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A recent article from Business News Daily cites a study finding that “89 percent of employees think organizations that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment. In addition, 70 percent believe volunteer activities are more likely to boost staff morale than company-sponsored happy hours, with more than three-quarters saying volunteering is essential to employee well-being.”

But here’s the kicker from the article: “Three-quarters of the millennials surveyed said they would volunteer more if they had a better understanding of the impact they were making, compared to 61 percent of those of all ages.”

Huh. So, it isn’t obvious that volunteering for a homeless shelter actually helps homeless people is it? Or wait. Maybe it isn’t obvious that weeding the garden at the homeless shelter actually helps the homeless.

Oh, yeah, now I get it. Maybe for corporate volunteers, the cleanup or painting or weeding the garden doesn’t scream “OMG, this made all the difference in the world to our clients! You have changed lives like no one else ever has in the history of volunteering! Ka-bam!”

We, volunteer managers, can be caught in a nether world of finding projects while assuring these episodic volunteers that we really need them. And once you manufacture a project just to accommodate a group, is that truly meaningful work?

So what can we do since corporate and episodic group volunteering will most certainly grow in the future?

Well, we need to do some serious planning, be methodical about our episodic volunteers and complete the legwork before we take on groups. We can:

  • Create a plan before accepting groups. Decide how many group members can be accommodated at a time, the age range you are comfortable working with, the time frame that works for you, what supplies the group needs to bring, the number of groups per month or year you can accept, etc.
  • Create an application process for group volunteering: Gather information on the group, ask pointed questions on the application that will help you understand their motivation, interests, skills etc. Then decide if and when they will fit into the projects you have or can create.
  • Create an impression that you value quality over quantity and busy work: We don’t have to take everyone. As each group you engage comes away with a positive experience, word will spread that your organization is the one to contact for quality volunteering.
  • Develop a narrative to go along with each project. Prepare impact stories to accompany each project. Highlight the contribution and results of the project.
  • Utilize client testimonials to recruit and thank corporate volunteers. Tie these into the activity. It may take some creative interviewing to elicit these testimonials, but it will be worth it.
  • Follow up with a letter outlining the impact of the completed work. Reiterate the improvements for clients, staff and other volunteers.
  • Send a thank you letter from your CEO to the corporate CEO or group leader. It can be a general thank you created ahead of time and tweaked for each group. But, have the CEO sign it each time and encourage them to write a personal note.
  • Take pictures-make memes, add text boxes, thought clouds etc. Send them to the group, post them on all social media outlets.

No matter what, the connection between the project and the impact on clients is critical. Take weeding the garden at the homeless shelter. We can say to our corporate volunteer group, “Imagine the first night you are homeless. Imagine what that feels like, having nowhere to go, no stability, no safety and you arrive at our shelter and all you see are the weeds in an unkempt garden. It says to you that we don’t care. It reminds you of the tangles that threaten your existence. How would you feel? Remember, every little thing can be the one big thing that makes someone feel safe.” Then read testimonials from clients who felt safe.

A lot has been said over the years about making corporate volunteering fun. While fun is important, it is secondary to meaningful work. Corporate and episodic volunteers deserve to know that even by pulling weeds in the garden, they have created a beautiful safe space for those facing a difficult time in their lives.

We know the impact of each job, no matter how inconsequential it may seem at first. If we are thoughtful about episodic volunteering and prepare well for group volunteers, we can create a win-win for everyone.