When choosing a community partner for corporate volunteering, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
It is difficult to build and maintain momentum in corporate volunteering for the long-term. To attract time-poor professionals to volunteer, you need something as easy and taking up as little time as possible. In particular, adding travel time can significantly reduce uptake. Therefore, it is a good idea to aim to support initiatives as close to the office as possible, the more local the better. If you’re working on youth empowerment, for example, hosting the young people at your offices, although potentially daunting for you, can have multiple benefits in securing volunteers, and for your beneficiaries too.
Hopefully, if you’re at the stage of choosing a partner, you have determined your organistion’s strategic goals and focus areas for social investment. A great starting point in choosing a partner is asking employees to nominate charitable organisations, within your focus areas, and/or getting them to vote out of a shortlist you have pulled together.
It is vital to confirm you have a good values fit with potential partners. This is a key ingredient in building any successful partnership. You will want to be sure you have met the leaders of the charitable organisation, and if possible had them, and any key contacts you would be working with, present to your employees, to give you a really good feel for them and their approach.
It’s one thing charities offering employee volunteering opportunities, it’s another them being able to deliver quality sessions in practice. Partners need to be able to involve your employees meaningfully in their work, so volunteers feel their time is used well and that they have added value. The single most powerful driver of increasing volunteer sign up is positive feedback from volunteers – that is how you get more people to sign up in future.
Delivering meaningful volunteering opportunities is more difficult for charities than you would expect, for various reasons. Firstly, this is dependent on the charitable intervention itself. Although it leads to the most impactful experience for volunteers, it’s not always appropriate for volunteers to interact directly with beneficiaries, for example, if they are sick, such as patients in a hospice. Remember, a key impact with corporate volunteering programmes is on the volunteers themselves, opening their eyes to challenges other people face, so they will want to do more, this sits alongside goals to impact charity beneficiaries.
Hosting volunteers often incurs costs for charities. These should always be agreed with the corporate partner in advance and included in their contribution, e.g. the cost of gloves and gardening equipment, if you’re doing outdoor maintenance, as well as additional staffing costs, food and refreshments for the day. If the monetary costs aren’t covered, as much as the volunteers are helping, there is a burden on the charity.
Look out for fundraising appeals dressed up as volunteering. Charities desperately need cash to run their operations. While some employees will be prepared to donate money, those offering their time expect it to be genuinely needed. If you want volunteers to keep signing up, make sure there is enough for them to do. They will see straight through a tokenistic attempt, eg where only one or two people are needed to help, but the charity wants to get others there to try to target them to make a donation to the cause.
There are not many charities that are able to use large numbers of volunteers over time, so you need to choose wisely if that is what you are looking for from a partnership. It is also highly recommended to trial volunteering with potential partners, before formally confirming an arrangement with them. It is important that charities are equipped to perform risk assessments as may be required in advance of volunteering opportunities. The safety of volunteers is of the utmost importance, this is particularly relevant where they are going to be involved in some form of physical activity. While you’re at it, conduct an online search to check whether the charity has received any negative press – the last thing you want is a risk to your reputation if there is a question mark surrounding the charity’s governance and in particular its financial controls. Check the charity’s online presence to see if there is a match with your style and tone of communications too.
Let me know if I have left out any important tips for building strong partnerships?