around since the early 90s, but has recently seen an acceleration in adoption amongst nonprofits, volunteers, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) teams.

Virtual volunteering programs provide flexible, accessible community service opportunities for corporations across the globe. Whether it’s a CEO, an intern, or a remote employee, virtual volunteerism has its own set of unique benefits, providing a viable and advantageous alternative to traditional volunteerism.

david volunteer blog header

By David Ohta

So … what exactly is virtual volunteering?

Virtual volunteering is any volunteering activity that takes place online. Websites like Wikipedia and DoSomething or social services like CrisisTextLine exist as a result of people volunteering their expertise and skills online.

In a recent Points of Light article featuring Jared Chung, co-founder of CareerVillage.org, he outlines some of the advantages of virtual service, like:

  • Engagement: high levels of engagement for first-time volunteers.
  • Flexibility: volunteers can contribute according to their schedules.
  • Ease of access: with no physical barriers, getting started can be as simple as a few clicks from the comfort of your home or office.

But being engaging, flexible, and accessible aren’t the only things virtual volunteerism provides ….

Scalable Impact

The “virtual” aspect of virtual volunteering makes any program highly scalable, making it possible to recruit hundreds of volunteers with little to no complications. The internet’s capacity is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. As a result, the prospect of hundreds of thousands of volunteers acting within a single company in unison to support a single cause is a reasonable expectation. Manpower is a must in working to address any social issue, and such large-scale participation is nearly impossible to manage or officiate in other forms of volunteerism.


The successes of employee volunteer programs can be easily and promptly tracked, allowing for participants to set, achieve, and celebrate the completion of goals with measurable data.


Immediate Success

The transparency of impact is another attractive benefit when it comes to virtual volunteering. Imagine finishing up a week of work at the office after you’ve given 15 minutes of advice online at the end of each work day to find a report in your inbox highlighting just how many student lives you impacted during your week. Now, imagine the emotional boost volunteers will experience as a result of seeing such positive consequences. The successes of employee volunteer programs can be easily and promptly tracked, allowing participants to set, achieve, and celebrate the completion of goals with measurable data.

Like volunteering at a soup kitchen or helping to build a home for the homeless, virtual volunteering targets a need in society and puts “people power” behind the solution. CareerVillage leverages virtual volunteering to address a societal need, namely the nationwide opportunity gap in mentorship education, and works to crowdsource career advice for disadvantaged students (full disclosure: I’m currently an intern with CareerVillage working to provide high school students nationwide with access to mentorship advice and college planning info). By asking professionals from all sectors to volunteer their expertise, knowledge, and experience, CareerVillage is able to provide students with the opportunity to access excellent career advice. If you’re interested in seeing the impact in action, check it out!

Virtual Volunteerism in the Future

With businesses, nonprofit organizations, and workplaces of all varieties quickly adopting virtual volunteering as a viable form of CSR with clear logistical advantages, it is safe to assume that virtual volunteering is here to stay as the future of service initiatives nationwide.

Learn More

Are you a volunteer who is interested in trying out virtual service? Go to volunteermatch.org or All For Good for opportunities.

Want to mentor a student? Go to CareerVillage.

If you’re a CSR professional looking to incorporate virtual volunteering into your own company’s service initiatives, make virtual volunteering a priority for 2016. Track your progress, and let us know what you think about its potential impact.

If you’re a CSR professional interested in piloting a virtual volunteering program with CareerVillage.org, shoot them an email at team@careervillage.org.

Or maybe you’ve already tried virtual volunteering? I’d love to hear about your experience! And even if virtual volunteering is a new idea, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the implementation of virtual service initiatives in the corporate world.


Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs for companies around the world. Want to discuss your program with us? We’ll be happy to hear from you! Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

david blog image
David Ohta
Content Marketing Intern, Career Village
david@stanford.edu
Follow David on Twitter
Connect with David on LinkedIn

This post has been viewed 9,017 times

Why Volunteering is Not Just Volunteering

From the beginning of time, humanity has survived by separating into groups and protecting those who are “in” against those who are “out.” In the days of living in caves, this learned behavior enabled tribes to protect themselves from external threats like wild animals and unfamiliar people who may have been perceived as threats. Today, we have continued separating into groups – or social categories – despite the fact that the threats of early evolution are no longer inherently relevant.

volunteering

By Angela Parker

Most social categories and stereotypes are propagated by society, tradition, and culture. The group to which we belong serves to create and enhance our sense of self. When our group succeeds and another fails, we experience an increase in our status as individuals. Consider the last sporting event you attended. Did your team win? How did you feel?


In-group: a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member.


The sense of identity and personal worth we gain from our group defines who we are. It empowers us to protect, celebrate, and serve others because they are, for all intents and purposes, an extension of ourselves. Conversely, identifying with a group makes it possible for us to objectify those perceived to be outside our group – and in our worst moments, as documented by history, act out violently against them.

Working in groups has contributed to the creation and development of entire civilizations. However, it has also contributed to violence, war, and genocide. Genocide is only possible when the objectification of other human beings occurs on a mass scale, which is made possible through propaganda. Consider the propaganda of the Nazi regime: its themes focused on dehumanizing Jews and implanting a perceived threat. “The crucial factor in creating a cohesive group is to define who is excluded from membership.” When worse came to worse in World War II, the population was prepared to take horrific measures against the group they had come to perceive as “out.”


Out-group: by contrast to an in-group, an out-group is a social group with which an individual does not identify.


The mistreatment of perceived out-groups is an almost daily human experience. From race to religion to age to gender, we constantly see collectives come together and set themselves apart from other groups. The identity that we gain from feeling a sense of belonging is not just a social or psychological behavior; it is also a deeply neurological one. According to research, individuals experience a reduction in brain activity when thinking about someone they perceive as a member of an out-group. Therefore, when they see that individual suffering, they do not react the same way they would for someone in their in-group. What this means is that we do not actively protect people outside our group. We do not feel their pain. We lack empathy. And as a result, we abuse, we neglect, and we objectify.


One can always count on Mean Girls for true insight. 

Thankfully, the evolution of our species is layered and complicated. Beyond our instinct to survive, we are equipped as highly adaptable, emotional creatures. The boundaries around our groups are not impenetrable. In fact, the brain’s synaptic pathways are easily rerouted when we are simply given a reason to identify with an individual who belongs to an out-group. The brain of a study subject will show decreased activity when he or she looks at a homeless person – unless that same individual personally knows a homeless person or has had an experience with homelessness. In that case, his or her brain activity will spike, recognizing that person as someone who belongs. Contact and understanding between in-groups and out-groups enables new neurological reactions, ultimately increasing empathy – and reducing our tendency to objectify fellow human beings.


In nonthreatening contact with out-groups, previously formed conclusions are challenged by interactions, which soon line up with faces and then names.


Volunteering is not just volunteering. Rather, it has the potential to be a nonthreatening space to enable contact between in-groups and out-groups. When volunteer opportunities are provided appropriately and with respect for the sensitive backgrounds and situations of all involved, it becomes possible to eliminate the historically dangerous mindset of us vs. them. In nonthreatening contact with out-groups, previously formed conclusions are challenged by interactions, which soon line up with faces followed by names. Research states that similar, repeat experiences will realign the brain’s synaptic pathways and enable in-groups to expand. Ultimately, experiences with out-groups make them part of our stories. They became an extension of our identities and as such, our empathy circles grow wider, decreasing our ability to assign value based on the group to which a person belongs.

The research referenced above comes from the PBS special The Brain with David Eagleman. Please download to learn more about empathy and the brain.

Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs for companies around the world. Want to discuss your program with us? We’ll be happy to hear from you! Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
Follow Angela on Twitter
Connect with Angela on LinkedIn

This post has been viewed 10,289 times