If You Build It, They Will Come: How To Start-up A Volunteer Group With Little Time and Resources, And A Lot of Good

Dawn Harmsen is an MBA Candidate at Concordia University in Mission Viejo, Calif. Her MBA interests include corporate social responsibility and employee volunteerism.  Harmsen also works for Kia Motors and was part of the team that developed the ‘Kia Motors In Action Volunteer Committee’.

Guest Post By Dawn Harmsen

Yes, I understand you’re busy.  With work, the family, tasks that need to be done – – there just isn’t time to volunteer.  Well, what if I told you that, with only a handful of people and one or two lunch-hours a month, you could establish and run a volunteer group for your office?  I know, sounds like an Infomercial pitch.  But it’s true, and I’ve done it.

Case in point: Kia Motors America.  With a simple goal to encourage Kia’s 500+ employees to serve the community, a group of 10 employees banded together to form a “Kia In Action Volunteer Committee”.

At the start, the committee met once a month during lunch hour, sharing volunteering opportunities and establishing a Kia In Action Volunteer calendar for the company.  During the first 2 years, we held one volunteer “event” per month, with each committee member being responsible for one event per year (some took two) and all members supporting all events as much as possible.  We learned some valuable lessons during the first year, which I’d like to share with you.

Start simple. As mentioned with Kia, we started with one event per month (one committee member heading up one event per year).  For your company, it may be only one event every other month at the start, or one per quarter.  The point is to make every event achievable so you can build on your successes, rather than take on too much and discourage the team and the company from future events. Organization/event selection is critical with a small support group.  At Kia, we chose simple (non-time-consuming) events at first, and depended heavily on support from the benefiting organization.

Many non-profit organizations have employees ready and able to help you to help them.  For example, the American Red Cross will completely run a blood drive at your office, from scheduling appointments on their website, to setting up and tearing down their equipment.  You just need to provide them adequate space and a contingent of blood donors.  Several organizations similarly hold mini “sales boutiques” for a day at your office, providing all the sales staff, merchandise, and racks.  Again, you would only need to provide them with adequate space and a contingent of shoppers – – and a percentage of the sales will be donated to the charity of your choice.

Consider the audience when you are selecting events.  After a company interest survey on types of volunteer events resulted in a wide range of suggestions, the Kia In Action group decided to offer a wide range of volunteer opportunities, from holding food drive competitions to beach clean-ups to blood drives.  Be conscious not to focus just on soliciting donations; events that require “time donations” can be even more fulfilling and beneficial, especially if you are including family members.  By the way, I encourage you to select some events that encourage family participation, as you will definitely get a better turnout. As you hold more and more events, you will find out what types will gain the most participation at your company.  (At Kia, any event that included food was a success!)

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Of course, you should advertise each volunteer event in advance, in order to give employees the chance to make room in their busy schedules.  Advertise several times using different media.  Since we had the full support of Kia’s Human Resources department, we were allowed to use company email as our main communication line to the employees.  We also put up signs and posters in the main congregation areas and entrances/exits.  Encourage last-minute participation whenever possible to catch the stragglers.

But especially communicate your successes!  Take photos during the event, and share them with the entire company along with the event statistics (how much money was raised, pints of blood donated, hours of work provided, number of employees participated, etc.)  Make sure to emphasize how much impact the event had on the benefiting organization and how much the participants enjoyed it.  This practice ties volunteer opportunities to “fun”, and will hopefully increase participation in future events.

Now is The Time

The truth is, many non-profit organizations are hurting in the current economy.  The Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University reports that charitable donations are down more than $11 billion dollars from 2008 to 2009, which is the first decline in the last 22 years and the second decline in the last 53 years measured.  In 2010, reports of blood donations, food donations, and church donations are down from last year.  So, more than ever, these organizations are looking for any assistance you are willing to offer, and really need the help.

And I think you will be surprised that, when you reach out to your coworkers on this subject, you will find that many of them are in the same situation as you are: willing to help, but don’t think they have the time to pursue. To borrow a well-known phrase: “if you make it, they will come”.

If you find a small group of individuals who are willing to organize a volunteer opportunity or two (or five or ten) for the entire company, there will be others outside the core group that will participate. For some ideas on easy volunteer events and related non-profit organizations, see the inset above.  And good luck – you’ll be glad you did it!

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One thought on “If You Build It, They Will Come: How To Start-up A Volunteer Group With Little Time and Resources, And A Lot of Good

  1. I would like practical advice on how to select a committee, (what is the criteria to become a volunteer committee member of our Angel Tree event for the children we serve) within my office. How to get it started and so forth.

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