Removing the Headache from Corporate Volunteering

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We’ve all had that splitting headache. You know, the one that occurs when a
corporate leader calls and wants to do a team building activity for a group of employees. Oh, and it has to be this Saturday. There are 15 people signed up, but the leader doesn’t really know how many will actually show. And she picked your organization from a list; the employees really don’t know what your mission is or what you do, exactly.

Now, let’s add in something we seldom talk about: No one in your organization feels like they have to give up their Saturday because well, the word “volunteering” follows the word, “corporate,” so the
responsibility falls on you, the volunteer manager. It’s your job. No one
thinks beyond just placating the group for an afternoon. They don’t think about the potential partnership with a corporation that follows a volunteer activity. They don’t consider the donations that might pour in when a corporate group sees firsthand the good work being done. Nope, it’s “just” a one and done volunteer afternoon. Move along, nothing to see here.

Corporate volunteering is becoming a “thing.” From the Starbucks
initiative to the millennial generation wanting more involved companies, we are seeing an increase in participation by employee groups. This added volunteer role requires more time and skills from already stretched thin volunteer managers, especially when the volunteer manager is left to manufacture activities without organizational buy-in. What a short-sighted view of corporate volunteering.   

Sure, volunteer managers can refuse groups but we all know that refusing is unrealistic. Why? Because senior management perceives our jobs as spending time and energy with anyone and everyone who even breathes the word, “volunteering.” To refuse is to be seen as inadequate, or negative
which is worse than, well, just about anything in the non-profit world. Also,
because positive volunteer managers never question the wisdom of old methods or suggest that there might be more efficient ways to engage volunteers. Positive volunteer managers don’t point out that volunteer programs affect every aspect of an organization, including community standing, resources, donations, staff satisfaction and marketing. Because being viewed as “positive” often boils down to accepting old ways without question.

Are we stuck? Do we have to give up our Saturdays for headache inducing
chaos with little to no return on our time and efforts? Or do we have to refuse to take corporate groups in order to save our sanity? Actually, there is a better way.

I used to run around desperately trying to find a somewhat meaningful
experience for corporate groups. It was exhausting. Then I realized how much time I was spending on activities that weren’t in my control. I couldn’t
control what happened in our gardens. I couldn’t make changes to our programs, so I was stuck with very limited ways to engage corporate partners.

Corporate volunteering is like having a group of strangers drop in on you at
your apartment one afternoon, saying, “We need a buffet dinner and we want to be entertained.” You’re not set up for groups in your apartment, and you have no real control over your apartment building’s clubhouse, pool or game room.
You have to run around, seeking permission to use facilities and even with
permission, there’s no one to help you buy the food or cook or entertain. If
the facilities are being used, you have to squeeze the group of strangers into
your cramped living room while you rifle through your worn-out board games and try to rustle up a meal from your sparse refrigerator.

As it exists now, corporate volunteering is trying to create a meaningful
partnership with no time, no additional help and no control. And even if you’ve managed to pull off an exhausting afternoon, running around, trying to condense your mission into sound bites, making sure the members are not idle too long, you go home completely spent because you know there can be so much more.

Our volunteer programs are like an apartment within the organizational
building. We may be invited into other department’s apartments at times, but we are not allowed any control within those apartments. The lack of organizational involvement and limited availability for corporate groups make corporate volunteering so frustrating. Honestly, corporate volunteering is just one example of a much larger challenge: Volunteer manager control over volunteer programs and the integration of volunteer programs into organizational planning.

Volunteer managers must be free to spend the bulk of their time on engaging key volunteers, advancing the volunteer program and positioning volunteer services to attract and sustain modern volunteers. Corporate volunteering has its place in a volunteer program only when the volunteer manager controls the strategic plan that benefits everyone.  

The time to think about corporate volunteering is now, when no group has
approached you. That’s when you can clearly plan for a corporate volunteering program that will keep headaches from happening. The critical part of a corporate volunteering plan is to first determine who, what, when, where and why. The 5 “W’s” will lay a groundwork the will help stop the soul-sucking corporate volunteering days from occurring. (and we all know there is plenty in volunteer management that suck our souls dry without adding in another crushing duty)

Next time: What does a corporate volunteering program strategic plan look
like and how do we determine the 5 “W’s?”

-Meridian