How to Design a Volunteer Program for Your Small Business

Guest post by Scott Huntington

Tips for designing a volunteer program for your small business.As a small business, finding ways to give back is important. Volunteering is a way to do something “better” for the community your business is in. It allows your employees to cooperate in a new way and creates a sense of empowerment.

However, creating a volunteer program for your business might not be the easiest task in the world. With thousands of choices available, how do you decide in which direction to proceed?

Why Choose a Cause?

Even though the benefits for giving and volunteering in the workplace are hard to dispute, many small business struggle to choose a specific cause to support. It’s difficult; you may have employees with a variety of causes close to their hearts, or have hesitations about aligning with one specific cause. When these barriers exist, volunteering efforts fall short, never take off or become scattered. None of these help your mission to give back. Choosing a cause and committing to it is a good way to stay focused and effective in your volunteer program.

5 Questions to Consider When Designing a Program

Below are a few questions and factors to consider when creating a volunteer program for your small business:

1. Does my business already donate to something?

Does your business already donate to a specific cause? If so, developing a volunteer program can be a no-brainer; simply align your actions with your giving. It’s likely your employees are already engaged in the cause and would be enthusiastic if volunteer opportunities would become available. If they’re not engaged, it may be time to find something that they’re more likely to care about.

2. Is there a natural relationship between our products/services and a specific cause?

Think about the products and/or services your business provides. Is there a natural link between those services and ways you could volunteer? For example, a shoe retailer could donate shoes to an underprivileged country – like TOMS has been doing for years. From there, the company could create mission trips and other ways for employees to become involved in the giving process.

Smaller companies like Mr. Rooter or AquaPhoenix, where clean water is the entire point of their business, could find a charity that is dedicated to providing the world with clean water. Food business or wholesalers could donate food to local food kitchens and employees could volunteer on a rotating schedule. Is there a natural link between your products and a volunteering opportunity? If so, that’s a perfect place to start.

3. Is there a local charity you could become involved with?

Sometimes the biggest movements start locally. Local initiatives are likely to be important to your employees and make excellent starting points for volunteerism. Run a search on a site like or reach out to your local Chamber to find out what charities surround your business’s physical location. Find out if there’s a way to get involved.

When you volunteer locally, you’re able to see the results first hand, and this could raise the excitement factor among your employees. It also can create a little positive buzz about the company and maybe even get your name in the local paper, which is always a plus. That shouldn’t be your motivation, but it’s a nice perk of going local.

4. Does my business have past ventures or partners that could have available volunteering opportunities?

Look back over the history of your business. Have any of your past clients been nonprofit organizations or charities? If so, you could revive the relationship by looking for ways to volunteer with those past clients. It adds a personal factor that highlights the fact you value your past clients and customers.

5. What matters to my employees?

While your employees may change from time to time, it’s still important to empower them to get involved in the design of a volunteer program. Set up a meeting to announce your company’s new focus and let them know their input matters. From there, put together a survey and encourage all employees to participate. You could provide a list of 5 potential charities, or ask employees to submit their own ideas. Look for overlap and narrow it down to two. From there, hold a vote. When your employees feel as though they’ve been a part of the process, they’re more likely to take ownership and to become involved in the volunteering process.

Creating a volunteer program is an essential aspect of giving back to and becoming part of your business’s community. If you’re unsure of where to start inside your company or organization, consider the 5 questions above prior to moving forward.

Has your small business implemented a volunteer program? Tell us about it!

Scott Huntington is a writer and blogger with a passion for volunteering. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington or check out his blog,

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Profile of a Champion: How Carla Lehn Inspires Engagement at California State Library

California State Library is a Preferred Partner of VolunteerMatch.Before this year’s exciting VolunteerMatch Client Summit, you got the chance to meet some of the finalists for the 2014 VolunteerMatch Corporate Volunteer Awards. And then, you found out the winners.

Two award categories, however, are unique, in that they don’t have finalists – they are chosen by VolunteerMatch Client Relations Managers based on their experiences working directly with their corporate clients. These special categories are Breakout Performance and Champions of the Year.

We’re especially excited about one of our Champions this year, because it marks the first time any non-corporate client has won a Corporate Volunteer Award. Carla Lehn from California State Library wowed us all this year with her outstanding teamwork, leadership, accomplishment, dedication and spirit.

Carla Lehn accepts her Champion of the Year Award, with VolunteerMatch President Greg Baldwin.

Carla Lehn accepts her Champion of the Year Award, with VolunteerMatch President Greg Baldwin.

California State Library is part of the VolunteerMatch Preferred Partner Program. This program works with a select group of nonprofits and civic organizations that have partnered with VolunteerMatch to place a special focus on volunteer recruitment, retention and engagement. (Want to know more? Give us a shout.)

A VolunteerMatch member since 2009, the California State Library organization connects over 600 volunteers to their local libraries each month. Since 2008, the number of volunteers recruited by the Library has increased by 48%!

Carla’s tireless enthusiasm, energy, and drive amazes the entire VolunteerMatch Staff on a regular basis. The strides made due to her efforts have helped thousands of individuals become more involved in their local community and have truly created positive change across the state of California.

