Are Companies Finding Employee Volunteerism Hard to Swallow Without a List of “Side Effects”?

Guest post by Ben Bisbee, Senior Officer, Corporate Engagement Programs, American Red Cross

Volunteerism with side effects?Drugs with side effects? Boo. Nobody likes that!  Volunteerism with side effects? You better believe it’s going to become the prescription of choice, if corporate influence has anything to say about it. And they do. Trust me.

The belief that you should get “more for your money” isn’t exclusive to consumerism. In the new age of Corporate Social Responsibility—or what I’d call the new social and volunteer consumerism—donors and volunteers alike want their dollar or hour to represent more. This isn’t news. The recent Giving in Numbers: 2015 Edition by the CECP in association with The Conference Board had a few very telling statistics:


  • 51% of companies provided pro bono service programs in 2014,up from 40% in 2012
  • 59% of companies provided paid-release time volunteer programs in 2014, up from 54% in 2012
  • 85% of companies are measuring and tracking the societal outcomes and/or impacts of their investments and starting to use to the data to inform their core programs.

Meaning, several models of corporate volunteerism are on the rise, and the idea of measurement and evaluation with an eye toward purpose-driven outcomes are more important than ever. So what does this really mean? Companies are no longer asking: “How many backpacks full of food for children did we pack?” They’re now asking: “How many children and households will be impacted? What is the quality and sustainability of the food we’re packing? What are the demographics of the neighborhoods that these backpacks are going into?”

But they are not just stopping there. The savviest of companies and their employees want to know lasting effects, outcomes of children’s nutritional livelihoods over several months, and how the backpack contents themselves can contain information and tools to help propel children into healthier decision making and continued localized food bank outreach.

Those 500 bags that took 25 volunteers 60 minutes to pack? It’s no longer just assumed they contain fruit and whole-grain snacks and an hour of fun. No, they need to contain a small universe of side effects: a review of the intended audience, measurable outcomes, specific outputs, and quantifiable impact. Just to name a few things.

This is big. Companies continue to see themselves and invest their employees into their philanthropic and Corporate Social Responsibility partnerships in increasingly dynamic ways. They want to give time and money to organizations that deliver powerfully and that they can help influence and enhance the world, not just respond to it.

The question is: is your non-profit ready? The NGO sector is not new to this world of how mission, vision, goals, action and outcomes intersect. No, it’s been a key feature of community impact and grant writing effort for years. It’s all about how you connect the dots for your corporate partners and for volunteers. And it just so happens I have a few suggestions:

  • Are your volunteer programs mission driven? No, really. It’s no surprise that people love to plant flowers and pet puppies and paint murals, but are any of those volunteer activities part of your mission? Just as companies are measuring and tracking the outcomes and impacts of their investments, an organization’s volunteer program efforts should do the same. And assuming they are already…
  • Is your organization’s mission a key feature of your volunteer narrative? If you’re not already, it’s time to start expressing this to your volunteers broadly and on the day of event. Sometimes we’re so concerned about telling people what they’re going to do during an event we forget to tell them the story of how this event will create impact and keep the mission moving forward. Share stories, talk about outcomes, talk about impact, relate this very day to the year’s worth of your organization’s efforts. And never forget to…
  • Remind volunteers that “An Apple A Day Keeps the Doctor Away”. Ok, sure, we’re not talking about apples. We’re talking about efforts. We’re talking about inputs. We’re talking about whatever you’re having a volunteer do that day and the impact it creates. Take the “An Apple A Day…” analogy and creatively apply it to your mission and vision. What does one bag of nutritious food for one child packed by one volunteer actually do? Bring it down to the granular. Help people connect with not only the group impact of volunteerism, but make it about a simple, little apple-sized impact.

You’re already doing amazing work at your non-profit, isn’t it time your volunteer programming and story reflected that? It’s something to consider. In a world where non-profits are trying to standout in a very congested environment, being able to offer and express your organization’s volunteer program’s “apples” and their effective “side effects” is the difference between presenting a programmatic placebo and keeping your organization, partners and volunteers happy, healthy and wise.

