How to Do Good Well at SXSW This Year

This post also appears on Engaging Volunteers.

Heading to SXSW Interactive this year? You won’t be alone. Attendance at the year’s coolest tech conference – where digital creatives, techies, do-gooders and marketers come together to figure out the future — tracks the tech bubble. And with apps these days selling for this many zeros, you can bet SXSW will see more than the 30,000 people who showed up last year.

A round-up of technology for social good sessions at SXSW Interactive 2014.

In years past, SXSW was trumpeted as a great place to launch new products. That’s changed recently, as fewer apps have kept their mojo after getting lots of attention during SXSW. These days, what’s keeping SXSW hotter than ever is an increased awareness of the power of SXSW conversations and ideas to have an impact in society.

That’s great news if you work in technology for social good. When everyone is focused on the hot new app, it’s hard to get in a word edgewise about things like online organizing, new forms of digital activism, digital cause marketing, or microvolunteering. But with the focus on the change that can be wrought with all this new technology, we nonprofits and social do-gooders can finally seize the day.

So without further ado, here’s my roundup of what I think are the important sessions, lounges, and events that will focus on social good this year at SXSW.

The Beacon Lounge

The Beacon Lounge will be back at Austin Convention Center for its sixth year, and it remains as vital as ever, with four days of meet ups, expert-led discussions, beer, live music, food, and casual hanging out. This year the Beacon debuts the Do Good Dialogues, where pretty much everyone is invited to grab the mic and share how you are using design, technology, and communication to lean in to solutions for us all.

SXSW Social Good Hub

The action moves offsite from the convention center to two nearby locations for this series of talks and sessions on social good. The awesome teams at, Participant Media, and the UN Foundation have put together an amazing agenda of counter-programming on topics like design strategy, innovation, conscious consumption, and more. Plus, a party…of course. (It’s SXSW, after all.)

Why Clicktavisim Is Not a Dirty Word

After a decade of Facebook helping billions on the Web learn about issues, it’s amazing that people still doubt the power of social media. But we see time and again how sharing stories about important issues, filling out petitions, and even just liking organizations can be incredible ways to support an organization. Come hear folks like Tumblr’s Liba Rubenstein set the record straight.

Ethics & Future of Crowdfunding for Communities

There’s so much hype about the awesome power of crowdfunding that the ethical questions – like what makes for a good social impact investment, and what happens to the money – often get ignored. This session with social good tech ombudsman David Neffis definitely ahead of the trend.

Multiplatform Strategies for Making Good Happen

Tons of conversations at SXSW this year will be about multiplatform planning – that is, using all kinds of media formats to keep a story going and influence people to get involved. Nonprofit folks can definitely learn a bunch in this sessionwith some of the best minds in the business like Caitlin Burns and Lina Srivastava.

How Tech Companies Can Renew Capitalism

Over the years I’ve seen dozens of web services get launched purporting to have a business model that will change the world. Most fell flat. That’s why I think tech founders with truly innovative approaches like Ben Rattray from are worth a listen.

Hackathons for Social Good

With so many smart folks around, it’s hard not to be inspired by the possibilities. The idea of getting down to business to make the future come to life is why hackathons are so incredibly popular at SXSW.

The list above just scratches the surface. Here’s a big hot tip: Follow #sxgood to keep up with events and real-time memes during and round the conference.

How about you? Are you headed to SXSW this year? Let us know what’s inspiring you about technology for social good.

7 CSR and Employee Engagement Conferences You Must Attend This Year

7 CSR and Employee Engagement Conferences You Must Attend This Year

Schmoozing at the 2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit

If you go to a lot of corporate social responsibility and cause marketing conferences each year, the beginning of the year only means one thing: the budget is set and it’s time to rock!

With many of the most interesting and innovative events of the conference calendar bunched up in Q1 and Q2, there’s not a lot of time to plan for maximum impact.


So without further ado, here’s our list of the events that we think are worth attending in terms of investment, impact, networking and fun:

2014 VolunteerMatch Client Summit, Sept. 18-19, Detroit

There’s no event we get more value out of than our own Client Summit. Each year more than a 100 representatives of our corporate partners meet to talk trends and best practices, hear from experts in the field, and talk about the real world challenges of managing large scale volunteer initiatives at many of the world’s most engaged workforces. It’s invitation only, and usually reserved for companies that use VolunteerMatch’s world class engagement platform. This year we are thrilled to be bringing the event to Detroit, where General Motors is hosting everything at its world headquarters.