“It was so nice to be recognized, but I felt like all my library and VolunteerMatch colleagues should have been standing there with me,” said Carla. “We’ve had some awesome successes together!”

Kudos to Carla Lehn for being a VolunteerMatch Champion of the Year. We salute you and your hard work!

To learn more about the 2014 VolunteerMatch Corporate Volunteer Awards, click here.

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CSR Food for Thought: Do It Like Sir Richard

The CSR Food for Thought series is a weekly roundup of relevant news from around the Web, presented to you in one bite-sized blog post. Follow us on Twitter for CSR news and trends throughout the week: @VM_Solutions.

Do it like Sir Richard. The gutsy, entrepreneurial approach to profit and purpose.

Today’s business world is characterized by big, bold risks. The weirder the innovation, the bolder the idea, the more investors seem to clamor to buy a piece of the pie. Yet, when it comes to charity and philanthropy (in the corporate sector, as well), we are schooled to NEVER take risks, to never step outside the tried and true comfort zones. How will we ever innovate? We can all learn some things from Richard Branson, who has been as bold – and as successful – in the cause-driven sides of his businesses as he has with the profit margins.

Cause marketing realignment forces evolution of strategies

Gone are the days when a company could buy into a pre-packaged, once-a-year cause campaign focused on a “sexy” issue like breast cancer or heart health, and call it a successful strategy. Companies are waking up to the need to align cause marketing with the promise of the company’s brand, and the relationship they have with consumers. This is impacting the way companies create partnerships with nonprofits, making these relationships longer, stronger and more strategic.

#NewMetrics ’14 Workshop Reveals Secrets to Effective Employee Engagement

Spoiler alert: The secrets to effective employee engagement start with recruiting employees that are more likely to care about the issues you focus on (like sustainability), and then creating an environment that encourages them to be proactive, innovate, and be recognized for their contributions. This recap from the Sustainable Brands New Metrics ’14 event provides some specific strategies for doing this and increasing employee engagement and business success in the process.

Good Business

Speaking of cause marketing, a great cause marketing campaign can be a very successful marketing tactic for companies to reach and connect with consumers – but it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways in which companies and nonprofits can work together.  Bruce Burtch describes how building strong, lasting, strategic cross-sector partnerships can create disproportionately large benefits for the company, the cause, the community, and really the whole world. (Want to hear it from Bruce directly? Join us for a webinar on Wednesday, October 22nd!)

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What Makes ADT a Breakout Performer?

Congratulations to ADT for winning the Breakout Performance Corporate Volunteer Award!Before this year’s exciting VolunteerMatch Client Summit, you got the chance to meet some of the finalists for the 2014 VolunteerMatch Corporate Volunteer Awards. And then, you found out the winners.

Two award categories, however, are unique, in that they don’t have finalists – they are chosen by VolunteerMatch Client Relations Managers based on their experiences working directly with their corporate clients. These special categories are Breakout Performance and Champions of the Year.

This year, ADT was a favorite winner of the Breakout Performance Award. This award is given to a new VolunteerMatch client that has shown significant success for a newly launched program – and boy, does ADT fit the bill.

Alex Price, Community Relations Manager of ADT Corporation, accepts the Breakout Performance Award from VolunteerMatch Greg Baldwin at the 2014 VolunteerMatch Client Summit.

Alex Price, Community Relations Manager of ADT Corporation, accepts the Breakout Performance Award from VolunteerMatch Greg Baldwin at the 2014 VolunteerMatch Client Summit.

Launched in July 2013 with a pilot program focused in seven key regions, ADT developed a branded program with focus and flexibility, and produced trainings and materials that were easily scalable. During this pilot phase, over 30% of ADT’s eligible employees volunteered!

Then, to celebrate the company’s 140th anniversary in August, 2014, they expanded the program to over 200 locations. And in its first year, this program welcomed more than 14,000 unique visitors to their new VolunteerMatch site, and connected employee volunteers to more than 350 nonprofit organizations.

Core focus areas include Disaster Response and Public Safety, along with many walks and Habitat builds, but ADT employees are also encouraged to contribute as much as possible in any area, and to submit group project ideas via the Opportunity Builder feature on their VolunteerMatch site.

ADT as a company has thrown itself headfirst into the EVP world, participating in webinars and quickly learning best practices for communications, executive and middle manager support, events, and incentives, leading to one of the most impressive programs of the past year.

“ADT was so honored to be recognized with the 2014 ‘Breakout Performance of the Year’ award,” said Alex Price, Community Relations Manager of ADT Corporation. “What a wonderful way to cap off our companywide rollout of the ADT Always Cares program, and so motivating for me to expand it as we enter our second year.”

Big congratulations to Alex Price, ADT Corporation, and all your employees for winning Breakout Performance of the Year – and keep up the great work!

To learn more about the 2014 VolunteerMatch Corporate Volunteer Awards, click here.

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6 Transformational Companies Honored in a Transformational City

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit - setting for the 2014 VolunteerMatch Client Summit.Last week’s VolunteerMatch Client Summit in Detroit was like no other conference any of us have ever attended…but more on that later. Today, we want to focus on one particular event during this year’s Client Summit: the 2014 VolunteerMatch Corporate Volunteer Awards.

