Corporate Volunteer programs, also known as Employee Volunteer Programs are a key component to Corporate Social Responsibility strategies. In this second part of our discussion, we’ll tell you how to pull your Corporate Volunteering program together including the components needed to properly execute and measure for success.
First, Let’s Think Things Through
What’s your first thought when you want to give your kids an especially profound Christmas day experience? Following those hopeful thoughts of abandoning Christmas shopping all-together, you may decide to volunteer. After all, it would do the kids some good to see that Christmas isn’t easy for everyone. How about serving meals? Sounds perfect and you’re sure it will be easy to set up. So, you start calling your local shelters. No luck – they’re booked. You call the food bank – can’t even get through. Next, you figure the church will have resources for you. By the time the pastor is finished explaining the screening process your 5-yr-old will have to go through, you’re back to thoughts of a cozy Christmas morning at home. How do these places do it?
Take this scenario to a corporate setting, and you’ll find a frustrated employee wondering how many days she’s going to have to spend on the phone just to schedule her co-workers a little volunteer time. It’s hard to remember why starting an EVP was a good idea in the first place, much less an effective strategy toward desirable outcomes.
If you’re the frustrated employee (or the discouraged parent), a little guidance may be all you need. Starting a program or even scheduling a one-time volunteering event is much more difficult than it needs to be these days. In Part 1, we started with identifying fundamental issues. In brief, they look something like this:
Step One: Identify the following: Strategy>Outcomes>Cost. (Follow this link for a quick review)
Step Two: Answer the following: How will an EVP program fit the existing structure? Which nonprofit makes a good partner? What volunteer program are your co-workers already involved with? (Need a non-profit? Follow this link for the quick and dirty solution.)
Step Three: Putting it All Together
Once you know what you want to do and why you want to do it, the project planning phase begins. A number of the resources listed in Part 1 detail the process of constructing an Employee Volunteer Program – it would probably help to look them over at this point. The following list can seem daunting at first, but it’s your ticket to being well-informed and successful. You’ll want to cover each issue as you plan, but for now just skim through and get an idea of what we’re looking at:
- Clear objectives for the company, the nonprofit and the employees
- Oversight and responsibility. Who’s in charge of what?
- Policies. (Risk, liability, time off, etc.)
- Metrics and measurement process.
- Partnership agreements with NPOs.
- Promotion and Marketing plans.
- Volunteer recruitment.
- Recognition and EVP promotion among employees.
This list is pretty easy to come up with, but can be complicated to work through. For example, take the potential complications regarding, “Partnership agreements with NPOs.” 1 – Many NPOs are not structured to accommodate large groups; 2 – The work that is offered for the volunteer can seem contrived or not particularly meaningful; 3 -The screening or training requirements may not fit your schedule for the program. Add to these possibilities the confused expectations between your business and the NPO, the less than enthusiastic staff at the community organization, missing supplies and a plethora of other variables and you have the makings of a exasperating experience.
But again, it doesn’t need to be this difficult. Just stick it out – the work will pay off in the end. (Promise!)
To get a sense of a few more considerations for step 3, refer back a few blogs: “Finding Volunteer Opportunities for Your Company: The Quick and Dirty Answers.”
Step three is huge. If you’ve been setting up the process yourself, I recommend looking for outside help at this point. Consultants are, of course, a good choice and can save you a lot of time and frustration. If you’re looking for free advice, you may want to call your local United Way, or make use of some of the resources listed on the right side of the page.
The final step is Execution and Measurement. The proper execution of your Corporate Volunteer program is the difference between goodwill and effective strategy. Here’s a list of elements that will make all of that hard work of the planning stage pay off.
Do, then learn. Construct your volunteer events on an “Experience First” understanding. Training and preparation for events will act as barriers because people will not commit to something unfamiliar. It may not be an admirable human quality, but nonetheless, we all seem to veer automatically toward the familiar and comfortable. Allow the experience to provide a sense of comfort. Later, let volunteers commit – they will when they’re ready. First time volunteer experiences should be easy to sign up for and open to all types of people, with low entry requirements.
Offer training to everyone. Contradictory? Nope. Offer the training, but don’t make it mandatory. Three things will happen: 1 – You won’t have to worry about people who don’t want it. No coercing unwilling participants. For those that do want it, you’ve got it and it’s there are no drawbacks, only benefits; 2 – people who are curious but want more information will see the training as a safe place to learn before committing; 3 – (This is the most important one!) Because the training is optional, participants will attend for their own reasons and thus value it genuinely, rather than begrudgingly. (I want to poke my eyes out around the begrudging types.)
Institutionalize the brain. The greatest loss of value in volunteer experiences comes when there is no opportunity to reflect. As part of the regular human experience, reflection happens naturally immediately following any new activity as participants walk away, drive home, or discuss around the water cooler. Unfortunately, the insights gained from these initial reflections are lost if there is no intentional effort to capture them. In this case, we want to institutionalize the insights into the culture of the organization. Do this by planning “round table” meetings, short presentations, or a social format for verbal sharing following every event. (Make it fun, provide doughnuts, play good music.) You can incorporate written accounts if you hope to capture the information for CSR reports or Performance Reviews – but don’t limit yourself. Written accounts only are not enough. Work culture is formed verbally, supported by text.
Don’t treat people equally. I wrote about this at length a few entry’s back, “Stop Treating Everyone Equally.” The perspective is from the angle of the nonprofit which makes it particularly applicable for Corporate Volunteering. We need to make an effort to understand the audience we’re dealing with. Take a look at the entry and consider the fact that everyone’s level of engagement is going to be different – it’s a reality your events need to account for.
Finally, metrics matter. Measure the right things. Yeah, you’ve heard it before. We’ve all heard it but still, companies insist on citing participation rates as evidence of successful EVPs. Participation rates do not measure overall success. They measure how well the program was organized and promoted. While these are important metrics to have, they’re definitely not enough. Is a business successful because all of it’s employees show up for work? Again, important, but not the point. How do you know if you’ve achieved the objective you outlined in the first place? How do you measure overall success?
Measure this: Social Return on Investment (SROI). This ratio can be captured by defining the outcomes beforehand with your nonprofit partner. For example, if your defined outcome is to reduce homelessness, how will you measure this? Fewer people on the street? More homes available for low-income families? Better shelter options? Once you’ve made this decision in cooperation with the NPO, begin measuring over a specified time period. Keep track. Today there are 10 people on the street, tomorrow there are 8. Now, the outstanding issue here is whether are not your outcomes are worth the investment. This involves keeping track of hours and dollars in relation to your desired outcome. Take a few minutes to explore what other organizations are doing. It can sound overwhelming and complicated, but it can be done. Measuring your SROI is vital to the success of your EVP.
Organizations such as LBG (International), CECP (US) and Corporate Citizenship (UK) offer benchmarking processes and best practices in regards to SROI, including measurements that demonstrate how the Employee Volunteer Program achieves business objectives.
Feel free to email me with questions or other resources that you’ve found that could be shared with others who follow this blog – firstname.lastname@example.org