Cause Marketing Forum Annual Conference, May 28-29, Chicago

One of our favorites of the year is the Cause Marketing Forum, an intimate two days of interesting conversations at the nexus of cause and brand marketing. World class companies come to share their stories, and nonprofits that are committed to cause marketing are all looking for innovative ways to engage. You can also catch the presentation of the annual Halo Awards, cause marketing’s highest honor. The awards go to both corporations and their nonprofit partners.

The BSR Conference ’14, November 4-7, New York City

A four-day conference from Business for Social Responsibility, the SF-based nonprofit sustainability consultant. The event, which shifts from coast to coast each year, is a must for businesses that are looking to create social responsibility and sustainability plans that will last. The conference is a wonderful mix of content around the most pressing questions and top trends that will drive conversations in the future of social responsibility. Yes, that’s our very own Inga Langford at the mic on this page recapping last year’s event!

ACCP Annual Conference on Corporate Contributions, March 2-5, Las Vegas

Don’t go to the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals’ annual event because it’s in Vegas – go because it’s the premier conference in the U.S. for professionals in corporate citizenship, corporate social responsibility, community relations and volunteerism. While flashier events focus on the sizzle of brand marketing and cause marketing for social good, ACCP’s event is all about the steak of corporate giving – i.e., billions of dollars of annual philanthropy, volunteering and community investments.

13th Annual Best Practices Summit on Employee Engagement in Corporate Citizenship, April, New York City

Charities@Work hosts one of the best gatherings dedicated to ideas and trends in employee engagement for social good. We like this conference because it recognizes the enormous and often overlooked impact employee-led philanthropy and volunteering is having in our communities.

SB ’14 San Diego, June 2-5, San Diego

The innovative minds at Sustainable Brands, the organization, developed Sustainable Brands, the event, to bring together the most innovative thinkers in brand development and brand marketing to help change the world. Each year SB hosts this 3-day event on an island in San Diego, which sounds exotic, except that it’s really purpose-built for making sure the conversations are sustained and relationships can be developed over a short period of time. I’ve always loved the connections, stories, and opportunities that come out of this conference.

2014 Conference on Volunteering and Service, June 16-18, Atlanta

Points of Light Institute’s Conference on Volunteering and Service is best known as a place for nonprofits to learn more about volunteer engagement, but it also has a wonderful track for business professionals. Each year we are thrilled to see dozens of our corporate partners at NCVS, and it’s great to see that corporate social responsibility is becoming a larger part of the discussion at the largest event about volunteering on the national landscape.

What do you think are the best events in CSR in 2014? Share them here.

Exploring Our Impact: Workplace Volunteering Grows in 2012

With the release this summer of the 2012 VolunteerMatch Impact Report, we’re taking a closer look at some of the most important outcomes of our work in 2012. Read the whole series here.

Four views on workplace impact in the VolunteerMatch network in 2012.

Workplace volunteering is on the rise for a bunch of reasons.

  • If you work full time, chances are good that you spend more time at work than you do with friends and family.
  • More companies see responsible citizenship as intrinsic to their identity.
  • More employees want to leverage company resources to make a difference.
  • More nonprofits are getting smart about engaging corporate volunteer programs or using services like VolunteerMatch that do it for them.

We were paying attention to these trends last year when we included the breakdown of workplace activity as a percentage of the overall volunteer activity in the VolunteerMatch network in 2011.

This year we went further by including this breakdown among a set of four data points on workplace impact in our 2012 Social Impact report. The information not only illustrates just how many people are volunteering through a VolunteerMatch program, it also shows the clear and growing impact of corporate volunteering both at VolunteerMatch and in corporate social responsibility overall.

Volunteer connections in the VolunteerMatch network – comparing to 160+ partner sites.

More Network Partners, More Employees with Access

Our first workplace volunteering partner, The Gap, joined the network in 1999. By the end 2012, some 158 companies were using VolunteerMatch to engage employees in workplace volunteer programs. They represent practically every sector of the business economy, including healthcare (UnitedHealth Group), financial services (such as Charles Schwab), retail (Walmart), airlines (US Airways), manufacturing (Toro), media (Discovery Communications), technology (NetSuite), and medical devices (Johnson & Johnson).

