Lone Employee Volunteers: Connecting to the Company’s Program

The nature of volunteering carries within it the implication that everyone can make a difference, no matter what the size, value, or duration of the contribution. For companies, the benefits of volunteering go beyond making a difference. Studies show benefits ranging from employee retention to skills building to team building and more. But what about those rogue employees who prefer to volunteer alone? Is it possible for individuals to be transformed by the experience of volunteering and bring those benefits back to their companies? From Realized Worth’s perspective, the answer is a resounding yes! Individual volunteering has the potential to be as transformative as group events (assuming specific elements are included). The following outlines the theory behind those elements and recommendations for applying them.

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By Angela Parker

Transformative Learning Theory states that when people experience change in a life-altering way, it takes place in three areas: their sense of self, their beliefs, and their behaviors. If corporate volunteers are going to become more engaged employees who experience the benefits of the volunteer program in their everyday lives, the elements of a potentially transformative experience must be included as much as possible in every volunteer opportunity.

RW Transformative Graphic

At volunteer events, Champions apply these elements by performing keystone behaviors including a brief that explains why the event is important and who it benefits; a debrief that facilitates critical reflection; and the opportunity to progress over time in stages of involvement or leadership appropriate to each volunteer’s desired level of commitment.

Each of the above elements are easily applied to group volunteering events, but may require more preparation or follow-up for individual volunteering. The following list provides a few practical ideas for making transformation more readily available to individual volunteers:

  • Proactive learning

    Encourage each individual volunteer to coordinate with the non-profit to understand the beneficiary on increasingly detailed levels. This will continually encourage cognitive dissidence as the volunteer more accurately understands “the why and the who.”

  • Monthly debriefs

    In order to keep individual volunteers from feeling isolated, empower one who embodies the competencies of a volunteer champion to gather other individuals together for a monthly or quarterly “happy hour” or debrief meeting. Note: this is better organized by a volunteer than by a member of the corporate citizenship team as peers are more willing to share openly with each other and reflect honestly than with someone they perceive as a superior.

  • Virtual debriefs

    Encourage Volunteer Champions to hold virtual sharing sessions with the individual volunteers in their area. Volunteer Champions can be provided a guiding agenda to help facilitate this conversation. Depending on the organization, it may be useful to invite a nonprofit representative to participate in these sessions.

  • Info sessions

    Provide opportunities for individual volunteers to educate their colleagues on the opportunities available. This will act as recognition and critical reflection as well as an avenue for recruitment.

  • Personal check-ins/interviews

    Equip Champions or corporate citizenship staff to speak regularly with individual volunteers and informally interview them about the way this activity is affecting their work and their perception of the company. This will effectively facilitate the critical reflection process and enable volunteers to connect the positive results back to the company that gave them the opportunity in the first place.

Other Considerations to Enhance Individual Volunteer Experience and Promote Leadership

  • Invitations to leadership

    Most individual volunteers are intrinsically motivated to get involved and will function at a higher level of contribution. To enable them to apply their understanding and progress in their knowledge, an invitation to become a Champion should be extended at regular intervals.

  • Sharing at champion check-in calls

    Regularly invite individual volunteers to champion calls to share about their experience. They do not have to be a champion to share their story; this is simply a form of recognition, idea sharing, and a way to connect the individual to the broader program. It also ushers the volunteer into deliberate critical reflection.

These ideas are a good starting point; more will arise naturally as individual volunteers, Champions, and other volunteer leaders are invited into the process. As long as individual volunteers are able to connect with “the why and the who”, have a chance to share their experience and connect it back to the company, and can apply their learning and grow in their understanding, their experience has the potential to be transformative, reaping myriad benefits associated with corporate volunteer programs.


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

 

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A Conversation re: The Voluntourist’s Dilemma

Writer Jacob Kushner presents a dilemma regarding “voluntourism.” We talked about it.

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The Dilemma with The Voluntourist’s Dilemma

In his article for The New York Times Magazine, Jacob Kushner wonders if our good intentions are woefully misplaced when it comes to volunteering abroad. Here are a few quotes that stood out to us:

Several years ago, when I was working as a reporter based in Haiti, I came upon a group of older Christian missionaries in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, struggling with heavy shovels to stir a pile of cement and sand. They were there to build a school alongside a Methodist church. They were “voluntourists”. They would come for a week or two for a “project” — a temporary medical clinic, an orphanage visit or a school construction …

 And yet, watching those missionaries make concrete blocks that day in Port-au-Prince, I couldn’t help wondering if their good intentions were misplaced. These people knew nothing about how to construct a building …

… Perhaps we are fooling ourselves. Unsatisfying as it may be, we ought to acknowledge the truth that we, as amateurs, often don’t have much to offer. Perhaps we ought to abandon the assumption that we, simply by being privileged enough to travel the world, are somehow qualified to help ease the world’s ills …

… I’ve come to believe that the first step toward making the world a better place is to simply experience that place. Unless you’re willing to devote your career to studying international affairs and public policy, researching the mistakes that foreign charities have made while acting upon good intentions, and identifying approaches to development that have data and hard evidence behind them — perhaps volunteering abroad is not for you.

