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