Sustainably innovative corporate community engagement programs offer training modules, toolkits, and scheduled support to well-structured networks of employee volunteers. Did you know there are eight key practices that make Employee Volunteer Leaders successful? Check them out here and let us know if you have questions!
1. Finding Volunteer Opportunities
Your workplace giving platform is supposed to be the secret to finding volunteer opportunities, right? Right! And…wrong. Software platforms on their own – no matter how robust and user-friendly – will not do the work of searching for the right non-profit in the right geographic region with the right focus and the right activities. Most employees will not do that work on their own, either. It takes trained and incentivized individuals to find volunteer opportunities that will work for your employees. Teach your volunteer leaders how to use your workplace giving platform and why it’s valuable. Then, deputize them to engage others! Make it part of their role to find opportunities, set up events, and support volunteers as they record hours. It may sound like a lot, but they’ll share the work with others as the program grows!
What’s the risk if they can’t do it? When employee volunteer leaders don’t know how to use your workplace giving platform (and teach others to use it, too!), participation numbers fail to grow as platform management falls solely to the Corporate Citizenship team who simply cannot scale beyond their own limited capacity.
2. Scoping Volunteer Projects
Even when it’s easy to find eligible non-profits via the software platform, not every organization has a volunteer project that works. Particularly when it comes to virtual volunteering, it’s important that volunteer leaders (your “Champions” or “Ambassadors”) understand how to effectively partner with organizations and scope a meaningful and effective volunteer project. Do they know the questions to ask? The posture to take? When the organization is a good fit or not a fit at all? Teach your volunteer leaders to have a conversation with their non-profit organization that covers everything from what the organization needs, to what the company needs, to how to work together to help volunteers go beyond a typical, transactional experience. It works best to provide a script as a guide that volunteer leaders can make their own!
What’s the risk if they can’t do it? When employee volunteer leaders are unable to scope a project on their own, companies struggle to scale volunteering beyond what the Corporate Citizenship team can offer. Additionally, when leaders are not guided in how to scope, they may unknowingly pressure the organization to do what the company wants as opposed to what’s right for the community.
3. Recruiting Volunteers
Most people who volunteer for the first time do so because someone they know invited them. Most people do not volunteer for the first time because of an email campaign or digital bulletin board. When volunteer leaders are given tools and information to recruit their colleagues to join them in volunteering, participation increases exponentially. Teaching volunteer leaders to recruit is one of the easiest wins of a successful volunteer program. Recruitment can seem difficult, but it really just requires a few tips and tricks. Once leaders learn these tricks, they begin to experience the sense of belonging that comes with building a small group of like-minded individuals which serves to increase their motivation to continue recruiting others.
What’s the risk if they can’t do it? When employee volunteer leaders are unable to recruit their colleagues to volunteer, participation typically stagnates, and leaders eventually get discouraged and drop out.
4. Facilitating Volunteer Teams
While individual volunteering will also take place at your company, it’s team-based volunteering that will lead to benefits like increased engagement, brand loyalty, retention, a sense of belonging, and affective commitment. Volunteer leaders are the key to turning corporate community engagement into the program everyone wants to join. They make (or break) the experience of employee volunteers by effective facilitation of their volunteer team. Do volunteer leaders know how to lead an engaging meeting? How to create space for each person to talk and how to make sure everyone is comfortable? Do they know how to effectively follow-up, provide opportunities for growth, and recognize their volunteers? Teaching volunteer leaders these skills not only makes it possible to provide amazing volunteer experiences, it also turns volunteer leadership into a professional development opportunity.
What’s the risk if they can’t do it? Without fail, when volunteer leaders are voluntold, or if companies fail to engage well-trained volunteer leaders, employees steadily drop out of the program or choose not to return. The experience the volunteer leader provides is a more dependable indicator of program success than any other programmatic element.
5. Conducting the Brief
Part of providing a meaningful volunteer experience is setting up the project with a brief that creates space for transformation to occur. When we talk about transformation, we’re referring to the change that occurs in volunteers over time – specifically, in the way they see themselves, the way they see the world, and the way they act. When volunteer leaders frame community engagement opportunities by helping people understand who the project benefits and why it matters, the focus shifts from tasks to people. Over time, this develops greater understanding in volunteers for community issues and empowers them to act and make decisions that are influenced by empathy and compassion.
What’s the risk if they can’t do it? Without a transformative brief, volunteering can still be a great experience for both volunteers and non-profits. However, the brief increases the potential impact of volunteering by inviting individuals to challenge their assumptions about people and issues that they may have previously “othered.” These invitations to check our perspective – and even our privilege – are small steps that move us toward more inclusive workplaces. Without the brief, volunteering still happens, but personal transformation is less likely.
6. Guiding Volunteers
Not everyone is at the same stage on their volunteer journey. Some people are just getting started, some are very experienced, and others have never volunteered at all. Treating new volunteers the same way you would treat a veteran volunteer (or vice versa) tends to confuse people or burn them out. Do your volunteer leaders know how to meet volunteers at their highest level of contribution? Do they know how to recognize volunteers on the different stages of the volunteer journey? Guiding volunteers is an essential element of volunteer leadership – and it’s an excellent management skill to practice and bring back to work.
What’s the risk if they can’t do it? Too many volunteers try out a corporate community engagement opportunity only to feel uncomfortable, awkward, and uncertain. Sometimes events are managed so poorly that employees choose not to volunteer ever again. Teaching volunteer leaders to guide the experience of their volunteers helps ensure employees are having the experience the company hopes for – and that both participants and non-profits are positively impacted.
7. Conducting the Debrief
Even when volunteers are effectively guided by their leader, community engagement experiences can sometimes be uncomfortable or simply not what the volunteer expected. In this case – as well as in cases where the experience is extremely positive – it’s important to close every event with a debrief. When volunteer leaders are taught to facilitate a debrief that invites critical reflection, volunteers have a chance to make sense of their experience. Sensemaking is what helps human beings assign meaning to what they encounter in their day to day lives and it’s ultimately the practice that helps us internalize our experiences and change our attitudes and behaviors as a result. The debrief ushers in the impacts companies and communities hope for.
What’s the risk if they can’t do it? Without the debrief, volunteers are left to make sense of their experience without any guidance and without the insights of the group. Typically, this means they simply do not make time for critical reflection and the potential impacts are left unrealized. Worse, without the guidance of the group, participants sometimes interpret feelings of discomfort or surprise as “wrong” and choose not to return to volunteering.
8. Measuring and Reporting
The most effective corporate community engagement programs distribute responsibilities related to measurement and reporting out to the volunteer leaders in various regions – we call these Regional Volunteer Champions. Together with their Volunteer Champions, they set goals that contribute to the overarching objectives of the program. From there, they are empowered to partner with their volunteers to achieve those goals and record their volunteer hours in the workplace giving platform. Shared goals act like a rallying cry to galvanize groups of volunteers toward a shared mission, ultimately contributing to a sense of belonging at work.
What’s the risk if they can’t do it? When groups of people participate in similar activities are unsure of the intended outcome, they tend to focus on personal motivation rather than team outcomes. Sometimes personal motivation is all that’s needed to keep someone engaged, but most often, motivating groups to work together requires a sense of shared purpose. Without that purpose, storytelling is fractured, a sense of belonging is rare, and participation tends to wane.
Does it all seem like too much? Volunteer leaders who are expected to deliver meaningful and impactful programming need structured guidance and support. With it, they are motivated and empowered. Without it, they are unclear and feel undervalued. Don’t be afraid to elevate the status of your volunteer program by teaching volunteers real skills that lead to real results!