Motivation is a very personal thing. At my son’s high school the librarian had the challenge of inspiring teenage boys to read books. Rather than set them homework or threaten detention, she set up a book club where they could discuss a favourite book and provided free food. It was wildly popular among teenage boys who wanted party pies and sausage rolls at lunchtime and provided a safe space for the quieter kids to make friends.
The motivations for corporate volunteering are also varied and they’ve changed in emphasis after COVID. Corporates are responding to demands from employees to contribute to the community, but they’ve also got some urgent priorities of their own. Across the world businesses are struggling to get staff to return to the office. One of our grassroots performing arts organisations has a corporate partner who invested in an expensive new office block and retail centre, just before COVID hit. Their model depends on having most of their staff physically back at work. The problem is the staff want to retain connections with each other but don’t want to go back to the office. Volunteering with the arts organisation is a great way to build connections and encourage the corporate’s staff to spend more time together- preferably in and around the new building.
The model for corporate volunteering has shifted and you need to think about how to offer a different experience for corporate teams. Here’s a few tips to get started.
My friend Fiona Robertson is an expert in culture and she talks about belonging being more important to humans than basic needs of food and shelter. Your volunteering program needs to incorporate ways for participants to connect to each other. That might be a shared target for the volunteering activity, a Facebook group, team photos or simply wearing the team T-shirt. You need to let your volunteers feel that they belong to a community rather than simply providing free labour. In the current environment you’ll need a mix of virtual and in person volunteering, but it’s important to make it inclusive. People with other abilities need to feel like they belong too and they’re frequently excluded from a range of volunteer opportunities.
Joining the movement
Millennials are action oriented. They’ve grown up with the internet and aren’t short on awareness. What they want is a way to take action on urgent societal issues and they want to be active participants. Can you inspire them with your expertise and deep knowledge around your cause? Have you outlined other ways to stay involved? Encouraging volunteers to join the movement and own it themselves will create deeper human connection to your cause and will result in greater impact. Break down the ‘us and them’ barriers that often exist between NFPs and corporates and let corporate volunteers embrace the difference that we can all make collectively for society.
You can tell a corporate how good volunteering is for their staff engagement and retention. Now it’s time to outline to individual participants how volunteering benefits their career, not just your cause. Whether you’re offering one day volunteer activities or long-term skilled volunteering, a participant builds valuable skills and experience for their resume. When NAB’s tech team volunteered to help a small charity with their website they reaped a bunch of benefits for participants. The young team pushed themselves to develop things they’d never tried before, learned how to manage new stakeholders, developed new ways of working as a team and went way beyond their original remit. The charity got a bunch of volunteers that became passionate advocates and the individuals built skills they could use for their resumes and for new roles. In the era of the Great Resignation, don’t forget that corporate volunteers constantly have one eye open to new opportunities.
How often do you ask for detailed feedback from corporate volunteers? Or thank them properly for their time commitment to your organisation? You’ve got a bunch of people who are already warm to your NFP so make sure they feel loved and valued. They are your future donors, supporters and ambassadors so make sure you regularly check in with their experience with you and find ways to enhance the connections.
When people volunteer for your organisation, they are creating change for your beneficiaries. But change also takes place in the person helping, not just those being helped. If you can create a sense of belonging for your corporate volunteers you’ll have passionate advocates for years to come.