Corporate Volunteering: Top 7 Requests & the Bad, Better and Best Responses (2 of 7)

Chris Jarvis

The following blog entry is a cross-post from my blog Realizing Your Worth.

“We want an activity that can be done together as a team”

Companies want to engage their communities through employee volunteering programs. For most, this means calling a non-profit and scheduling an activity. But how should non-profits respond? Is there a “best” answer for everyone? (Part 2 of 7)

Non-profits tend to hear the same general requests for volunteer opportunities from companies again and again. Particularly lately, with the increased interest in volunteering, non-profits are beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed. There are basically 3 types of responses to the requests of companies: Bad, Better, and Best. With this blog series, we plan to guide you smoothly to the “best” response.

One thing to remember: Always start with “why.” Its essential to know what companies want, but first you must know why they want it. Assessing “why” will guide you to a solution that’s better for you, your community, and their company.

The 7 Requests:

The Ideal Volunteer Experience….

  1. …can be undertaken in a day
  2. …can be done together as a team
  3. …has intrinsic value
  4. …does not clash with other objectives
  5. …enhances the skills of their employees
  6. …coincides with the company’s chosen cause
  7. …coincides with what their employees want to do

(These 7 requests have been adapted from material provided by and can be found here as part of a very helpful slide presentation).

2. “We want an activity that can be done together as a team”


It doesn’t take a genius to decipher the “why” behind the request for a team volunteering activity. Companies are desperate for innovative and effective team-building experiences. Volunteering together is cheaper than a conference or wilderness retreat, and saving money is a priority these days. As if saving money isn’t enough, volunteering also affords execs the rare opportunity to work alongside the new guys. How else will authentic team-building take place?

And finally, volunteering is the kind of experience that has the potential to meaningfully effect perspectives and behavior. In order for this kind of effect to take place, volunteers must have space for team reflection, where employees discuss what they thought and felt about the event. Team-building activities provide numerous and ongoing opportunities for this type of reflection – a bit like watching a great movie and then talking about it after over coffee. Each person internalizes what was seen and offers their insight to the others. This sharing enables the experience to become part of who we are and how we act.

Ok, that about covers it. Now that you’ve thought through the “why”, its time to consider what these things mean for you and your non-profit. Is it the best decision to fill this request?

Bad, Better, and Best Responses:

BAD: Fake it.

It’s always tempting to fixate on dollar signs – especially when a call comes in from a business. Chances are they’re not going to stick around for more than their one “team-building” event, so might as well try and make it worth it. If you can convince them that your cause is fun and exciting, and the things they can do to help you are quick and easy (e.g., “write a check”), maybe they will become a regular source of funding.

And so, you begin the arduous process of planning a stand-alone volunteering event. Big. Exciting. Fun.

And it’s true! These events are big, exciting, and fun. Your volunteers will have a great time and then walk away with happy illusions of simple problems and easy solutions.

But, as you well know, the problems are actually complicated and the solutions require knowledge, resources, and commitment. Use stand-alone events to promote your non-profit’s cause, raise money for an isolated project, or introduce people to volunteering. Do not put the time and energy into a huge event hoping to see a long-term partnership or funding come out of it. In the end, it only hurts your non-profit to allow companies to believe the solutions are easy. Don’t fake it. This response is bad for your non-profit.

Faking it is also bad for the company. Remember the “whys” from earlier? If a company genuinely wants a team-building experience, they need an event that offers space for interaction and reflection. Also, if they are hoping for employees to rub shoulders and connect with people from other parts of the organization, there must be enough time to move past introductions to meaningful connection.

These things won’t happen in 2 hours on a Saturday. They won’t even happen in 6 hours – on any day of the week! Huge employee volunteer events are great for a handful of reasons, but it is ridiculous to assume that they generate loyalty, broaden perspectives or effect productivity – not to mention, build teams.They don’t. Ever. As far as team-building goes, these events are bad for the company.

Examples of achieving sustainable solutions for a community issue between 10am and 4pm on a Saturday are rare. (Even Habitat for Humanity can’t pull that off.) Community issues are complex and take time to resolve – the use of one-day events to create the illusion of simple problems and easy solutions is dangerous. Communities cannot afford to be teased by brief (albeit well-intentioned) “help” from businesses who can walk away from the problem at the end of the day. For companies trying to establish a socially responsible strategy as part of their community engagement, one-day events are obstacles to real solutions and therefore bad for the community.