While the majority of our workplace partners are larger companies, we also support many smaller firms who often have innovative programs and committed teams. By using VolunteerMatch and our suite of solutions, those programs collectively give more than 3.5 million employees access to volunteer opportunities from our community of nonprofits.

Access is important, and often difficult to make possible. Many employees work from home. Others are on production lines and don’t sit in front of a computer all day. Still others are entry-level or modestly paid such that they may not have a personal machine at home or a smart phone.

Lasting Relationships

But once connected with a great nonprofit, we see over and over again how the relationship can blossom into sustained and lasting impact — say, an occasional employee volunteer gig goes well, and the volunteer signs up to return once a week. Over time, she may also take on important skilled projects.

And there are many other models for connecting that resonate far beyond the initial engagement. These are add up. In 2012 participants in workplace volunteer programs on the VolunteerMatch reported an average of 36 hours of volunteering for the year.

Stay tuned for more analysis of this year’s VolunteerMatch Impact Report. And in the meantime, tell us about volunteering in your workplace. What kind of program do you have access to? How are you getting engaged? We’d love to hear all about it.

Exploring Our Impact: The Economics of the VolunteerMatch Network

With the release this summer of the 2012 VolunteerMatch Impact Report, we’re taking a closer look at some of the most important outcomes of our work in 2012. Read the whole series here.

Measuring the economics of the VolunteerMatch network.

What does it mean to be the Web’s largest volunteer engagement network? For the VolunteerMatch team, it means keeping a laser focus on making it easier for everyone to make a difference. Lots of people are surprised that this “big tent” approach goes well beyond volunteers and nonprofits — it also means developing tools to help government programs, well-known brands, campuses and businesses of all kinds to build their volunteer engagement success on top of the VolunteerMatch network.

Over the years VolunteerMatch has developed a rich and diverse set of products and services that go beyond our award-winning site,  These include enterprise-level APIs, hosted platforms for employee and consumer volunteer programs from partners, and consulting services for businesses and organizations that are ready to take their programs to the next level but aren’t quite sure how.

What all these efforts have in common is that they provide millions of people, programs and organizations with free or affordable access to the VolunteerMatch network — and they really do work. Not surprisingly, as access has grown, so too has the scale of our impact.

Measuring Our Growing Scale

Every mentor, community gardener, volunteer librarian, or graphic designer who uses VolunteerMatch is woven into the fabric of the network – and more volunteers use VolunteerMatch than any other service in the nation.

In 2011 VolunteerMatch facilitated some 622,000  connections between prospective volunteers and great organizations, the most ever. A year later, thanks to some big improvements to our system and significantly more visitors, we increased our overall connections by more than 20% — to 788,000, or about 1.5 new connections every single minute. (You can see this activity live for yourself here.)

Valuing the Volunteer Experience

Taking into account the likelihood that a new connection will result in an actual volunteer experience, the depth and duration of the experience, and the average value of a volunteer’s time, each of those connections will eventually produce $3,158 worth of support for the organizations that use VolunteerMatch – an increase of $83 compared to last year.

Even experts in volunteering are often blown away when we share this number, but we have lots of reasons for believing it to be true. In an article last year about the comparable value of volunteers recruited from VolunteerMatch we explored in detail the complex economics of volunteer recruitment. I don’t have space here to reproduce it all in detail, but I invite you to check it out for yourself.

But two factors from the equation really stand out.

  1. Volunteers serve five hours each month with nonprofits they find at VolunteerMatch.
  2. The typical commitment lasts 2.5 years.

Of course, these are averages. Some folks help out for a single night at a gala event. Others come in twice a week for whole days at a time. Still others — often times with support from their employers — work diligently on research projects for three or six months at a stretch.

In my own family, my mom has been volunteering at a public school serving Tucson, Arizona’s Native American reservation community for more than eight years now. And if you look around, you’ll start to see many others with longtime commitments to specific causes and favorite organizations. Through this lens, it’s easy to begin to see how VolunteerMatch is able to help generate more than $85,000 in comparable social value for organizations every single hour. 

Stay tuned for more analysis of this year’s VolunteerMatch Impact Report. And in the meantime, how about you? We’d love to hear the value of your volunteering for the causes you love best.

Crossing the Great Divide at CMF13: How to Integrate Different Audiences into One Cause Campaign

Campaign success awaits.

