How to Improve Corporate Volunteering and Avoid the Common Pitfalls

As we begin a new decade, and companies release their annual volunteering reports, it is the perfect time for reflection and look at what could be improved.

The benefits of a sustainable, well resourced, and expertly executed volunteering programme are well documented.  Improved morale, better employee retention rates, skills development are the obvious ones for businesses.  Financial savings, increased capacity and skills development are just some of things charities benefit from.

However, for anyone involved in the corporate charity space over the last decade, requests from businesses, looking for a large scale one day volunteering project, on a particular date, with a limited or non-existent budget will be an all too familiar scenario.  It is rare for an event of this nature to deliver any of the benefits listed above and in fact they can often have a negative effect on the charity, the volunteers and the reputation of corporate volunteering as whole.

So how can this be avoided?

1. Define the why

The benefits of a sustainable, well resourced, and expertly executed volunteering programme are well documented.  Improved morale, better employee retention rates, skills development are the obvious ones for businesses.  Financial savings, increased capacity and skills development are just some of things charities benefit from.

However, for anyone involved in the corporate charity space over the last decade, requests from businesses, looking for a large scale one day volunteering project, on a particular date, with a limited or non-existent budget will be an all too familiar scenario.  It is rare for an event of this nature to deliver any of the benefits listed above and in fact they can often have a negative effect on the charity, the volunteers and the reputation of corporate volunteering as whole.

2. Understand the charity’s needs

For some charities, a large influx of human power can be extremely useful.  We all know of parks, city farms and environmental projects that could utilise volunteers every day of the year and still have more work left over.  For others, the idea of hosting 20 additional pairs of hands over one day, would be the exact opposite of helpful.  That doesn’t mean corporate volunteering isn’t possible, but it is important to appreciate how much time and effort it takes to host a large group.  Many charities operate with a tiny employee base, and not many have full time volunteer co-ordinators.  Consequently, it’s wise to be flexible and allow lots of time for planning the activity.

3. Have honest conversations

It is important that both sides, have open and honest conversations about what is and isn’t possible, and what is and isn’t helpful.  What can the company realistically offer?  What does the charity genuinely need?  I think a lot of the opportunity for genuinely great partnerships are often missed, because these conversations aren’t taking place.  If both parties can approach these topics openly, expectations can be managed and the chance of organising a high quality impactful project are increased.  Good communication is key, and this is often where brokers can add value.

4. Measure impact beyond just volunteer hours

Volunteering at its finest, can have a ripple effect that can enhance how charities operate, and improve or expand the service it offers to their beneficiaries.  Of course, not all volunteering opportunities are created equal, and some are more impactful than others, but if we seek to measure the impacts beyond just the hours spent volunteering, I believe it will help drive change, and encourage companies and volunteers to develop more sophisticated and impactful partnerships.

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