Lessons from the Road: Shaking Up Employee Volunteer Programs

This article is part of a special series penned by VolunteerMatch leadership focused on the changes we all need to make to our programs and strategies to shape the future of employee volunteering and corporate social responsibility. How will you innovate your employee volunteer program? Here are some ideas we picked up on the road.Earlier this month I hit the road with Vicky Hush, VolunteerMatch’s VP of Engagement & Strategic Partnerships. We headed up to Portland to present to Hands On Greater Portland’s Corporate Volunteer Council to share our expertise with employee volunteer managers about how to keep your employee volunteer program (EVP) fresh and exciting. Leading up to the presentation, we had a tough internal conversation which amounted to this: how controversial did we want to be? What would happen if we just came out and said that we think EVPs should be doing more? We decided to go for it – those Portlanders are a tough bunch with all that fresh air! And it worked: when we asked the room of EVP managers “how many of you feel like your employee volunteer program is as strong as it can be?” we (not surprisingly) didn’t see a single hand. Through the conversation, we reviewed a few frameworks that can help companies “reinvent the road,” including:

  • Go back and review the core reasons that your company has a volunteer program – other than for the community benefit. And be honest.
  • Look at the overlap between your employees’ passions, your corporate strategy and your communities’ needs. Think about the shared value between your company’s strategy and society’s needs.
  • Constantly adapt, assess and evolve using the program change model.

Towards the end of the presentation, we shifted to brainstorming specific program components. There were some great insights!

Communications Trends

We discussed communications, and two trends became clear:

  1. People are overstimulated with messages, so we have to think about creative, new ways to reach them, particularly focused on social, inclusive, lively, fashionable, and visual methods.
  2. We have to go back to basics. Sometimes the least efficient mode of communication is the most effective (meaning, sometimes you have to go back to face-to-face interactions).

Measurement Challenges

One area where most companies struggle is measurement. Everyone in the room agreed that the silver bullet is tracking impact, but we have not yet developed a way to successfully track this. By the end of the discussion, the trending idea was that corporations need to invest in nonprofit infrastructure to build open-source tools to track metrics that are mutually beneficial for corporations and nonprofits. VolunteerMatch loves this idea – who is up for helping us achieve this project?

Incentives that Work

Finally, we brainstormed on creative incentives. While we all agreed that awards, competition, dollars for doers and VTO are effective, there was one major idea that emerged: incentives need to be carefully implemented to feel authentic. The culture of philanthropy is not something that can be forced or created through incentives, as the true motivation to volunteer is inherently intrinsic. You want to create incentives that match this ethos: Make it easy and rewarding for the volunteers who already engage, and don’t try to force employees to volunteer who aren’t naturally drawn to it. In an ideal world, what if you could flip incentives on their heads, and instead recruit and hire employees based on their community-minded drive? So now our challenge for you – how can you innovate on your EVP to increase your impact? Think about how your program is unique, and what value your employees can bring to the community. Think critically about why you do what you do, and start to challenge your company to do more. We’re here to help if you need us! Let us know how you want to innovate on your EVP – connect via Twitter at @VM_Solutions, and check out the rest of the blogs in this special series.

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Enhance Social AND Business Value through Strategic Employee Volunteerism

Guest post by Sophia John

Schwab employees get into the volunteering spirit.

Schwab employees get into the volunteering spirit.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has rapidly turned into a fundamental strategy for businesses. The field has demonstrated that even locally-based or small companies can make an impact in their communities by working with local nonprofits. Employee volunteer programs, specifically, provide great value for both the employees engaged in the service and the business itself.

Employee volunteering can help your business as follows:

  • It provides a great opportunity for employee team-building.
  • It helps your business become more involved in overcoming social issues.
  • It can strengthen public trust in your business.
  • It will help you build strong relationships both within your company and in your larger community.

Employee volunteering can help your employees as follows:

  • It can build skills, self-esteem, and efficiency.
  • It enables interaction among employees in different departments.
  • Employees will gain experience working within different sectors of business.
  • Employees can reduce stress-related symptoms and focus on being happier at work.

