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Have you ever stopped dead in your tracks and said, “I can sense it, it’s going to rain?” You felt the slight change in barometric pressure, or you heard the leaves in the trees rustle and you knew. You pulled up your collar or searched for an umbrella in your backpack.

If we could see the coming volunteering trends, we could prepare for them, right? Thirty years ago, were there signs that volunteers wanted more episodic roles? Or did it sneak up on us, causing us to rethink our volunteering strategy? Should we even pay attention to trends? Do we need a volunteer engagement strategy umbrella?

Can we spot trends by asking our volunteers, “Hey, what are you going to be doing differently 2 years from now?” Oftentimes, the beginning of a volunteering trend bubbles up in some pretty unrelated places. Not all trends first appear in volunteer management articles or blog posts. Rather, they evolve in other sectors and if we aren’t aware of them, these trends can rain down on us, catching us unprepared.

One such rapidly expanding trend is corporate volunteering. Consider these recent articles, none of which appeared in volunteer management periodicals:

Starbucks is testing a program that will allow some employees to spend half of their workweek at a local nonprofit

The 50 Best Workplaces for Giving Back

Why Paying Employees to Volunteer is Good For Business

Or this article about a Chick-fil-A store owner who is paying his employees to volunteer while the store is being remodeled:

Chick-fil-A employees in Plainfield to be paid for community service as location is closed for remodeling

Or this article on millennial workers:

Millennials Are Leading a Revolution in Corporate Volunteering Efforts

The growing CSR (corporate social responsibility) trend greatly impacts volunteer managers, as more and more businesses look for avenues into volunteering for a non-profit. Where do they start? At this point in time, businesses are utilizing partnerships with non-profits to accomplish their corporate volunteering goals.

If we wish to stay on top of this trend, it is imperative that volunteer organizations develop a corporate volunteering strategy to engage and partner with businesses who wish to increase their standing in communities. Why, we might ask? Why bother with employees who only give a couple of hours? Why take on another project that seems like babysitting? Why engage with people who are really just helping their company “look good?”

Because, if we turn our self-righteous heads away and refuse to work with corporate volunteers, they will develop their own programs. And they have the money to do it.

I am not suggesting that we drop everything and drool over any and every corporate volunteering request that comes our way. I’m suggesting that we need to develop a strategy that benefits our mission and works for the company we choose to partner with. By this, I mean:

  • choose a company that has shared goals and values and thoroughly understands what the mission is about
  • start with just one company and learn how to develop a solid partnership with that company before taking on another
  • control the participation as in how many volunteers you can take at a time, what they will do, when they will do it, how much onus is on them to bring any supplies they will need, etc.
  •  make impact on mission goals the primary focus, versus forging a partnership so that fund-raising can hit the company up for money
  • set guidelines or ground rules for participation and stick to them
  • follow-up to cement the relationship and plan for the future

If organizers of corporate volunteering programs have poor experiences, or are continually turned away or can’t find anyone to partner with, they will quit trying. But here’s the scary thing. If they are really serious about volunteering in the community, they will just bypass us. They will turn their frustration into forming their own internal programs, leaving us in the dust.

Corporate volunteering may seem like sketchy volunteering to the purist. We can dismiss it as not having pure intent, or not serious enough or existing only for show. But it’s exponentially increasing and we need to stay ahead of the trend and control it. We are the ones to shape it into the meaningful and impactful volunteering purity we wish to see.

Think about this: When your CEO appears at your door and says, “I just got off the phone with the VP over at Expansion Architectural Designs and he said you told him we didn’t have a corporate volunteer program,” are you going to say, “But, but, corporate volunteering is just not real volunteering?”

If we strategically embrace corporate volunteering, devise ways to successfully incorporate it into our hectic workloads and use it to further our goals, we will reap the following benefits:

  • increased organizational awareness through the partner company’s newsletter, employee word of mouth, possible press releases, etc.
  • increased donations from the satisfied partner company in the form of money, grants, in-kind donations or corporate matching (but again, donations are a bonus by-product of truly satisfied companies-we should never expect corporate volunteering to be a channel to money because that’s disingenuous)
  • increased positive word of mouth among area businesses
  • increased respect for volunteers in general due to the higher visibility of these corporate volunteers
  • more leverage when asking for an increase in volunteer budget, or additional resources, help, etc.
  • increased acknowledgement for volunteer manager creativity, skills and organizational worth

We know volunteerism is rapidly evolving. Keeping up with trends can be daunting, so we must craft a strategy to control trend implementation and to work trends to our advantage by formulating a strategy umbrella.

Because, it’s raining out there.

-Meridian

For more in-depth information on corporate volunteering from someone who has been on both sides of the equation and has workable solutions, please see Jerome Tennille’s excellent 2 part post on CSR and volunteering.

 

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