Finding Volunteer Opportunities for Your Company: The Quick and Dirty Answers

Chris Jarvis

Finding Volunteer Opportunities for Your Company: The Quick and Dirty Answers

Finding volunteer opportunities for your company can be tougher than expected. Here are some reasons why, and what you can do about it.

Trends come and go. Skinny jeans, Emo and blogging are trendy. Webkinz, Facebook, and Crocs are trendy. Corporate Social Responsibility, however, is better than trendy. Right up there with eating organic and recycling, CSR is a trend that influences who we are as a society. It’s better than trendy. It’s progress, hope and change.

More and more corporations are working hard to engage themselves in this change. Often, the first step is to start an Employee Volunteer Program (EVP). Should be simple: find a place to volunteer, put a few logistics in place and already, you are becoming a socially responsible corporation.

So, who did you put in charge of your EVP program? And, um…. why do they hate you?

Well, you gave them a tough job. Finding a nonprofit to handle a group of novice volunteers on a particular date and time to do work that everyone feels good about…..can be a pain in the ass. NPOs don’t seem to want or need the help (or they want to train everyone for 6 weeks first), and co-workers can’t help but roll their eyes every time the subject comes up.

Across the Globe, the questions are the same.

Turns out we’re all asking similar questions when it comes to volunteering. People read this blog after Googleing topics like, “How to find a good volunteer experience.” A variation of that query shows up every day. And it’s not just in Canada or the US. People everywhere are at a loss for how and where to volunteer. Dubai. Sydney. London. Pakistan. Nigeria. Across the Globe, the questions are the same. (Even Iran, yes Iran, is going CSR)

Actually, at first I figured “volunteering” must be the kind of topic people have always Googled. Nothing special with no particular connection to the trend of CSR; just a common search. Then I started doing some inquires myself. On the phone and in meetings with both Corporations and NPOs, a theme seems to be emerging. Calgary. San Fransisco. Toronto. Indianapolis. How do we locate and implement corporate volunteering?

The Quick and Dirty.

So, we’re not going to get into all the finer details. Finding a suitable non-profit comes with a load of issues in itself, but like I said, no details for now. Just the quick and dirty, so let’s assume the following: You know all the whys and whats behind your company’s CSR strategy (because….if you don’t, your work hasn’t even started yet). Also, you have clear desired outcomes for the EVP program. If you know these things then you’ve probably taken the steps to structure the program well (again….if you haven’t, we need to talk). Great. You’re ready to pick up the phone, hop online, shoot off an email. NPOs are waiting to hear from you!

Or….maybe not.

Let’s just stave off the inevitable frustration that would follow those phone calls or emails, and identify some alternative paths. Just follow my lead and you’ll find yourself with a great experience, less hair-pulling and saved time.

Survey the ‘higher-ups’
Hopefully, your co-workers have already bought-in to the idea of corporate volunteering and the eye-rolling is at a minimum. (Oh jeez – they’ve graduated to exasperated sighs? You’re screwed, man.) Ideally, a decent percentage of them are already volunteering on their own with an organization they care about. This makes them an immediate NPO resource for you. A company wide survey may bury you in responses and create unwanted expectations. Instead; look up. Ask the higher-ups who they volunteer with. If you are a higher up, then the men and women on your executive team should be ready and willing to provide information. Once you obtain a short list of potential NPOs, make some calls. And name drop. The names of your executive team should help buy positive reactions.

Take advantage of local resources
Does your city have a Volunteer Center? (If you don’t know…dude, you’ve gotta do some research.) There’s a fee for brokering a Corporate Volunteering connection, but it is usually minimal. These people are experts. Use them. They are nonprofits themselves, however, and will only have limited time and resources to invest in the process.

Another local option is the United Way. Quinn Bingham is Toronto’s Director of Corporate and Community Enga…. Right now, he’s working on a process to improve the United Way’s ability to connect and support businesses in their Corporate Volunteering efforts. Hopefully, your local United Way has someone like Quinn working for them. If not, they should still be a good resource for getting an idea of NPOs that might be an option for you.

Use this blog.
About a third down this very page on the right side is a link list entitled Corporate Volunteering Resources. These are some of the best sites of link lists I have come across, and I add new links pretty regularly. (I am very helpful).

Hire a broker.
Yes, there are people who understand the local nonprofit community. Hiring someone to broker the relationship between you and an NPO is a great way to make the process simple and quick. But finding a broker is a bit like finding the nonprofit in the first place. Again, the United Way or a large nonprofit such as the local food bank may have a list of names. Generic brokers like ‘Volunteermatch’ in the US, Timebank in the UK, and Community Builders in Australia are worth checking out too. (I recommend Google for this one.)

Hire an EVP consultant.
Namely, someone who does what I do. I design Employee Volunteer Programs. Any consultant specializing in this field will not only help you make the connection, but will review your entire program enabling your company to leverage the full benefits of each event. Consultants will vary in approach, skill and experience (I’m the best; obviously.) Again, you can find us, but it might take a little looking around. Ultimately, if your business is investing time, money and other resources into Corporate Volunteering, it makes sense to hire an EVP consultant to connect your investments to a clear return on value.

For the Cynics

So, I’ve given you the quick and dirty, but it might not get you where you want to go. I mean, you may run into problems. So….for the cynic or the consummate ‘downer’ or the plain old realist, here are a few potential issues:

The work. Non-profits are doing their best, but may not be ready to accommodate what you’re looking for. Give ‘em a chance, but the work you end up doing may seem trivial or contrived. And….it probably is both of those things. (Doesn’t mean it’s worthless, but that’s a different conversation.)

Training. The ultra cool volunteer opportunities usually require training and long commitments and intense screenings. Want to volunteer with the Humane Society? Great. Just plan on picking up poo. If you’re hoping to see kittens and puppies, you’ll need to work through the hoops listed above.

NPO staff. The local community center may come across less than enthusiastic about your help. Why? Because they are. Volunteers often seem like tourists looking for cheap team building. They don’t want to be your ropes course. Know what I mean?

Confused expectations. Many NPOs will bring in extra staff and make sure there is enough work for the event because they believe there will be a substantial financial payoff down the road. If you are a sizable company, but have no intention of giving financially in significant ways (I mean more than $5000), then you’re bound to create a bad image in the community.

And that’s just the beginning. There may be more problems, or maybe less. No question – Corporate Social Responsibility is important and an EVP program is a perfect way to get started. It just helps to know what you’re getting yourself into, and how to navigate your way through it.

In the end, your EVP program can make your co-workers happier, your community better and your company sexier. How? It’s where we’re going with the next few bogs. See you there….

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