One of the most-asked questions we receive when C-Suite Executives, CSR, and HR professionals discover what we do, is, “What are the most important parts to a truly successful corporate volunteer initiative?” Considering we focus exclusively on employee volunteer events, I can offer my perspective.
1. Organization. It never ceases to amaze me how some entities can be called organizations–and then, not be. Organization. Planning. Preparation. Details. Leadership. All critical to your single-day event. And your reputation that follows the one-day volunteer project.
A few years ago, I interview a young lady who volunteered for a one-day event for a very well-known national cause in Phoenix, AZ. After getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday (yes, a day off for her), she traveled 65 minutes and 55 miles from her rural home arriving well before the 8:00 a.m. start time.
After pleading with several “Team Captains” for more than an hour to provide her with some direction, a job, a role, anything, she was told shortly after 9:00 a.m., to (wait for it), “Go home sweetie. We don’t need you.” She told me that although she felt the “sweetie” comment was more than disrespectful, she was more astounded that earlier in the week she was begged to help volunteer, and then upon her arrival, she was not needed, and not respected. This lady was negatively impacted on multiple levels. All because of the lack of organization, planning, preparation, details, and leadership. Invest the necessary time, find a team of planning volunteers, or hire an experienced management firm to produce your volunteer event.
2. Engagement. Really involving your employees in your volunteer event is vital key to the program’s success, and this emerging story is gaining in momentum. Today, people who volunteer really want to make a difference, not just say they volunteered. Full-scale engagement will fulfill the wish of your employee volunteers, and at the same time, help fulfill the objectives of the project.
In our earlier days, we produced a single-day volunteer project where about 20 bank tellers and managers, along with 20 students from a nearby university, were scheduled to improve a home of an 84 year old lady who lost her husband the year prior.
When we arrived on location an hour or so after the team started, we were dumbfounded to see what appeared to be the 40something volunteers ‘sitting’ on the front lawn. When we walked up to the disheveled bungalow, we saw a figure who looked like he was dressed in an alien-like uniform apparently applying paint from a professional-type sprayer on this lady’s home. The gentleman behind the mask told us he thought this man could beautify this house much faster if the volunteers prepped the surface, taped all the windows, and then he would spray the surface.
Although his intentions were admirable, these four dozen volunteers didn’t give up their day of shopping, relaxing, or spending time with their families, to simply prep the windows for an hour, then watch someone else do the “fun” work.
I decided to ask him to rethink his course, and have everyone truly participate. A loud cheer was heard, and a few hours later, the eyesore 900 square foot of house become a real thing of beauty. And everyone who volunteered was engaged. Volunteers want to make a difference. They want to feel rewarded. They want to feel like their efforts—not just their showing up—truly made a difference.
3. Appreciation. Although today’s volunteers generally don’t give their time to be recognized for their efforts, everyone who volunteers would like to be feel appreciated. Many one-day projects tend to be community improvement or beautification projects where volunteers can see the ‘fruits of their labor’ before they leave for the day. Call it immediate gratification.
While this is important for returning volunteers, appreciation from others can be very meaningful, and can come in many ways. Direct thank you's from the recipients can be most important. With single-day volunteer events, this can be verbal, or come by way of a thank you note or card shortly after the project. Thank you's from project Team Captains, cause organizers, and especially from the leadership of the company they work for can be critical.
It’s essential to have company leadership (at least a few) volunteer with the team—and be a part of the team. The benefits are enormous for all parties involved when you can pull this off! I’ve witnessed how rewarding an “appreciation” breakfast or lunch can be (usually the week immediately after the project), especially when hosted or led by these same company executives who helped beautify the school, community center, or home of a low-income senior, family, or veteran the prior weekend.
Again, the compelling message your company leadership sends is, “Not only are we arranging and funding this initiative, we ourselves are participating in the effort!” Few things can surpass the impact and the power of this rare level of team-building.
Although we could write forever, the benefits of this 'trilogy of elements' detailed above can help make your corporate volunteerism single-day event, become dramatically enhanced.
Feel free to email us if you have questions, comments, thoughts, or ideas.
Proprietary Cause Marketing Firm