Hoping for a better year this year? We are, too! Here are three tips for making your social impact programs successful in 2021. And don’t forget – we’re here to help! Explore recent blogs such as When Volunteering is Too Easy and Recognition, Rewards, and Incentives, the RW Institute’s ListenUp! Show, or give us a call to troubleshoot challenges together. In the meantime, here’s hoping the following 3 Tips are a good place to start!
Tip#1: Give yourself a break. When the corporate social responsibility professionals I speak with each week tell me their challenges, the first thing I find myself saying is, “You’re not alone.” While each company and situation is unique, the overarching challenges are the same. Teams are small, under-resourced, and over-worked. Measurement is hard. Volunteers are tired. Workplace giving platforms are a change management nightmare. HQ doesn’t know what’s going on globally – or why. There’s no cohesive narrative. D&I, HR, and Comms are all doing things we’re doing. How do we bring it all together?
So, maybe start the year by giving yourself a break. You are not alone. We are all developing this field together, getting smarter every year, getting more strategic as we work toward greater impacts. It’s hard work. It’s exhausting. So, go easy. Take one step at a time. You do not have to have your %$&# together. You do not have to enjoy your job every day. Meaningful work is too important to be fun all the time – but the outcome is worth it. So, keep going, but go gently.
On that note, consider outsourcing your troubles. There are amazing firms out here that spend all their time learning and practicing so you don’t have to be the expert of everything. Consider True Impact for measurement, Give To Get for virtual volunteer events, Common Impact and Taproot for skills-based volunteering, Aaron Hurst, Carol Cone, Bea Boccolandro for Purpose-driven research and strategies, Points of Light for CSR consulting, MovingWorlds for strategies to scale social impact, and of course, Realized Worth for strategic programming and Volunteer Champion training. (There’s more! Let us know if you’d like additional recommendations!)
Tip#2: Measure engagement by “sharing.” If you’ve struggled with collecting impact stories, you’re (still) not alone. Storytelling is a common challenge faced by corporate social responsibility practitioners. Realized Worth has two simple pieces of advice here:
1. Change your metric for engagement. Engagement is not just logging in or showing up. Engagement is sharing. Set the expectation that employees who participate in social impact programs demonstrate their commitment by telling the story of their experience. This will do two things for you: 1. It will provide a repository of stories to draw from; 2. It will provide a real metric of success. If employees don’t have stories to tell or aren’t interested in sharing about their experience, the experience isn’t good enough – which means you can work on finding out why and improving it!
2. Change the way you ask for stories. Human brains are not moved by general questions. “How are you? How was your day? What’s going on?” These are the types of questions to which we respond, “Fine, good, not much.” Even more specific questions (“Tell me about your day. What meetings did you have?”) typically lead to arms-length descriptions, too general for listeners to connect with. When it comes to impact stories, we often request them with the same, general questions. “Tell us about your volunteer event. What was the most meaningful moment?” Instead, ask questions that invite the teller to put themselves at the center. Here are two recent examples that produced some of the most moving impact stories I’ve ever read:
a) A disorienting dilemma is a moment where something happens that doesn’t fit your expectations. Often, it’s a moment you find yourself thinking about later, trying to make sense of what happened and how you felt. Tell us about a disorienting dilemma you experienced while volunteering. What happened? What surprised you? What did you learn?
b) Do you think volunteering and giving (or civic engagement activities) can create empathy? Have you ever had a social impact experience that changed your view of people or issues? Tell us what happened and what you learned.
Tip#3: Make volunteering valuable. Does this one sound obvious? Despite the fact that we all seem to know volunteering is valuable, we tend to treat it like it’s a favor, a pain, an obstacle. Some companies have tried to solve this problem by paying volunteer leaders, but unfortunately, this results in a sense of “play” becoming “work.” So, if paying volunteers doesn’t make the role feel valuable, what does? Here are some effective tactics that produce highly engaged volunteer leaders:
1. Official title and role description. Provide a proper role description for Volunteer Leaders, including time commitment and expectations. We typically ask for a commitment card as well! Explain that as a recognized title at the company, employees are welcome to list their official title alongside their internal signature and on their LinkedIn profiles. Provide a downloadable signature image for use!
2. Manager-approved development goals. Middle managers are either the greatest obstacle or the greatest catalyst to meaningful volunteer participation. Enable employees to coordinate with their managers to turn volunteering into a win-win. Provide simple templates, equipping employees to get sign-off from their managers on volunteer-related development goals. Do they want to improve their team management skills? Their virtual facilitation skills? Their project management skills? They can do it all through volunteering. Keep it casual so it aligns with HR but doesn’t get in their way.
3. Meaningful training and support. It’s no secret: corporate programs that are launched with low expectations and minimal support are perceived as low value. If everyone is accepted, commitments are not expected, meetings are not mandatory, and there is no required training – this is clearly a “nice to have” program without any real meaning or benefit. With that in mind, offer meaningful training and support to your employee volunteer leaders. This can be as simple as short videos and a simple toolkit, or as robust as live trainings, highly produced videos, and robust tools and templates. The point is, make it clear that this program matters enough to the company to merit investment.
It’s a new year and everyone wants a new start! Small changes can yield big results, so try a few of the tips above and let us know how it goes! Need ideas specific to your challenges? Reach out to our team of experts at firstname.lastname@example.org.