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How To Create an Effective Corporate Volunteering Program

Volunteers carrying wood

Volunteering expert Brandolon Barnett shares his proven strategy for setting up a workplace volunteering program in six steps.

Volunteering, particularly in the United States, has transformed communities regardless of how it’s done, from pro-bono activities, in which volunteers offer their professional skills to people and organizations in need, to group volunteering, which can create lasting personal connections, and international volunteering, which can connect people to cultures and challenges that stirs their passion. Most quality volunteer opportunities help develop an empathetic connection between volunteers and the communities they serve. 

Giving and volunteering technology platforms allow employees to easily find causes and opportunities. Yet, as Jon Stahl outlined in his piece on the four pillars a company must leverage to turn their company into a force for good, technology is only one piece of the puzzle. Just as organizations and individuals create sophisticated programs for giving, grants, and matching, they must do the same for volunteering. 

To be impactful, volunteering requires more than sending a calendar invite to a group of people. It takes planning, coordination, and follow-through with nonprofits, employees, and leadership — and requires strong management procedures to ensure results. This complexity increases significantly with larger employee counts, distributed geographies, and diverse communities. So how can a company go about creating an effective volunteering program? Here is a six-step approach:

1. Identify and prioritize your goals 

There is no one “right” goal for an employee volunteering program. But as with anything in life, goals are required for success. They should derive from a variety of sources that include your values as an organization, your relationship to the outside world, your financial and human resource goals for your company, and your employees’ desires. For example, an organization that has a generally open company culture and close ties to a single community might decide that its goal is to engage the highest percentage of employees in whatever causes in their community resonate with them. 

Alternatively, a company that has a more structured internal culture, a global or national operation, and an employee base highly specialized in one skill may decide that a better goal is to create a pro bono volunteer program that helps those employees further enhance their skills and elevates the company’s brand. Neither strategy is wrong or even lacking in impact. While pro bono volunteering can certainly be transformational for resource- and talent-strapped organizations, as mentioned in our recent webinar, there is also immense impact to be found simply in creating meaningful human connections and empathy through volunteering.

2. Zero in on your volunteering strategy 

When developing a strategy for your volunteering program, it’s important to consider your overarching corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals and ensure your volunteering strategy aligns with them. Your CSR goals can help broadly define parameters such as the volume, type, and sources of volunteering opportunities and content needed to meet the stated goal effectively. For example, a goal of engaging as many employees as possible with a diverse set of skills would require a wide network of partners to generate informative and motivational content. That might necessitate designating dedicated employees and leaders as champions and an open call to local nonprofits to provide opportunities for your employees. But a goal that is centered more on the pro bono application and development of skills would require strategies that develop deep partnerships with carefully chosen organizations. 

3. Align your tactics with your goals and strategy 

Effective tactics would flow logically from the chosen strategy. For example, if the goal is to improve employee engagement, the strategy may call for a high volume of diverse opportunities or partnerships. That means your tactic might be to create a robust champion role to distribute the responsibility of content creation and generation, or join into a partnership with a national nonprofit that provides volunteering opportunities at scale, across all locations. Alternatively, if the goal is to address a specific problem in your community, the strategy may call for a low volume of extremely targeted opportunities. So your tactic might be to form deep local or regional partnerships to source very specific and relevant opportunities for employees. Incentives and program rules also become clear at this stage.

4. Measure your impact 

This is the simplest to summarize but perhaps the most difficult to do. Any measurement of impact must be filtered through the lens of an organization’s goal. If the goal is participation, that is an essential metric for success along with anecdotal and qualitative evidence for the impact that participation has on employees’ lives, happiness, and perspectives. Surveys are a great way to gather this feedback.

5. Message effectively 

Once you start measuring impact, you must communicate the outcomes to your stakeholders. This generates buy-in from leaders and enthusiasm from employees, as well as new ideas that can make your program even more effective. This messaging — and the audience and nature of the messaging and reporting — is also driven by your overall goal. Effective messaging includes more than just metrics and milestones. Storytelling can be an excellent way to connect employees to one another as well as to causes, organizations, and even recipients. Again, messaging should align with your overall goals and strategy.

6. Analyze and track progress and changes 

Finally, create a framework from the beginning to measure the performance of the program over time. This is a vital step that’s often missed, but it’s essential to think through your framework clearly from the outset. This framework allows you to generate CSR reports, which are critical for transparency for both your employees and external stakeholders. Tracking and analyzing your progress regularly also allows you to course-correct and evolve your program over time. Eventually, it becomes the arc of your program and the lens through which you can continuously evaluate your tactics, strategies, and goals. Remember that change is inevitable and the program you create today might not be the one your company needs tomorrow. But without a framework in place, you’ll have no record of this evolution and no way to track progress.

When combined, these steps can enable an organization to create an effective volunteering program. And once you have these steps laid out, Philanthropy Cloud and our partners at United Way can provide the tools, technology, and expertise to help you execute this process. At its best, volunteering is a selfless expression of the best of who we are. There are no right answers for how to mobilize that genuine human desire to give our time to make a difference.

For more tips on how to implement a volunteering solution in your company, watch our webinar

Brandolon Barnett More by Brandolon Barnett

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