In a city whose corporate sector is showing every day the impact that can be made by true community involvement, six socially responsible companies were honored for their commitments to their own communities – and to the engagement of their employees.

You’ve gotten to know some of the finalists over the past few months, and now we are thrilled to announce the winners.

For the third year in a row, Morgan Stanley and Old National Bank took top honors as Employee Volunteer Programs of the Year in the Large and Small-Medium Sized Business categories. Lilly and ADT were recognized for their outstanding first year of success in the VolunteerMatch network. And staff members from UnitedHealth Group and California State Library were acknowledged for being dedicated champions of employee and consumer volunteer engagement.

The winners of the 2014 VolunteerMatch Corporate Volunteer Awards are:

Morgan Stanley

Old National Bank


Jacquelyn Londo & Sue Osten – UnitedHealth Group
Carla Lehn – California State Library

Congratulations to the winners of the 2014 VolunteerMatch Corporate Volunteer Awards! May you continue to be an inspiration to your employees, your communities, and the rest of us.

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How Ohio State Walks the Talk

This post was originally published on The Lantern.

Guest post by Alex Drummer

How Ohio State Walks the TalkAn out-of-body experience helped an Ohio State official develop one of the university’s newest initiatives.

OSU’s Office of Volunteer Relations was partially inspired after Andy Gurd, chief operating officer of the OSU Alumni Association, realized there was no official route for volunteering through OSU during a speech he gave at an alumni club event in New York, he said.

“As I’m speaking to the club, I almost had an out-of-body experience that I really hope that nobody raises their hand and says, ‘Hey Andy, how do I volunteer at Ohio State?’ because I really didn’t know the answer — and I work here,” he said.

The Office of Volunteer Relations connects OSU community members with volunteer opportunities either at or for the university.

And it seems as though OSU might be one of the first schools with a volunteer office.

While in the process of creating the office, the task force working on the project contacted between eight and 12 different peer universities and did not find any with similar programs, Gurd said.

“In fact, they all said ‘when you have that up and running, we really want to take a look at it,'” Gurd said.

Ohio State launches office to connect community with volunteer options, using the VolunteerMatch tools.

The office provides an online database of volunteer opportunities through a third-party website called VolunteerMatch. The first year and setup cost for the website was $28,000. The funds for this came out of the Alumni Association’s budget, said Michell Domke, director of the Office of Volunteer Relations.

It will cost $20,000 annually to continue to use the service, Domke said in an email.

The initial annual budget for the office is $200,000, but the Alumni Association will make changes to the budget as needed in order to ensure success, Domke said.

Gurd said buying into software that was already developed saved some time, and the office has still been able to customize the website to its needs, so it’s the “best of both worlds.”

The site went live on July 1, and 116 people had signed up for a volunteer opportunity as of Sept. 8, Domke said.

The volunteer opportunities on the site are divided into departments, such as the Fisher College of Business or Wexner Medical Center. There were 20 departments on the site as of Sept. 15. . Within them, there were 34 opportunities posted as of Sept. 8, Domke said.

Opportunities will continually be posted as they come up, and more departments are slated to be added as well, Domke said.

If someone is looking to volunteer, he or she can search for an opportunity on the website without having to sign in, but when the user identifies an opportunity and clicks to sign up for it, he or she will be redirected to sign up for an account, Domke said. After signing up, the user should receive an email confirmation, and then after the user has volunteered, the hope is that he or she will be thanked for their service — an advantage of the new system, Gurd said.

“Because we now have everything in a database, we can now understand who’s volunteering. We can say thank you to them, which in the past, I don’t know that always occurred,” Gurd said.

Another asset of the system is it allows users to sign up for what interests them, rather than the university guessing, Gurd said. “It really helps us understand what an individual is passionate about because many times in the past we looked up what school you graduated from and that’s what we sent you information on,” Gurd said.

As for the creation of the Office of Volunteer Relations, it took about a year and a half to do the research, get the committee together, gain approval and get funding in order to create the office, Gurd said.

Because student volunteers have already been extensively tapped into, the new office focuses on nonstudent volunteer opportunities, Domke said.

As for the inclusion of other members of the university community, like fans — instead of just alumni — Gurd said that it goes along with the spirit of begin an Ohioan, and nonaffiliates can sign up to volunteer too.

“We’re the Buckeyes, and this is the Buckeye State,” Gurd said.

Being a state school, OSU has a large fan base that might consist of people who, although did not graduate from OSU, want to become involved in the university, he said.

“For people who are passionate about Ohio State, who care about this university and the things we do, we want to provide an opportunity for them to be able to engage with the university as well, and we want strong relationships with them,” Gurd said.

The alumni are a special group themselves, he said, and the hope is that the system will not only help strengthen alumni and university relationships but also strengthen relationships among alumni, he said.

“One of the great things about it is when you volunteer, it’s cross-generational, so we can have brand new graduates volunteering with someone who graduated 50 years ago. I get chills talking about it,” Gurd said.

Huge, happy welcome to The Ohio State University and your community, new members of the VolunteerMatch network!

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