There are a number of groups popping up that are focused on helping businesses establish employee volunteer programs as strategic part of what they do and who they are including VolunteerMatch and various Corporate Volunteer Councils around the country.

An Omasaze, Inc. reading mentor and her student.

An Omasaze, Inc. reading mentor and her student.

Top companies that are successfully involved in strategic employee volunteerism include Cisco and Deloitte, among others. Cisco’s global projects provide education, healthcare, monetary empowerment, and calamity liberation to areas in need. Cisco employee teams get involved in their local communities by organizing donation projects and events.

Deloitte employees have the opportunity to lead conferences that provide training on corporate volunteerism. Deloitte has realized that engaging employees in skills-based volunteer programs can have long term impact on employee productivity and retention.

Your company should now be focusing on how to do CSR smarter – specifically, how to integrate it into your core business strategies. And a key piece of this will most certainly be engaging employees in volunteering.

Sophia John is a writer and blogger, and always looking towards new ideas and knowledge. She likes to help students by giving custom essay writing tips.

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Are Employee Engagement Programs Still Evolving?

This article is part of a special series penned by VolunteerMatch leadership focused on the changes we all need to make to our programs and strategies to shape the future of employee volunteering and corporate social responsibility.

Are employee engagement programs still evolving?The VolunteerMatch Solutions team has advocated for a new view of employee engagement for quite some time. Specifically, why are these programs often operating in a silo compared with a company’s other growth plans?

For example, if a company designs a new product—a sneaker or a lotion or technology—they don’t stop working on it once it’s on the market. That would be crazy. They keep innovating and designing the next version. Are corporate social responsibility (CSR) practitioners actively doing the same for their programs?

This isn’t a new idea by any means, but I’m not seeing any incredible CSR programs coming to “market” the same way I see tons of awesome new mobile apps, services and consumer products. Are you?

Assess, Evolve, RepeatDuring a presentation I gave back in 2012 with Discovery Communications and UnitedHealth Group, I used the simple instructions on shampoo bottles to try to drive home the point: Assess, Evolve and Repeat (not quite as catchy as wash, rinse and repeat, but apt nonetheless). And that’s still true today—manage your employee volunteer program (EVP) or CSR programs the same way your other business functions manage their products!

I started to think again (and again, and again…) about some of the basic theories out there that might hold the key to the next generation of change, and was reminded of Shared Value. Many are still confused about what it is, and what it isn’t. So perhaps unwrapping the idea with fresh eyes could unlock ways for all of us to design the future of CSR.

The principle of Shared Value involves creating economic value in a way that ALSO creates value for society. Here’s a quick summary of some of my favorite bits from Harvard Business Review’s “Creating Shared Value,” by Michael E Porter and Mark R Kramer back in 2011:

Companies have continued to value short term financial performance versus longer term success. Porter & Kramer write, “How else could companies overlook the wellbeing of their customers, the depletion of natural resources vital to their businesses, the viability of key suppliers, or the economic distress of the communities in which they produce and sell?”

Companies are the key to bringing business and society back together and must get unstuck from the “social responsibility” mindset where societal issues are at the periphery and not at the core.

“Businesses acting as businesses, not as charitable donors, are the most powerful force for addressing the pressing issues we face.”

Consider a company where Shared Value is the guiding principle—it almost immediately changes the face of CSR and creates all kinds of ripples in your business. Skilled volunteering could unlock new and emerging markets, and philanthropy programs might restore the resources your business uses, and your vendors and partners could become your best allies in the community.

So whether you begin to recalibrate your EVP and CSR programs around Shared Value or some other larger structure of change, please do something new this year. Here are a few simple ideas that may give you a whole new view on your status quo:

  • How are other departments in your company evolving? Talk to your employees. Are they using a certain methodology to keep them fresh? How do they measure those decisions?
  • Break your program into its key components and take a look at each individually. It’s much less daunting than reviewing your program as a whole. VolunteerMatch Solutions Consulting can help you do this, too.
  • Think BIG. Global firm IDEO incorporates human behavior into product design. Strech your mind to see how the same process can impact your work. View “How to design breakthrough inventions” from 60 Minutes.