A Match Made in St. Louis: Fighting Hunger One Voice at a Time

By Kori Reed, Vice President, Cause and Foundation, at ConAgra Foods.

Rajan Taylor Volunteers with St. Louis Area Foodbank

ConAgra employee Rajan Taylor volunteering at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

I am a child of the 80s whose mom played Barry Manilow’s albums throughout my formative years. So, what does this have to do with Volunteer Month?

Rajan Taylor, a security contractor at the ConAgra Foods’ St. Louis office, makes me want to break out into song. Specifically, Manilow’s One Voice, which he also performed at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Concert. It’s inspired by the idea that if one person stands up for what he believes in, the rest will follow.

Rajan read about ConAgra Foods’ long-standing commitment to take action against child hunger and that generated an idea. He’ll humbly tell you he simply called a few friends and sent an email, but he ultimately sparked the largest, single-day, citywide food drive in history to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank – a member of the Feeding America network. He called the event, held on March 20, 2015, “Spring into Giving,” which is an appropriate phrase to describe his actions to engage more than 75 St. Louis companies to raise more than 50,000 lbs. of food, or rather more than 40,000 meals in one day….

Read the rest of Rajan’s story.

Nonprofits: Connect with Corporate Generosity through Volunteer Grant Programs

Guest post by Adam Weinger, Double the Donation

Connect with Corporate Generosity through Volunteer GrantsVolunteers are the lifeblood of many nonprofit organizations or educational institutions; without them, nonprofits would struggle to meet their goals and fulfill their mission. But did you know that corporations are increasing the value of volunteers’ time with employee volunteer grant programs?

Thousands of companies offer monetary grants to eligible nonprofit organizations when employees volunteer their non-paid time, seemingly doubling the value of a volunteer’s time.

Here are a few large corporations with more than 100,000 employees that offer generous volunteer grant programs to their employees. If any of your supporters work for one of these companies, make sure you’re taking full advantage of their generosity!

Bank of America

Bank of America was ranked by Forbes in 2010 as the third largest company in world, and employs nearly 250,000 people worldwide.

In 2012, Bank of America employees volunteered over 1.5 million hours to more than 6,000 nonprofit organizations. This includes more than 487,000 hours in education and youth development organizations, 397,000 hours in health and human service organizations, and more than 315,000 hours toward general community support.

Bank of America’s volunteer grant program greatly recognizes its volunteers’ efforts with monetary donations of up to $500 per employee per year to the organization at which that employee volunteered. When an employee volunteers up to 50 hours, Bank of America will provide a $250 grant to eligible nonprofits, and up to 100 hours yields $500 grants.

Read more about Bank of America’s Corporate Philanthropy program.

Best Buy

Best Buy is an electronics corporation based in Minnesota that employs 180,000 people. It was named “Company of the Year” by Forbes magazine in 2004, and ranked in the top 10 of “America’s Most Generous Corporations” by Forbes in 2005 (based on charitable giving in 2004).

Best Buy has three different kinds of volunteer grant programs:

1. Individual TagTeam Grant Awards – after an employee volunteers at least 40 hours at an eligible nonprofit organization, Best Buy will provide a $1,000 grant to the organization.

2. Individual TagTeam Board Member Grant Awards – if an employee volunteers at least 40 hours at an eligible nonprofit organization and is also on the board of directors of that organization, Best Buy will provide an additional $1,000 grant to the organization (totaling $2,000)!

3. Team TagTeam Grant Awards – when a team of five or more employees volunteers together for a nonprofit organization during non-work time, Best Buy will provide a $1,000 to the organization.


With 2.2 million employees, Walmart is the world’s largest private employer, and the world’s second largest public corporation according to the Fortune Global 5000 list in 2013.

Walmart’s program, “Volunteerism Always Pays” (VAP), offers two different kinds of grants for Walmart and Sam’s Club employees who volunteer with eligible nonprofit organizations.

Walmart Individual VAP Grants – when an employee volunteers at least 25 hours with a nonprofit organization, Walmart will provide a $250 volunteer grant to that organization. Each Walmart employee can request up to two volunteer grants for two separate organizations every year, meaning up to four volunteer grants (and $1,000) can be earned per year.

