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I urge you to read Jerome Tenille’s post on corporate volunteering, Corporate Volunteerism: Thinking “Strategic” Isn’t Enough My Friends as we need to have more robust cross-debate in our sector on everything from corporate volunteering to elevating volunteer programs. The more voices sharing experiences and thoughts, the more we learn and grow.

I also encourage you to read Vu Le’s latest post, How corporate foundations and csr need to evolve to be more effective partners with nonprofits. His observations mirror many Leaders of Volunteers’ thoughts on CSR (corporate social responsibility).

I firmly believe that we don’t discuss volunteer program strategy from a leader of volunteers’ perspective enough. (we can parse words and distinguish strategy from goals, objectives, tactics, mission, vision, etc but for this post, we’ll use strategy as thinking proactively to achieve a desired result). Many volunteer programs were originally set up as a support system without forward-imagining plans for growth or leadership. And we are at an awakening point where growth and leadership are happening.

So much has changed and leaders of volunteers need to now think in terms of moving programs forward by showcasing leadership skills, volunteer contributions and innovative solutions. This includes embracing corporate volunteering. which is becoming a “thing,” not because it is new, but because it is being extensively covered in the media. And it’s not only large corporations who are creating a CSR plan. As companies, including local small businesses read positive stories about employee volunteering, they are looking to become more involved.

And here’s the bigger benefit for us: By acting proactively and strategically, we volunteer managers will not only be prepared, we will position ourselves as forward-thinking leaders who are delivering organizational benefits beyond volunteer hours. We can concretely show through a successful business partnership, how volunteering begets advocacy, a new donation stream, partnerships and elevated community standing.

It’s imperative to be ready for an onslaught of goodness when the local fast food restaurant franchise owner decides to pay employees to volunteer while the store is being remodeled. It happened here.

Planning simply means being prepared. It means not being caught off guard. It means not saying yes and then regretting that decision while you scramble to make it all ok when it’s not ok. It means offering a program that works. A basic plan can look like this:

  1. Buy-in from administration: How does your organization view partnering with businesses? Sitting down with administration to formulate how and where volunteering fits into a partnering vision can give you the direction you need. If there is no formal vision, then ask that one be created. What are we looking for in a partnership? How will a partnership benefit the mission? Which departments should be involved in forming a task force to create a plan?
  2. A list of well thought out activities: What meaningful and beneficial activities are available? What departments can use extra help and are willing to be present during a corporate volunteering day? Saying, “hey, volunteering is everyone’s responsibility” will not be as well received as saying, “if extra help benefits our thrift stores, how will the thrift store managers be involved and have a say in what is accomplished?”
  3. Number of participants: Can you accommodate 20 people on a Saturday? Will a group of 5 be much more manageable? Putting 20 people on an activity that can only engage 5 means 15 people are pretty much standing around wondering why they gave up their free time to stand around.
  4. Time frame: What days and times work best for you (and I don’t mean conveniently, I mean what days and times offer the best experience)? When are the key department reps from maintenance or marketing (if the volunteering is done in their area) available?
  5. Alternatives: Do you have ideas for off-campus activities, such as conducting a food drive, or organizing a fund-raiser or participating in virtual opportunities? Not every activity has to be done on property to be valuable. Offer a list of activities that can be done quasi free-style. Some companies may prefer an off-property opportunity.
  6. Before, during and follow-up: We, volunteer managers know so well that engagement is what keeps volunteers coming back, so plan your engagement strategy. Who can speak to a local small business group while they are present? How can you best show the good work you are doing? How can you best prepare the group for volunteering? What follow-up will be most effective? A thank you letter from your CEO? Inclusion on an email list? A follow-up from marketing? An invite to conduct volunteer training on-site? A “check-in” call in six months?

Partnerships can begin with small thoughtful actions. Putting a plan of action into effect means less chaos and less reactive running around. It means being selective in choosing who to partner with, just as we are selective when onboarding individual volunteers. Our business partners deserve an experience that does not waste their time, but rather creates a meaningful experience and a chance to do more good work.

When leaders of volunteers have at least some control over volunteering, it succeeds. Everyone wins. Partnering means common interests are met. The business partner feels like they’ve done something that matters, our organizations see a partnership that can help in ways they might not have thought of before and the people we serve are better served

It also means showing your potential company partner a volunteer program that delivers the most “bang for the buck” volunteer experiences.

And delivering meaningful experiences is what leaders of volunteers do best.