So you’re thinking of rolling out a corporate volunteering program at your company? Fantastic! You’re joining a family of responsible businesses who are keen to share their talent in their communities and I’m sure you’re well aware of the benefits it can bring to your organisation too.
To honour the old maxim, however, if you’re going to do something, do it properly! Over the years at Benefacto we have seen a few pitfalls that are worth dodging from the outset. I hope these might give you some pointers of what to avoid…
The truth is, lots of companies have employee volunteering policies in place and have done for years. Hidden dustily at the back of the employee hand book, chances are the average employee has no idea how to use their volunteering leave. To communicate well, make it clear and consistent. Whether you give two days, an afternoon or 16 hours a year, stick to it unwaveringly and regularly remind people of what they’re entitled to.
The holy grail of community investment? Long-term reciprocal relationships with a few hand-picked local charities who share your aspirations and values. These high-quality relationships, however, must be built on a strong foundation of community interest woven into your culture.
Volunteering provides this foundation: giving your people a first step into their communities, showing them where they can be of value and providing opportunities for them to build personal relationships with charities.
Don’t forget that choice is key when building engagement and focusing on just one or two causes will alienate a ‘silent majority’ of your people who are looking for something that chimes with them personally.
Nothing stops a volunteer in their tracks like a long-winded or demanding booking process. I’ve met companies where each and every volunteer has to have their request signed off by the managing partner – not a winning strategy if you’re hoping to get a good chunk of your colleagues out of the office. Find a way of pre-approving lots of opportunities and providing people with a smooth, intuitive sign up process. (working with a brokerage can help here 😉 )
We’ve established that big groups days are pretty hopeless when it comes to helping charities, but there are lots of great ways smaller teams can really help charities. That said, as tempting as it is to focus on easily-promoted group days with a dash of team-building, don’t limit what you’re offering to just a few days a year. Giving your people the flexibility to volunteer throughout the year as individuals will help reach more people. Again, it comes down to the winning formula: choice=engagement. And it’s the best way to support charities.
This may sound a bit blunt, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that the primary purpose of the charities we work with is not to service the needs of the corporate sector! Promote open, two-way communication with each of the organisations you work with, listen to what they really need and be flexible to those requirements.
As a business, encourage an ethos that views the relationship you have with your charities on the same footing as those you have with your clients. Make reasonable demands, honour your commitments, keep communicating and you will build genuinely meaningful partnerships that bear fruit for both parties for many years to come.
It’s an exciting journey to be setting off on, so we wish you the very best of luck. We’d love to hear what experiences you’ve had and what you’d recommend avoiding too! Do drop us a line if you’d like some more insight into getting your volunteering program off the ground.