Innovation is all around us. So what’s the future for your program?

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No Offense, but Your CSR Program is Boring

It's time to do more with your Employee Volunteer Program.

Lately I have been feeling uninspired.

I’ve been looking for an employee volunteer program (EVP) that is totally out of the box – something that is new, inspired, innovative and truly focuses on the huge impact that corporations can make on communities. The reason I work at VolunteerMatch is because of this belief: as we work to solve some of the world’s greatest problems, it is only through cross-sector collaboration (likely led by corporations) that we are going to make strides. But as I look for these necessary creative attempts, I’m not finding them. Why is this?

Over the past 10 years, employee volunteer managers have been fighting tooth and nail to get their programs accepted, implemented and adopted at their companies. I would argue that we’ve now arrived. It’s now expected for a corporation to have an employee volunteer program, and there are stats to support why (and just the fact that there are so many studies on the subject show that it’s now mainstream):

So, we’re all drinking the Kool-Aid. Now what?

VolunteerMatch works with more than 150 companies, so we’ve seen what works and what challenges EVP managers face. What we’re not seeing lately is a push to aggressively innovate. We’ve been in defensive, reactive mode when it comes to our EVPs, and we’ve let creativity slide. But we are now at a crucial point in the history of EVPs – we need to push on to the next altitude.

Although I hate to say it, employee volunteering as an industry is stuck. EVPs all look more or less the same: each with a few core nonprofit partners, a focused cause area, a handful of skilled/pro bono volunteering projects, one big month or week of service, and champions across the company. I’m not saying this is bad (in fact, I’m always impressed at the impact that companies make), but I do think it’s time to shake things up.

What comes next? What does “EVP 2.0″ look like? If we really want to solve the problems that plague our society – abysmal literacy rates, high unemployment and poverty, diminishing arts for kids, climate change on the rise, the list goes on… We have to do more. It’s time to try something new.

So this is our challenge to all of you: how can we innovate ourselves out of the status quo?

Join the conversation with us! Let us know your thoughts on Twitter (@VM_Solutions) and look for upcoming posts here on Volunteering is CSR from VolunteerMatch’s leadership as we challenge ourselves (and you) to think critically about why we all need to do more, and how we can creatively shape the future.

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What To Do If Your Employer Doesn’t Provide Volunteer Grants

Guest post by Adam Weinger, Double the Donation

What to do if your employer doesn't provide volunteer grants.While volunteering for a nonprofit organization or educational institution creates social impact all on its own, corporations are upping the ante with 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.

Unfortunately, not every company offers a program as generous as others. So, if you volunteer your time to a nonprofit close to your heart, but your employer doesn’t offer a volunteer grant program, what should you do?

Here are a few options you have to make the most out of your volunteering!

Check Your Spouse’s Employer

Many companies offer volunteer grant programs that extend eligibility beyond just their current employees – some programs will accept requests from part-time employees, board members, retirees, and even spouses. Check with your partner’s employer to see if it offers such a program – you might be surprised!

Ask Your Employer to Start a Volunteer Grant Program

Companies that don’t offer volunteer grants may not do so out of a sheer lack of knowledge. Talk to your employer and see if there has ever been anything comparable to this kind of program in the past, and if so, why it didn’t work. If there hasn’t actually been anything like a volunteer grant program, ask for one! Worst-case scenario is you get a “no,” but simply by asking, you could be the catalyst for a new corporate giving program in your company!

Take Advantage of a Matching Gift Program Instead

Thousands of companies across the country offer volunteer grant programs, but (maybe not surprisingly) even more corporations offer matching gift programs. While these companies won’t honor the volunteer hours put in at eligible nonprofits via grants, matching gifts can still make a substantial impact on organizations everywhere. Many companies match donations as low as $25, and it only goes up from there!