BETTER: Plug & Play

You’ve covered the first 2 steps: find out “why” the company wants what they want, and then decide NOT to “fake it.” Now, how about we consider a better option?

What if a company calls, asks for a team-building event, and makes it clear that this is a one-time thing? You already know you don’t want to create a massive event for them, and you don’t want to turn them away either. What are you to do?

Easy! All you need is an ongoing, open volunteer opportunity. This is a space where all types of volunteers can show up on a regular basis (or just one time) and involve themselves to any degree they want. The activity provided should be one that can be accomplished with 3 volunteers, or 53 – which means it can easily accommodate teams. There is no pressure, no obligation, no disappointment. Read more about this concept in part 1 of this series: Corporate Volunteering: Top 7 Requests & the Bad, Better and Be…

This option is better for you (the nonprofit) because you’ll always have an answer for this type inquiry when it comes in. There will be no added strain on your organization and your preparedness will make you look amazing. Just plug in the teams, and let them play the volunteer role.

A “plug and play” is also better for the community. With it, you give volunteers a chance to opt into returning on a regular basis. At the very least, more people will be aware of your pressing issues, and this is a win for the community. Better yet, returning volunteers will have the opportunity to personalize their motivations. This will move them toward becoming advocates for the cause. For more on motivating volunteers read our article Want Good Volunteers? Forget The Altruistic And Find The Self-Inter…

For similar reasons, a ‘plug & play’ is better for the business. Quickly plugging into an existing event allows them to check the “community engagement” box off the list, and still have a meaningful experience. They may not be initially interested in an ongoing relationship, but at least you’re not “faking it” at a stand-alone event. In addition, your preparedness will allow the business to focus on the more important outcomes of the volunteer experience, rather than wasting time on tedious details.

But there’s still one more option….And we definitely saved the best for last.

BEST: Leverage Mass Collaboration

That’s right, mass collaboration. They call it crowdsourcing and it is the latest and greatest (and extremely damn valuable) form of volunteering. Jeff Howe came up with the term. You can look it up on Wikipedia (and note that Wikipedia itself is a great example of crowdsourcing.)

Ok, let’s assume your non-profit wants to start a free health-care clinic. Here are some things that would benefit you: the objective ideas, feedback, and collaboration of people outside of your NPO. Particularly, the minds of business men and women.

Before crowdsourcing, the only way to get this kind of help was by hiring a group of consultants or sending out a (useless) email questionnaire. Now, when a business calls asking for a team-building experience, you can offer them something truly meaningful.

Crowdsourcing is basically taking a problem (meaning anything you want to figure out) and asking a crowd to solve it. It’s an open call for solutions. The crowd is sorted into groups and these groups brainstorm and submit solutions. The crowd also sorts through the solutions, finding the best ones. Then you, the non-profit, receive and own the solution. Sometimes the “winning” group is rewarded, sometimes the reward is simply intellectual satisfaction or, as in this case, effective team-building. Crowdsourcing can produce solutions from anyone – amateurs, volunteers, experts. All you need is a crowd. (Of course, this explanation had been adapted from Wikipedia.)

Crowdsourcing is the best response for 3 reasons, plus 1:

1 – It creates enough space for large groups to do something together on a regular basis, depending on the volunteers interest and schedule.

2 – By offering the opportunity for a crowd to solve community problems, you’re able to access skills, networks and resources you may not have known to ask for.

3 – The most important aspect of this option is that everyone participating will be personally involved and highly motivated. Want Good Volunteers? Forget The Altruistic And Find The Self-Inter…

And finally, this is the best option because the work of managing volunteers is left with the volunteers themselves. Crowdsourcing eliminates the inordinate amount of time and energy that is normally expended on recruiting, retaining and managing volunteers – for both the nonprofit and the company. Watch for an upcoming article titled, “ How to Crowdsource: A Guide for NPOs.”

“We want an activity that can be done together as a team”

When a business asks for a volunteer opportunity that can be done together as a team, it’s bad to fake it. It’s better to “plug and play.” And it’s best to crowdsource and give the business what they want, while ensuring that you get what you need. If the “best” response sounds like too much work, don’t give up yet. It’s easy! Look for upcoming articles to guide you.

Next time: “We want a volunteer experience that has intrinsic value” and how to respond.

Chris Jarvis
Senior Consultant, Realized Worth, Toronto, Canada 416-567-2004
Email me; ch*********@re***********.com
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