A common problem for brands, campuses and government volunteer engagement programs in cause marketing is how to scale to new audiences.

Is it possible to extend a campaign from one audience – say, employees or professors at a university – to engage students or the general community as well?

Or let’s say you have a consumer cause marketing campaign and you really want it to succeed: Can you increase the chances by including the employees at the company that owns the brand?

At VolunteerMatch, we’ve worked with partners that have scaled campaigns with missions as diverse as helping sheltered pets to find a home, increasing food security for hungry families, and supporting education in schools, libraries and literacy programs.

In these and other programs that “cross the great divide” there tend to be three huge benefits: smarter testing, more affordable creative, and great social impact.  But although we’ve seen some success in these partnerships, the concept isn’t well understood. Even when I mentioned this to cause marketing whiz Joe Waters he agreed: there are few examples of audience-integrated campaigns in cause marketing.

So this feels a like an emerging trend that has yet to emerge, which is why we’ve been talking a lot recently about audience scaling/integration (such as this panel at our recent Client Summit).

On May 30, I was fortunate to lead a discussion on scaling to new audiences at the 2013 Cause Marketing Forum conference.  Because it brings together brand marketers, corporate philanthropy, campus community involvement and nonprofits, among other practitioners, the Cause Marketing Forum is the perfect place to explore the potential risks and rewards of “crossing the divide” of audience engagement in causes.

I thought I would share some of the highlights of the discussion.

Bridging Internal and External Populations

Among other ideas, at CMF, we explored the major questions of audience integration, including:

  • What types of campaigns are best suited for internal/external integration?
  • How do we get Marketing and HR teams to buy-in?
  • How can we leverage campaign assets most efficiently?
  • How do we define success in an integrated campaign?

Most conversations about scaling in marketing focus on shoring up your web presence to handle a crush of unexpected visits. But technology is only one major consideration. The other big issue is how to go from one audience… say, typically, from an “internal” one where relationships are well established and supported, communications channels are already in use, and processes exist to deliver incentives of different… to an “external” audience such as consumers or students for whom this infrastructure isn’t already in place.

Warning: brainstorming underway

Some 50-60 people joined me at CMF for two sessions of discussion. I thought I would share of the ideas that bubbled up.

One note: it’s hard enough to get buy-in for a single audience campaign, much less for multi-audience campaigns. And every company or campus is unique. Needless to say your mileage may vary. If you try something and it works, let us know:

  • Campaigns that connect all the audiences of a brand, including internal, are more likely to reflect the true values and personality of both company and its customers.
  • By leveraging budgets, relationships, people and creative resources across audiences, integrated campaigns have a greater chance of deep impact in both marketing ROI, employee engagement, and social impact.
  • Especially in retail situations, staff training about a campaign can be a brilliant opportunity for engagement.  For its Brazilian Amazon Rainforest protection project, Macy’s mobilized teams from its partner The Nature Conservancy to educate more than 10,000 Macy’s staff members on how to talk with consumers about the Macy’s campaign – effectively creating an army of qualified spokespeople.
  • If you can make audience involvement transparent to participants, they’ll have a deeper and richer campaign experience knowing that they are connected to other population who are committed to the same cause.
  • To break out of silos, try to find, identify, and nurture champions internally at a company or school who will be inspired enough to carry the torch to various stakeholders during early proposal stages.
  • By testing your consumer campaigns with your employees – who are more likely to really know the values and personality of the brand – messaging and overall campaign elements will more easily pass the “sniff” test.
  • Don’t deprive your employees of engagement opportunities. Try to give them as many entry points as possible and similar access as consumer audiences.
  • Look carefully for audiences that can be easily folded in. Retired employees, for example, have the money and time to get involved but are often overlooked. Other companies are engaging suppliers and vendors in their cause programs. Caesars Entertainment has a great campaign built around its partnership with Rebuilding Together. Customers can donate loyalty points and other rewards, while Caesars employees with trade skills are encouraged to visit communities to teach home-based energy efficiency
  • Let technology do its part. Diverse online social actions, social networking, content distribution, gift matching and game-ification can all be supported by readily available platforms. TripAdvisor worked with to enable both its customers and its employees to make loans to alleviate poverty.
  • Recognition and incentives don’t – and perhaps shouldn’t – be the same for all audiences. Employees can earn matching grants, volunteer time off, or awards from the boss. Consumers can win prizes, discounts or get public recognition for their involvement. But while incentives can be a little bit different for each group, the brass ring (i.e., the most efficient solution) is to use friendly competition or some other tactic across all your audiences.
  • Some nonprofits are better with engaging employees through company programs. Other nonprofits have the perfect message for consumer engagement campaigns. If both nonprofits work in the same cause, why not partner with both? Campaign managers sometimes forget that there’s nothing stopping them from doing several partnership activations in a campaign.
  • Know what success looks like from both the internal and external audience perspective. For internal audiences it may be about participation rates and employee satisfaction; for external audience success will likely be measured by brand awareness, sales or content generated.
  • Equip your activists, ambassadors and evangelizers with tool kits or other self-service media programs to give them the ability to carry the campaign to audiences you might otherwise never connect with.
  • If you have budget for it, put the power of major media to use reaching all your audiences at once – it’s a great way to keep the campaign story unified and straight.