As we often do, one of us sent the article to the rest of the team and we discussed our thoughts and impressions.

Corey Diamond, COO: This is a really interesting piece. What does everyone think?

Ben Bisbee, Senior Strategy Advisor: This speaks to what RW has been saying for years: volunteerism is often more for the individual than it is for the benefactor. Often there are “better” people for the job, but that’s not always the point of volunteerism, or even the point of the task. It’s about leveraging free labor while introducing experiences and the mission of the organization.

Christine Johnston, Director of Project Management and Global Initiatives: I think the distinction for me (whether I’m for or against it) has to do with the NGO and activity in question. I once personally had an especially terrible experience in a developing country with “voluntourism” that made me never ever want to engage in that way again. We were taking jobs away from locals and effectively ensuring that the children there stayed illiterate. It was awful. I realized I wasn’t helping at all – I was part of the problem.

Sabrina Viva, Director of Account Management & Latin America Initiatives: I had a similar experience to Christine’s when I was in Costa Rica for a “voluntourism” trip. Being an avid local volunteer all my life and then experiencing a volunteer activity that was heavily transactional left me disappointed and failing to see how I was “changing the world.” But then I had an epiphany when I met those 33 children at the orphanage. Although I couldn’t change their circumstances, I could contribute in my personal way. The relationship with those children continues to this day, over 10 years later. Although my experience started off transactional, many years later, I am confident saying it was truly transformative.

CD: In January, when we were volunteering together in the Dominican Republic, the leader of local NGO said something that will always stick with me: he called us “useless”. We were there to paint some homes and clean up a neighbourhood that has experienced decades of neglect. The NGO leader explained that the paint we bought could’ve easily been used by the local families. They didn’t need our physical help at all. Despite this, our role in “helping” was so utterly important to changing these people’s lives because of the seed that was going to be planted in all of us. The experience itself was the product, not the painting. I think it’s far too didactic to suggest international volunteerism is “bad”; instead we need to be exploring how to frame the experience for everyone so that the seed is planted and we change as individuals because of it.

BB: I’ve said this for years, but NGOs need to do better at constructing a universe within their opportunities that speak to real skills (or lack thereof) and then figure out the by-products associated with volunteer opportunities. In the case this article presents, do the volunteers need to understand construction? I’m unsure. But if they do, it should be taught or demanded. And if not, then what is the value to the volunteer for doing this without education or insight to formal construction? Those elements need to be more thoughtfully developed, frankly.

CJ: The international development professional inside of me was sometimes screaming during parts of this article. When it referenced long term plans beyond volunteerism or supporting a project with money over time, whatever it is, it needs to contribute and be sustainable rather than a detraction from progress. This is why I think organizations and programs such as WUSC, CECI, and Moving Worlds do such a good job. They are so focused on the continuum of social impact surrounding one volunteer’s experience, so that volunteers can go for a short amount of time and know in good conscience that they are contributing to sustainable development. This allows them to have their mind freed up to have that transformative experience we are all trying to give them.

SV: In the fast-paced, multifaceted world that we live in today, I think there is a place for everyone. To tell individuals they cannot and should not volunteer because their volunteer activity is not sustainable and has no effect on the benefactor would limit almost every Stage 1 person. There is a space and a need for this type of volunteering. However, I do agree that organizations (like the ones mentioned by Christine) and those highly enthusiastic Stage 3 volunteers need to continue their important work on the ground. These efforts should create jobs for locals and focus on sustainable solutions. In partnership with voluntourism, it will perhaps move towards more skills-based opportunities, and will be crucial to the future success of these communities.

BB: I agree. I also really dislike this behind-the-two-way-mirror assessment of volunteerism. that one single act “won’t save the village”. Why demand so much from so little? Again, I would argue that it’s not the point. It’s like saying a soup kitchen is essentially worthless unless they serve three full meals a day every day to everyone who is hungry. You can’t apply one distinct outcome from one distinct contribution. It really does takes a village, even if parts of that village are just tourists.

CD: True. When a volunteer is told they are not making a difference, the opportunity for that volunteer’s transformation won’t happen. I would also say that when a volunteer sees that their contribution is actually inhibiting the intended social impact, the opportunity for that volunteer’s transformation will not happen and may even lead to that individual being disengaged with volunteerism altogether. That’s not what any of us in this space want!


So does voluntourism present an unsolvable dilemma, or does it have its merits? Tweet us @realizedworth and let us know what you think.


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.

 

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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.

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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

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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

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