Join Us for a Week-Long FestiVOL

Volunteering is the best, right? So this year, in honor of National Volunteer Week, we’ve decided to celebrate volunteers and the difference they make by launching a spectacular week-long FestiVOL – and we want YOU to join us!

Why FestiVOL?

Join VolunteerMatch for FestiVOL, a week-long celebration of volunteering in honor of National Volunteer Week.At VolunteerMatch, we hope FestiVOL will help you, your company and your employees make the most of National Volunteer Week. Whether it‘s appreciating your volunteers, demonstrating impact, or building out new projects, VolunteerMatch will be providing tips on how you can increase engagement.

Each day we will release three “nuggets” just for you: One piece of inspiration, one piece of knowledge, and one action. We hope you’ll share these with your community members, learn from them, and encourage everyone to get more involved.

Join FestiVOL!

FestiVOL will run from April 6-12. You can see all the nuggets as we release them on the FestiVOL landing page.

You and your employees can join FestiVOL by following on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with the hashtag #FestiVOL. We hope FestiVOL gives you the energy, passion and ideas to make our communities stronger and our world happier all year long!

How will YOU celebrate volunteering during FestiVOL?

Gorgeous FestiVOL graphic designed by Katy Roby.

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Tracking the Data: What NOT to Do in the RFP Process

This article originally appeared on CSRWire Talkback, as part of a series related to the annual Charities@Work Summit on Employee Engagement in Corporate Citizenship, happening this week in New York City. Director of VolunteerMatch Solutions Seth Thompson shares some tips drawing on his years of experience helping companies navigate the process of purchasing software to help manage their employee volunteer programs.

What not to do during an RFP processSo it’s finally time to start looking into software solutions to help manage your volunteer and giving programs.

Have you been putting it off due to how much work you think it will be to evaluate and buy a system? Think it’s easier to continue with your Excel program approach than go through a purchasing process at your company? Maybe it’s been a while since you were in the market and you remember not being impressed many years ago with the sophistication and capabilities of the solutions available.

Times have changed and today there are many viable software solutions on the market that can help make your job easier while enhancing and adding value to your program.

One common approach that many companies take toward purchasing software solutions is an RFP (Request for Proposal). RFPs are designed to help companies review what’s available in the market and make a better-informed buying decision. Typically, RFPs for software solutions are structured to ask questions that identify everything from the vendor’s company structure, services available, customer support, security policies and cost.

Making a Plan to Balance Costs and Needs

However, one size doesn’t fit all for today’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. And if you have never participated in an RFP before it can be difficult to articulate on paper the specific needs you have. You need a plan.

One of the main challenges in the RFPs I have participated in is that often CSR professionals let someone from the procurement department take ownership over and write the RFP questions. That person typically has very little knowledge about what your department’s needs or goals are when it comes to buying a software solution. Their primary concern is making sure a certain number of vendors are reviewed and finding the lowest cost solution.

However, just like hiring someone to do work on your home, the lowest quote you receive is not always the best person to hire. Finding a balance between your budget and feature needs is critical, which is why you must play an active role in the RFP process from start to finish.

Eight Tips to Ensure a Successful RFP Process

  1. Make sure that you and your team are involved in every detail of developing the RFP questions, format and criteria. Don’t be afraid to push back internally and assert yourself in the process.

  3. Spend some time speaking with your peers at other companies to find out about their experiences with different vendors. This will help to decide whom to invite to participate by understanding how they work with other companies. You may be able to eliminate some vendors based on the feedback you receive right off the bat.

  5. Before you begin writing the RFP questions, sit down with your team and identify the top five or 10 must-haves (the non-negotiables) when it comes to a software solution. No one provider will be able to meet every specific need so you have to make sure you understand what is most important to your program. I also recommend speaking with your IT team to learn about any specific requirements they have related to integrating a software solution within your company.

  7. Once you begin the RFP process, focus on finding the best solution to meet your team’s needs and not be swayed by internal pressures that may arise. Selecting vendors who are best in class for your different CSR programs is vital to your long term success.

  9. Invite the service providers participating in the RFP to a short introductory call so that they can learn more about your CSR program before they begin their reply. Giving them the courtesy of being able to understand and ask questions about your program will better inform their RFP responses.

  11. When reviewing the RFP responses, make sure you are making an apples-to-apples comparison of the different providers. Each service provider offers different features and strengths. For example, some vendors charge additional set-up and support fees, while some offer exclusive features and content. All of these can contribute to different price points and value. Create a comparison spreadsheet to make sure you understand what you are getting from each vendor.

  13. After reviewing the RFP responses and narrowing it down to your top two or three finalists, call some companies you know work with each vendor that they didn’t list as references. These conversations will give you a realistic picture about what to expect and make you more confident in your decision making process.

  15. Lastly, before making your final decision, take some time to get to know the finalists and their products and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. A flashy product demonstration is not a good way to evaluate whether or not a product is right for you. Look to find a sales representative who listens to your needs, shares ideas and best practices, provides input, and helps support your buying decision. It’s their job to not only help you understand their product, but to be your guide to making an informed buying decision.

An RFP process can be time consuming and challenging. However, if you put the time into the process you will be rewarded with a vendor that fulfills your service needs and helps achieve your company’s CSR goals.

What are challenges and successes you can share when it comes to the RFP process for volunteering and giving program software solutions?