Finally, capture involvement stories from all sides of the campaign. Storytelling transcends audiences, reminding people that we all have something in common – the desire to make a difference.

Are you involved in a cause campaign that integrates audiences? Share your experiences with us.

“Prometheans” Honored as 2013 VolunteerMatch Champions of the Year

Jessica Johnson accepts the award from VolunteerMatch’s Greg Price.

At the heart of the story of VolunteerMatch has been the extraordinary collection of individuals who have gone out of their way to help our corporate community group thrive.

From sharing best practices, to generating financial support, to simply providing introductions to the people we ought to know, these folks have truly been champions of corporate volunteering.

Without their committed involvement our network wouldn’t be what it is.

In recognition for their outstanding contributions to the field and the VolunteerMatch network, we recently honored Terri Lynn Cardona, Mattson Hill, Jessica Johnson and Johanna Mendribil as our 2013 Champions of the Year. We made the announcement at our Client Summit in New York City, where Johnson was able to accept the award on behalf of her teammates.

The POrCH Program: From Residents to “Neighbors”

The largest private owner of multi-family properties in the San Francisco Bay Area, Prometheus Real Estate Group began working with VolunteerMatch in 2010 to support its “POrCH” program, which stands for Promethean OutReach and Community Help program. POrCH enables the Prometheus community to volunteer with causes and organizations they feel passionate about.

In just three years, Prometheus has extended the “POrCH” program from employees (“Prometheans”) to over 37,500 of its residents (known as Neighbors), and now the company is engaging its suppliers and vendors as well, using the program as a gateway for more audiences to make a difference.

The fantastic team at Prometheus is a big reason for their success.  Positive, forward-thinking and truly innovative in outlook, Cardona, Hill, Johnson and Mendribil have truly been a joy to work with, constantly helping VolunteerMatch to think in new ways, and taking the lead to help other practitioners learn from their experience.

Congratulations, Terri Lynn, Mattson, Jessica and Johanna! You truly are champions!

What Will Be the Top Volunteer Programs of the Year?

Winners of the 2012 VolunteerMatch Corporate Volunteer Awards

For the last few weeks we’ve enjoyed taking time here at to share details of the ten companies that are finalists for this year’s Corporate Volunteer Awards. Today we’re thrilled to announce the complete list with links to full profiles of every program in our Large and Small-Medium Sized categories.

This marks the eighth year that VolunteerMatch has canvassed its community of 170 business clients to find the top performing programs across sectors. From banking and finance to airlines to real estate to energy, the finalists represent a cross-section of committed action in corporate community involvement.

As we’ve gotten to know each program better, our only regret is that we have to choose which companies saw the most success last year! Fortunately, much of the final call is determined by each company’s performance against these four benchmark measures.

Winners will be saluted at a ceremony during the 2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit, scheduled to take place May 16, 2013, at New York University in New York City.

Here is a complete list of the 2013 finalists, with links to full program profiles:

Employee Volunteer Program of the Year (Large Size Business) – Awarded to a large business client with outstanding performance in corporate volunteer engagement.  The 2013 nominees for this award are:

Employee Volunteer Program of the Year (Small-Medium Size Business) – Awarded to a small-to-medium sized business client with outstanding performance in corporate volunteer engagement. The 2013 nominees for this award are:

We salute all ten of our finalists! Thank you all for being outstanding examples of corporations that believe in making a difference and committed members of the VolunteerMatch community!