Walmart Team/Group VAP Grants – when a group of Walmart employees volunteer together or participate in fundraising events (walks, runs, bike races, etc.), they are eligible to request a grant between $500 and $5,000, depending on how many employees are involved in the activity.

In 2012 alone, Walmart employees volunteered over 2.2 million hours and requested over $18 million in grants to nonprofit organizations through the VAP program.

Bottom line: the companies listed above are widely known, but thousands of employers have a volunteer grant program! If your nonprofit benefits from volunteers, it’s almost certain that many of them work for an employer willing to provide grants.

Make sure your volunteers know about this – they’ve already proven they care about your mission by volunteering their time, so they’re likely to be interested in doing something that increases the value of that time. And since it usually only requires them to submit a form at work, it’s often so easy for them to do!

Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, a company focused on helping nonprofits increase the amount of money they raise from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Follow Double the Donation on Twitter or LinkedIn.

How Target Employee Volunteers Create a Lasting Impact Renovating School Libraries

According to Target, “One in six students who don’t read proficiently by third grade do not graduate from high school on time — a rate four times greater when compared to proficient readers.” A lack of resources plays a large role in the story those numbers tell, and students are unable to learn properly because only a fraction of their class even has books to read.

Target has decided to take this matter into their own hands. As part of Target’s corporate social responsibility program, they have chosen to put a special focus on education. Target’s goal is to renovate 175 libraries as part of the Library Makeover program that was started in 2007. By rebuilding the libraries, Target is able to provide students with new technology and books for a more useful academic resource.

Target has joined forces with The Heart of America Foundation to make this goal possible. Target has chosen schools that aim to raise their students’ reading proficiencies and have the ability to sustain a new library. These new resources will contribute to students learning to read, which helps set the foundation for future academic success.

Each library is designed and constructed pro bono. Over 3,000 Target employees all over the country are joining in to help build, design and stock these libraries. With the help of VolunteerMatch’s Employee Volunteer Solution, Target employees are able to find opportunities in their areas to be a part of a library renovation.

In addition to a brand new library, schools also receive 2,000 new books, and updated technology complete with iPads and interactive whiteboards. To top it off, Target has chosen to donate seven new books to each student and their siblings for them to take home. The schools are also offered the option to adopt the Target “Meals for Minds” program that donates healthy food to students and their families each month.

Dean Osaki, Target Community Relations Project Manager, spoke in 2013 about the renovation of a San Francisco elementary school. He said, “Target renovated Hillcrest Elementary School Library in October, and converging on the school were over 125 local Target team member volunteers. So many parents came up to see their child’s new library, and all left with smiles when each student left with 25 lbs. of healthy food, a new backpack, and seven new books!”

Over 700 volunteer hours go into each library renovation, which adds to the growing number of 107,000 total hours tracked since the Target Library Makeover Project was started. At VolunteerMatch we are impressed by this program because Target’s employee volunteers are helping to fix the root of the problem instead of slapping a bandaid on it. The new libraries are a result of volunteers getting together to grant each school and its students greater access to academic resources.

Congratulations to Target and all the schools they have helped and are planning to help, and keep up the great work!

Becoming “Powered by Pro Bono”

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with National Pro Bono Celebration this week, Engaging Volunteers is launching a 5-part exploration of best practices in pro bono volunteer engagement through the lens of the experts at Taproot Foundation. Our friends at Taproot have just released a new book, Powered by Pro Bono, to give nonprofit leaders guidance on creating successful pro bono engagements. Starting next week we’ll give away a copy of Powered By Pro Bono with each new blog post on the subject.

Powered by Pro BonoFifteen years ago VolunteerMatch helped launch a new era in volunteer engagement based on the idea that it should be easier to find a great place to volunteer (or a great volunteer). Ten years ago we pioneered the notion that it should be easier for companies to manage and deploy great community-based volunteer programs (and it should be easier for nonprofits to participate).

