If you could do one thing to improve your corporate volunteering program this year, what would it be?
- Make it more scalable?
- Make it more meaningful?
- Make it more measurable?
Can I point out something (potentially) obvious? Scalable programs are by default more measurable. Meaningful programs, when they’re built right, are automatically more scalable. Measurable programs are more of both – and if they’re not, you’re not measuring the right things.
- Start with “scalable” if you already have strong Volunteer Champions.
- Start with “meaningful” if you have strong Volunteer Champions who actively plan and facilitate volunteer events.
- Start with “measurable” if you have strong Volunteer Champions who actively plan and facilitate volunteer events and you have a 30% or higher usage rate on your workplace giving software (i.e., YourCause, CyberGrants, Benevity, GoZaround).
How do you decide where to start?
1. Start with “scalable” if you already have strong Volunteer Champions.
Most corporate volunteer programs fail to grow beyond the reach of the CSR manager because the CSR manager holds on to it with a vice grip. They’re strapped for time (and energy) and they’re afraid of what will happen if they start trusting volunteer leaders to lead. Without meaning to, they end up with a program that is built on a model Jim Collins refers to as a “Genius with a Thousand Helpers”. These are the programs where a CSR manager sees themselves as the only person capable of doing the job right. They get everyone to “help” them rather than empowering each person with sharable knowledge and actionable understanding. We don’t have time for singular geniuses in this field. We need CSR managers to empower volunteer leaders to show up at their highest level of contribution in order to scale programs and achieve greater impacts.
Scalable programs prioritize the personal and professional development of volunteer leaders. The core work of CSR managers of scalable programs is providing tools, training, recognition, and guidance. They see when certain volunteers are ready to be pushed beyond what they believe they’re capable of and they see when others need encouragement and coaching. They help people move on when they’re not at a place in their lives where being a Volunteer Leader is right for them. They help people believe in what’s possible when they get discouraged. They cast a vision for the future and show volunteers where they fit.
You might be in a position where you have to start small – and that’s okay! Empowering your leaders to scale the program isn’t hard, but it is a step-by-step process. First, ask yourself, do your volunteer leaders have a clear and inspiring growth path? Can they see what’s next after their second or third year as a Volunteer Champion? Second, have you provided a formal training that demonstrates the value and potential of the role? While training is certainly about telling volunteers what to do and how to do it, it’s also about saying to them, “This role matters.”
One thing we can be sure of is that people don’t care about showing up at their highest level of contribution if they don’t feel like their contribution matters. “You matter” isn’t something someone can be told. It’s something they feel.
Which leads to number two.
2. Start with “meaningful” if you have strong Volunteer Champions who actively plan and facilitate volunteer events.
Scalable programs aren’t scalable because you’ve made people think their contributions matter. And they’re not scalable because you’ve given them a professional development growth path. Scalable programs are scalable because the people empowered to lead are personally bought in to the meaning and purpose the program exists for – the why. Scalable programs are meaningful programs.
Corporate volunteering exists to break down barriers between people – to instill in individuals a sense of agency to make a difference as they themselves are made different through the experience of Transformative Volunteering. What does that mean for you? When it comes to making your program meaningful, your first job as a CSR manager is to decide why your programs mean something to you. What purpose would you fight for? What is it about what you do that moves you?
While each company’s volunteer program has (or should have) specific impact targets that it aims to achieve, the society-wide, shared mission of all our programs is to break down barriers between people through the Transformative Approach to employee volunteering. Volunteering itself is not the point. Volunteering that takes people into contexts where they are invited to challenge their assumptions, guided through the experience that accompanies this challenge, and invited into critical reflection following the experience is a means to an end. The end we’re going for? Perspective transformation. Mindset shift. This is the work all of us are doing together.
Within the tools and training you provide Volunteer Champions, teach them this. Teach them how to guide their colleagues beyond hours and dollars and numbers and toward a meaningful mindset shift. Teach them to curate a meaningful experience (no matter what type of volunteer project they’re doing) by increasing the impact beyond what takes place in the timeframe of the project. They can do this by:
- Intentionally introducing volunteer projects in a way that challenges assumptions.
- Naming how the tasks add value to the individual experience of a real person.
- Critically reflecting together as a group after the event is over.
The approach brings meaning to our experiences and allows them to break down barriers between us and the “other”, ultimately driving us to become people increasingly driven by empathy and compassion.
And what if you have all of this? And you’re ready to measure impacts?
3. Start with “measurable” if you have strong Volunteer Champions who actively plan and facilitate volunteer events and you have a 30% or higher usage rate on your workplace giving software (i.e., YourCause, CyberGrants, Benevity, GoZAround).
“In a truly collaborative environment, everyone has a voice. When people have a voice, they can contribute. When they understand how their contributions fit into a strategy, it gives them purpose. With that purpose comes belief in their organization. Purpose and belief translate into high levels of engagement.” – Kip Kelly, UNC
If you’re like every other company, you struggle to get your Volunteer Champions and the rest of your employee base to use – and especially to record hours – in your workplace giving software platform. While there are a few reasons this happens, it starts with this: Volunteer Champions don’t understand how their contributions fit into a strategy.
If you want a mature and measurable program, you’ve got to set goals. You’ve got to set key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress toward those goals. And you’ve got to have a system for tracking and measuring results. While this system is essential for accountability and risk management, it is also a function of transparency. It shows how the contribution of each program, each volunteer leader, and each volunteer fits into the overarching program strategy, and how all activities lead to one, shared goal. It is essential that your programs fit within one strategic framework so you can internalize and articulate how it all contributes to one mission – and how each person is essential to achieving the mission together.
- Do you have an overarching program strategy?
- Do you have goals and KPIs?
- Do you volunteer leaders know and rally around those goals?
- Do your volunteer leaders brainstorm their own set of contributing goals?
People will not choose to spend energy on activities that have no perceived value. They will not rally volunteers; they will not encourage others to record hours; they will not report on impacts – unless they are given the opportunity to have a voice, contribute to the strategy, and own the goals for themselves. Measurement is tough, yes, but it’s a lot easier when it’s not all on you. So, unless your usage rate on your workplace giving software platform is already at 30% or higher, start with small steps toward making your program more measurable and, in the meantime, choose more scalable or more meaningful as your one big improvement this year.
Start with you
But first? Start with you. It’s tough to scale programs, inspire volunteers toward a meaningful mindset shift, and measure impacts if you don’t know your own why. Why does your job mean something to you? Search your life experience, your relationships, your background, and your heart for that connection. And when you do, let it guide the way you lead. At your company, you are a cultural influencer. Your leadership has the power to create transformative workplaces, change lives, and drive social movements. Your personal motivation and your physical and mental health matter to all of us.