Choosing the right cause(s) can make all the difference when it comes to making a tangible impact, inspiring your staff and building a sustainable relationship with your community.
To get it right you’ll need to consider the following three things
The most appealing and convenient charities aren’t necessarily the best partners for an employee volunteering program. If you want a successful, sustainable partnership which inspires your staff you need to develop relationships with organisations with a genuine need for the help you’re offering, show clear potential for making impact and have an efficient, communicative management team who will proactively engage with ways you can help. Don’t rush in.
Who to support
Young people are a favourite for corporate support – whether children who are unwell, underachieving school kids, or NEETs. Of course they’re a vital demographic, but the reality is that they’re already relatively well served by the public sector. In fact, during the working day when your colleagues will want to volunteer, most children are supported by a wonderful free-at-the-point-of use service: school.
In contrast, people with mental health issues, the elderly, adults with physical disabilities, and those living on the margins of society are often woefully underserved by public services and overlooked by corporates. There are lots of fantastic charities where an injection of professional people can instantly help enhance their services. (Have a look at Deptford Reach or Acton Homeless Concern for inspiration.)
Where to support: Much to my amusement a CSR manager once told me that his colleagues liked ‘volunteering opportunities within easy reach of tube stations’. Not surprisingly really, I don’t like trekking across London to places I’ve never been either. But many areas in London are deprived partly because they aren’t on good transport links. If you drew a heat-map showing the concentration of corporate support, the tip of Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets would be scorching-red-hot. Equally deserving areas just a stone’s throw away from the city on a mainline train – Lewisham, for example – hardly get a look in.
How to support: A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting held by a network of larger charities in London. They were all facing the same conundrum: how to wean corporates off group-based ‘Paint & Fix Opportunities’ onto more meaningful stuff. The reality is that doing a one-off event for groups greater than ten is a serious burden for any charity, particularly smaller ones. With this in mind think creatively about how else you can provide support. Pro-bono work, running capacity building workshops, individual volunteering and trusteeship can all work well.
Corporate Citizenship have noted that there is a trend amongst companies towards focusing their giving on a small number of ‘flagship’ organisations rather than a broad collection of causes.
From an employee volunteering perspective, there is a danger here. People like options: a choice of causes, ways to help and time to do it. We’re not saying don’t promote your ‘Charity of the Year’, but if you want to engage the masses, offer different choices too.
Choice of Cause: Some days Benefacto gets volunteer bookings from people from the same department of the same company, at the same career level and who live in the same part of London. As often as not, they’ll want to do completely different things. Charity is personal and people like to connect to a cause. When possible offer a menu of different options – so people can find a cause which inspires them and choose to help that one.
Choice of Capacity: Just because you want to help children doesn’t mean you want to volunteer in a school. Maybe you’d like to help the environment but don’t feel confident doing manual labour alongside colleagues? There are lots of different ways to get involved with volunteering – team challenges, helping out on the service line, pro-bono work or becoming a trustee. One choice doesn’t fit all.
Choice of Date: If you organise one volunteering event a month – 12 a year – many staff won’t want to do half of them and will be unable to make the other dates.
Offer a wide enough choice of dates to allow people to volunteer at their convenience – when a project comes to an end, their boss is out of the office or at the end of their holiday.
Whatever you offer in terms of volunteering, make sure you’ve got enough choice to inspire your staff, appeal to their strengths and fit with their diaries.
Last year I spoke to two competing financial institutions, both of which were developing a number of modules on financial literacy and delivering it in schools. This is deeply inefficient: two companies scoping out what is required, two teams creating materials, the same schools receiving two telephone calls to get the module into the timetable.
If you’re starting an employee volunteering scheme now, look for opportunities to partner with other firms and enhance existing activities, rather than simply deciding to launch your own.
There are lots of amazing initiatives about, they’ve done the groundwork, built the networks and can demonstrate impact: use their experience. I recently spoke to a large oil company who said they were working with Tomorrow’s Engineers to do exactly that. Tomorrow’s Engineers identify schools which aren’t already saturated with employee volunteering and they provide top-class pre-prepared materials too.
Similarly, one of the reasons that we set up Benefacto the way we did was because we recognised that even large firms struggle to enlist enough volunteers to contribute meaningfully throughout the year to a charity. By aggregating the supply of volunteers from multiple firms, you can offer charities on-going and enduring support, which offers greater value for the same amount of work.
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