Today the volunteering landscape continues to evolve, and one of the most exciting new directions is the growing interest in engaging pro bono help for your organization.

Pro bono comes from “pro bono publico” – literally, “for public good” – and most people define it as companies or individuals donating their professional skills to benefit a nonprofit organization. In the past primarily limited to getting legal or advertising help, pro bono today means services in accounting, marketing, logistics, human resources, technology development and more.

More than $15 billion in pro bono service is exchanged each year, about one-twentieth of the total value of cash gifts annually. But the number is growing. And, more importantly, a recent survey by Deloitte of nonprofits reported that 62% of organizations reported that they needed more pro bono help, compared to 28% who sought more traditional volunteering support. In most cases, nonprofits recognize that the path toward transformational change must include support from highly-skilled volunteers who love what they do for a living and want to contribute it toward the greater good.

But how can nonprofits best engage pro bono support? How can we align our needs with what pro bono volunteers offer? How can we accomplish all of our every day work while making room for capacity building projects? How can we increase the odds that our next pro bono engagement will be successful?

New Release: Powered by Pro Bono

For most nonprofits, the rainbow possibilities of pro bono are strongly colored by the risk of failure. And yet getting better at pro bono is increasingly something most organizations can no longer afford to miss out on.

This fall Taproot Foundation has released a new guide for nonprofits, Powered by Pro Bono, with plans and resources to help nonprofits be great pro bono partners.

Taproot, more than any other capacity building organization in the U.S., has been instrumental in raising awareness about the benefits of pro bono at nonprofits and creating programs to bring corporate resources and teams across the nonprofit divide. Best known for their Service Grant program which has matched individual professionals with projects at more than 1,500 nonprofits, Taproot has also been instrumental in helping many of today’s most successful companies create more impactful pro bono programs.

All the experience has taught Taproot that great pro bono doesn’t just happen — it must be developed intentionally, realistically and with patience. Organizations can succeed in pro bono by following five key principles:

  • Knowing and defining your needs – Engaging a pro bono team or consultant should come only after your organization has identified a key strategic need.
  • Getting the right resource for the right job – A great pro bono match aligns skills, scope, process and people — not just supply and demand.
  • Being realistic about pro bono deadlines – Because critical paying client needs nearly always trump pro bono needs at companies, nonprofits need to plan for schedule changes.
  • Acting like a paying client – This means treating communication, iteration and scheduling as if you had real dollars on the line.
  • Ensuring that learning goes both ways – In most cases pro bono teams rely on the nonprofit for the domain knowledge and mission-based expertise that is required for a successful engagement.

This Month: Let’s Explore Ways to Make Pro Bono Work!

Over the next month I’ll be exploring the book’s four sections — Scoping, Securing, Managing and Scaling — here at Engaging Volunteers. Beginning next week I’ll tackle a different theme each week, and I’ll engage YOU, the reader, to share your stories around pro bono. For those who share their thoughts, one of you will receive a free copy of the book each week.

To kick things off, I thought I’d share some of my own pro bono thoughts!

In my own experience as a communications executive at a nonprofit, pro bono has been a mixed bag. Because of our innovative mission, awareness of our brand, and our many programs in the corporate world, VolunteerMatch is fortunate to meet lots of folks who want to help out on a pro bono basis.

Over the years, I’ve worked alongside pro bono teams on design marathons, on long-term branding projects, in technology development projects, and on strategic plans. Some projects have been wildly successful. Others have fizzled. And I haven’t always been clear on what led to these different outcomes.

Because of this uncertainty, I’m often a bit hesitant at the outset of pro bono projects. They ALL seem risky.

In this I know I’m not alone. As the introduction to Powered by Pro Bono puts it: “Depending on your experience, it might seem as though we are painting a pretty rosy picture… If you’ve had a bad experience, using pro bono services can seem like a risky investment of time and energy, a potential diversion of your limited resources, rather than support for them.”

But I also know that realizing the vision I have for my group at VolunteerMatch will depend on bringing in smart professionals who are interested in supporting my work and, ultimately, the mission of my organization. That’s why I’m excited to dig into Powered by Pro Bono. Join me!