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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.