Bottom Line: If you are an avid volunteer, but your employer doesn’t offer a volunteer grant program, not all hope is lost. There are other options you can take advantage of to make sure your volunteer hours offer the biggest return possible for the organizations you support!

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.

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How Influencer Marketing Can Strengthen Your Employee Volunteer Program

How Influencer Marketing can strengthen your employee volunteer program.Sometimes, the job of an employee volunteer manager can feel daunting. You’re a small team, challenged with a huge goal: get everyone in your company excited about the employee volunteer program (EVP). Sometimes you have executive support to get this message out, but more often you just have your own team’s resources. So how do you continue to grow your program?

VolunteerMatch works with more than 150 companies, so we’ve seen many of you take on this challenge in different ways. One trick we’ve learned through our 13+ years of experience in CSR is targeted, smart communications. It all boils down to this: find your program’s influencers.

There is a well accepted marketing theory focused on influencer marketing – the idea is that to sell products, businesses strive to find, engage and learn from their influencers. These influencers are “wavemakers” and, according to Traackr, “are the most effective partners for sharing your messages and driving business your way.” This same theory can help spread the word of your employee volunteer program internally.

How Can Influencers Help?

It’s all about finding who will evangelize your program. These influencers can have two large impacts on your EVP: 1) They can be advocates, and help to spread the word of your program across your company. 2) They can propel and change your program. Influencers are usually trendsetters, which means they are a great learning tool for you to adjust your program or communications.

Who are They?

The biggest hurdle to influencer marketing is finding the right influencers. As Traackr points out, “to create or raise awareness, you need to discover who has the greatest ability to support your messages and relay your news to the right audience.” – So how do you identify these wavemakers?

Our research has shown that most companies have committees and champions to help manage their programs at local offices. Many of our clients have recruited champions to act as local influencers and plan projects: for instance, Prometheus recruits PORCH Leaders to engage each property in volunteering, and UnitedHealth Group developed a broad network of volunteer councils to champion their strategic direction.

Strategies to identify influencers within your company who can help strengthen your employee volunteer program.Champions are a great example of influencers, even if that may not be their core purpose. They are a great baseline to begin to grow your influencer strategy. To take your influencer tactic to the next level, you’ll have to do some research to find out who internally influences company culture and decisions. They can be difficult to find, as they are not often the usual suspects.

Start with what you already know: write down the top 50 people or groups who you feel influence the direction of your company. These may be senior executives, but they may be “groundfloor” wavemakers. They may be existing volunteer champions, or they may be someone who has never volunteered with your company. Do some initial research, using tools like social media to see who is active within your company.

Then, broaden your research by talking to others – have a few of your colleagues repeat the exercise of writing down their top influencers. Try to get coworkers from different locations, departments or executive levels to see where influence differs. Talk to decision makers across the company and ask who influences their direction.

You’ll end up with a list of influencers, many of whom may or may not know much about the volunteer program. Take this list and pick 2-3 top influencers to start with based on their level of connection or participation in volunteering/philanthropy and the potential impact on groups that you especially want to target.

Increasing Trust and Buy-In

Now that your influencers are identified, find a way to connect directly with your those at the top. You’ll want to personalize your message – find what matters to them and get them “hooked” on your EVP. Maybe this is a cause they care about, or an activity that matches their skills.

Once an influencer has given your program their “seal of approval,” you’ll see trust in your program grow gradually. Start small – build a volunteer project and see if your influencer can spread the word. Continue to nurture your influencer relationship and let it grow. Eventually, you won’t have to spend as much time trying to engage employees, as your influencers have already helped communicate your message.

Learning From Your Influencers

Influencers can also be a great tool to test your message. As the marketing firm OpenView points out, “More often than not, your influencers are on the pulse of trends within your industry.” Think of them as your focus group for program direction and communications.

Influencers can make your job easier – try it out and let us know how it goes!

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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!

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