What’s more important than engaging more corporate volunteer groups? Ensuring that their goals align with yours.
It’s tempting to hastily say “yes” when employees from a reputable company inquire about volunteering. The excitement in some cases may even override one’s decision-making process when determining if this inquiry can work.
I can understand all the reasons why; this is an opportunity to connect with a company’s employees on an emotional plane. If you connect and give them a great experience there’s potential they’ll come back, and if they keep coming back, maybe, just maybe you’ll be able to gain their trust and eventual financial support. For that work in volunteer management or development, this opportunity could just be the foot in the door to a promising long-term relationship. Over time you’ll benefit from their brand, skills or pro-bono services and if you play your cards right, financial support.
But what if I told you this is often the exception and not the rule? Would you be less likely to say “yes” knowing your chances may be slim to none? Maybe if you enjoy gambling. But maybe not.
Look, I’m not trying to dissuade folks from seeking corporate employee volunteer groups, programs or projects. However, I strongly believe there are a few things to consider prior to engaging in corporate employee volunteerism on any level. “Why,” you ask? Because you might uncover red flags that suggest the engagement isn’t worth the investment of time and resources you’ll expend to bring the project to life.
First and foremost, ask yourself “whose needs are being met?”
The answer may surprise you. Long story short, the answer should be the non-profit programs you are supporting, or the community you serve. If those aren’t the primary answers, that’s a red flag. And I share this because sometimes employees will seek to volunteer as “team building” for employee engagement. It’s important to understand their underlying motivation may be to have a “good experience” and that’s it. In that instance you may end up building out a project for the sake of engaging these employees in hopes they come back or spread the word about your mission. And before you know it, you’re creating a project that bears additional resources of time and money to deliver that good experience. I suspect you’ve been there.
Secondly, try and uncover their motivation.
Is the inquiry or desire to volunteer coming from a decision maker who’s responsible for that company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy? Or is the employee inquiring from the grassroots level of the company?
Knowing these little details can help you determine if the motive is for a long-term strategic partner or whether the engagement is short-term to satisfy a different objective for that company.
Even the act of volunteering bears costs to the hosting non-profit. So, determine if there’s a project grant that comes with engaging these corporate volunteers. Oftentimes corporate employee volunteers don’t understand the time and resources required to engage their group. This brings up the third consideration. If the employees can’t (or don’t want to) be plugged directly into an already planned event, calculate your staff, administrative and material costs you’ll incur if you say “yes” to this employee volunteer group. If there are costs involved, determine if they have a budget.
Ask “do you have a budget that will support bringing this opportunity to life?”
If the group says “no”, one way you might work to get them to help solve this issue is to put that responsibility back on them. Ask them this question: “How might you help us pay for the additional staff time and raw materials to create this project for your employees?”. It’s a subtle question, and by asking “how”, you put them in the position to problem-solve for the lack of resources.
That’s a very indirect way to ask them to pay. Asking “how” will help you avoid a situation where you are asking them to pay a “fee”. Asking them to pay a fee may create a perception of a “pay to play” volunteer opportunity which often carries a negative perception.
If it’s a situation where by creating a volunteer opportunity to satisfy the corporate group, make sure you can articulate why it bears costs. Costs may go to paying for tools, consumables, raw material for kits, or additional staff time that isn’t grant funded or budgeted for. Make sure they’re aware of these costs. Every question you get about “why” provides an opportunity educate.
And lastly, think about the goals of the company.
Before you say “yes” be sure to research that company’s CSR program. It might be that your organization isn’t even “on strategy” for that company’s social impact work. If that’s the case it might give you more insight into their motives, which may have longer-term implications for future engagement.
All in all, corporate employee volunteering has benefits, but I also know it sometimes has pitfalls. And it’s always a good idea to avoid potential pitfalls at all costs. At the end of the day, though, if it’s not a great fit, let them know, but also share all the reasons why. Every interaction with your corporate counterparts is an opportunity to educate for better alignment, even if down the road.
Jerome Tennille has dedicated his life’s work to creating a more positive culture of volunteering. He currently works on the Social Impact team at Marriott International where he manages the corporate employee volunteer program for Marriott’s global team.
Jerome is also an appointed Commissioner for the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism for the state of Maryland. Before that, he managed volunteer services for a national 501c3 nonprofit supporting families of fallen veterans. Jerome is a veteran of the US Navy and is designated Certified in Volunteer Administration (CVA).