If you want an engaging employee volunteer program, you’ll need to make it 3 dimensional. Here’s how.
If you’re even vaguely familiar with Realized Worth, chances are you’ve heard us mention the “Journey of the Volunteer.” Whether in blogs, presentations, or client work we talk about this journey as much as we can. Why? It is the most essential key to success for employee volunteer programs. The Journey of the Volunteer is not a theory we made up over here in our offices, in front of our computer screens – it is a reality we’ve observed for many years on the streets, as and with volunteers.
As you design your employee volunteering program, things will quickly begin to make sense as you incorporate the reality of the 3 stages that take place in the journey of the volunteer. It’s not a difficult task – but it does take some time. Either way,it’s worth it. Here are a couple thoughts to get you on your way to designing a program that results in meaningful impacts for your company, your community and your employees.
Stage 1: Experience before Commitment
First, many people, both in North America and the UK, are not in the regular habit of volunteering. The opportunity to volunteer in your company’s program will be many people’s first time engaging in this type of civic activity – ever. For these uninitiated volunteers, remember this: the activity must be about experience first – not commitment.
The 1st Stage in a volunteer’s journey is one of investigation and curiosity. As we often note in ourblogs, people who choose to participate in your EVP will be compelled by extrinsic motivations. It is important to provide free space for employees to discover their intrinsic (internal and personal) reasons to continue to participate in further corporate volunteering opportunities. In the 1st Stage, allowing employees to self-identify as “willing to take the next step” is a key component. By allowing employees to internalize their motivation and move forward at their own pace, you will eventually see the right people step into the right leadership roles at the right time.
Stage 2: Guidance toward Leadership
The 2nd Stage in the journey of a volunteer is one of meaningful discovery. An identity begins to form within the volunteer that includes the place/cause for which they are volunteering. Often it is a time filled with frustration and confusion. Many people in Stage 2 tend to ask questions which can be framed rather negatively – this is because they are trying to break away from an ‘us and them’ mentality, to one of inclusion where they ‘belong’ to the people/cause with which they volunteer.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, employees that have moved into stage 2 are likely candidates for leadership development and basic leadership roles. Program leaders and supporting staff should be trained to identify and recruit employees at this stage to more intense levels of involvement. Usually, this kind of training takes place in the form of a workshop, but there are also online tools, printed materials or even coaching calls. (One major element that needs to be taught? Reflection.)
Stage 3: Empowering Leaders
Finally, the 3rd Stage in the journey of a volunteer is one of alignment and internalization. At this point, the individual’s identity has fused with the specific cause or activities associated with the EVP. The employee-volunteer is now a champion for the cause with regard to the objectives of the community, fellow volunteers/staff, and the organization. In fact, loyalty to the overall success of the community/cause/project, becomes aligned with personal benefit.
Your company probably has a handful of 3rd Stage people (there are only ever a handful, if any at all). So how do you find them?
Our recommendation is to profile existing employees with targeted surveys, phone interviews, or though consultation with other employees active in the community (believe me, they’ll know who the 3rd Stage people are once you describe them).
It’s important to identify your employees who are already operating at this 3rd stage of involvement. These volunteers will multiply your efforts, offer insightful (and accurate) feedback – ultimately, they’ll ensure your program is successful. Concerned about participation rates? Focus on your 3rd stage leadership and they’ll go to work on enlisting colleagues into the community involvement efforts.
These people are influential. Not because of their personality or communication skills, but because they have an authentic and compelling story to share – even if the delivery is shakey. When you meet a ‘true-believer’ you know it. Prioritize your time around employees at this stage. Facilitate their leadership and let them do the “heavy lifting.” I guarantee – this is they’ve been waiting for all along.
If there’s one step you can take right away toward a successful EVP, it’s this: open a “1st stage space” for your volunteers – or, at the very least, start thinking about what it would take to do so. Here’s what a 1st stage space looks like:
- It’s a low-commitment volunteer activity, usually reflected in a 1-3 hour event
- The same activity takes place on a regular basis. (i.e. serving food at a men’s mission)
- There is no obligation to come back – ever. (At the same time, there are clear invitations to come back, if interested.)
- The activity if open to groups of friends or families as well individuals
- There is always a briefing at the beginning of the activity in which participants are told: a) exactly what will be happening; b) who is in charge; c) what the boundaries (rules) are; d) what to do if there is a problem, and (most importantly); e) why the activity matters.
- There is always space for critical reflection afterwards – without which perspectives and behavior remain unchanged.
Once you set up this space, you’ll begin to see the journey of the volunteer happen naturally. After that, we’ll worry about the more complicated steps.
At Realized Worth, our favorite topic of discussion is corporate volunteering. You can join in by contacting us here:
Chris Jarvis: ch*********@re***********.com
Angela Parker: an****@re***********.com