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Mercer’s Incredible Accomplishment: The Year of 5x


Mercer colleagues volunteer to clean up a trail in Seattle.

In 2013 Mercer employees tracked over 26,000 volunteer hours – more than 5 times what they recorded in 2012. How did they do it?

Mercer is a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement, and investments. The company is a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies, which is a VolunteerMatch corporate client. According to Deb Krause, who is a Principal at Mercer, the VolunteerMatch platform is one of the valuable tools Marsh & McLennan provides its companies that helped Mercer achieve such stunning success in their employee volunteering program.

VolunteerMatch data shows that the top causes supported by Mercer colleagues during 2013 were children & youth and education & literacy (50% in total). However, colleagues also enjoy volunteering for a variety of other causes, as shown by the breadth of volunteering Mercer colleagues were involved in throughout the year.

What were they keys to Mercer’s incredible achievement? Click below to learn the four ingredients Deb and other volunteer leaders at Mercer identified as being keys to their success.

Read the rest of Mercer’s inspiring story…

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CSR Food for Thought: ROI-Proving Research

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 socially responsible business practices influence the value of your company? Research says yes.

And so does Katherine Smith, Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship. In this succinct blog post, she summarizes a growing collection of research that shows a clear link between corporate financial performance and social performance. CSR shows a correlation with everything from access to capital, to investment returns, to reputation and brand value.

Cold Winter, Warm Story

Read about (and see inspiring pictures of) Amway’s annual volunteer program in Guatemala, when teams from the US, Central America, South America and the Caribbean descend on Guatemala to build homes alongside families who need them. This Habitat for Humanity project goes back nearly a decade, and is responsible for funding and building entire neighborhoods of homes in remote areas of the country. Most volunteers come back year after year, falling in love with the people, the land, and the experience.

What Will Influence Business and Purpose Globally in 2014?

Carol Cone, Global Practice Chair of Edelman Business & Social Purpose and a former VolunteerMatch Client Summit keynote speaker, takes a look a growing trends and shifting relationships between corporate, government, and charity sector strategies during 2014. In this particular post she focuses on what she predicts for four key regions: the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Tracking the Data: What Not to Do in the RFP Process

As part of a special Tech series curated by Charities@Work on CSRWire Talkback, our own Director of VolunteerMatch Solutions Seth Thompson describes the pitfalls and challenges faced by so many companies when looking for tools to help manage employee volunteering and giving. Take a look at Seth’s tips for success – after all, he truly is the expert!

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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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Achieving True Connectivity at the Local Level

Guest post by Christina Brown, The Huntington National Bank

Community Connection Day in Columbus, Ohio, brought corporations and nonprofits together.The word “connectivity” seems easy enough to understand. But in the world of corporate engagement, we strive to do better at it each and every day. It’s not often enough that corporations and nonprofits get together in one place to share ideas about how to best work with each other. Recently in Columbus, Ohio, Volunteermatch was able bring leaders of these two communities together in the first ever “Community Connection Day,” and the results were outstanding.

The day started at the Columbus Foundation, with 75 nonprofit leaders from across the city of Columbus discussing their successes and challenges surrounding volunteer engagement. The conversation, facilitated by VolunteerMatch expert Jennifer Bennett, covered topics from event creation and volunteer recruitment to organization hurdles and best practice sharing.

The Columbus Foundation

The Columbus Foundation

In another room, 20 corporate engagement leaders from local companies gathered to discuss their own programs. This is where I spent my time, and I truly started to realize the impact that this day would have on me as a leader and even more deeply as a member of my community. During an inspiring conversation led by Realized Worth’s Chris Jarvis, the room was captivated with the conversation around social and transitional change and what our impact as leaders truly means to the community.

This meeting of the minds brought together a group of representatives from very different companies, yet allowed us to feel joined by our responsibility to provide opportunities for our colleagues to experience rare moments of meaning and unity. With Chris’s insight and the engaging conversation in the room, it was as if a thread started to weave our experiences and opportunities together. Suddenly we were there as change agents working together, not just representatives from the various companies in our community. A refreshing feeling of inspiration came over me that morning.

After the nonprofits and companies were done with their respective conversations, both groups came together for lunch and an opportunity to share what they had learned in the earlier sessions. Excitement and anticipation spread throughout the room, as familiar faces reconnected and new ones were welcomed with open arms.

Shortly after lunch was served, a panel gathered at the front of the room to hold an honest discussion on volunteerism and share how nonprofits and corporations are working together. As a member of the panel, I was thrilled to present in front a room of change agents and share how my nonprofit partner and company best work together. Sharing personal stories of what works versus the challenges that we all face from time to time was invigorating.

And again, that word “connectivity” showed itself on both sides. In a room full of people who live and breathe community, the conversation danced across each table and the togetherness that I felt truly cemented that thread between each of us in the room.

If not for VolunteerMatch’s Community Connection Day, this conversation and opportunity to bring our voices together would not have occurred in such an intimate fashion. No matter whom you represent – a company, nonprofit or your individual passions – the need for connectivity is real. When an organization takes the time to create a moment of togetherness and allow for creative conversation, that is when change is possible and the true connectivity begins.

Interested in bringing a Community Connection Day event to your area? Get in touch with Inga Langford!

Christina Brown is Vice President of Financial Education and Volunteerism for Huntington. She is responsible for the company’s external financial education, as well as the corporate-wide volunteer program.

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