Volunteering time or resources to those in need can have a profound effect on your business. This week is National Volunteer Week and we wanted to encourage anyone reading to give of yourself AND to recognize those that volunteer both for and in your organization. There are a multitude of ways that you or your company can help to those around you, and there are misconceptions around how much of your time it actually takes. People I have spoken with say they can’t give a day a week or even fixed hours every week to a cause and therefore don’t volunteer. It is not that these people don’t want to help, they just feel it may take too much from other important aspects of their life (family, work, etc). There are volunteer opportunities that can fit almost anyones schedule and the trick is to find the right ones for you.
Why to do this & How this helps a business
- Emotional advantages – Volunteering feels good. Knowing that what you have just done is helping someone (or some organization) work out a problem, provide services, or help someone else often provides a natural boost to the giver.
- Financial advantages – If you operate a business it can also help you grow. More than ever consumers support companies that support other causes aswell. In recent years there has even been a new business classification for this, have you heard of “B Corporations” (in addition to “C” & “S” “LL”corps)? B-Corps are “profit” companies that are formed to provide a “Benefit” to a group or cause. If your business tells people about causes you believe and support, people that believe in the same thing(s) become your marketing force.
- Leadership advantages – If you volunteer, people and employees around you are more likely to volunteer.
- Workforce development advantages – Employees like it, it makes them feel good about their place of work, which helps keep turnover down.
Hopefully many of you make it a habit to regularly thank those around you. Thanking someone for contributions they make is the most effective way to build loyalty and recognition. Loyalty and recognition leads to repetitive actions and isn’t that what you want from employees and volunteers?
Ways to volunteer
Church group – This one you already knew. Good people doing good work, what’s not to like.
Civic groups – so many to choose from. School groups, town boards, faternal groups, soup kitchens, etc. All do great work for different groups and sectors, pick one near and dear and run with it!
One time events – most fundraisers need hands and advertise for help. For 10 years my wife and I have helped with the Boston Marathon. It is a 6-8 hr commitment once a year. Great fun with lots of memories.
Mentoring – Meeting with someone periodically to help provide direction or clarify goals is needed at all levels. Big Brothers/Sisters organizations, local gentrification/employement organizations or even through academic affiliates. Helping someone avoid errors feels great and it is the right thing to do. All you need to do is talk to people about something you are good at, how hard is that? Depending on your industry, working with schools/colleges on internship type programs may get others in your business involved too. These programs are usually well organized and require a dedicated amount of time that you can plan for.
Healthcare – So many possibilities! Contact hospitals or Managed Care facilities for formal programs but you can also help by speaking to neighbors or community groups. Do elders need rides to appointments or errands? Meals on wheels ALWAYS needs help. Companionship programs always need help. There is a growing problem in many communities with funding for programs for the elderly AND a growing population of “elder orphans”. Start asking questions and you’ll be amazed at what might be happening in your county. Obviously there is a bit more preparedness and background checking for this option, but the need is real. For me personally, volunteering in this area changed so much of how I looked at things.
Skill base – So many Non profits and small businesses need help. Contact your local Charities or SCORE to see if they have a need for your expertise. Many can use both onetime project help or ongoing access to your expertise.
Setting a culture of Volunteerism in your company is shown to improve employee engagement and decrease attrition, each of which can have major economic impact to your organization. It can also be great for Team Building. I recommend companies that can afford to incorporate this into their Benefit Strategy as well as weaving in into your Brand Management. Yes, there are costs associated with this and there are tax benefits of doing so. In many cases there can be a great return on investment to the business. If your company utilizes social media at all, there can also be great Marketing/Branding benefits of not only the company doing this but its employees also.
Example; My wife’s company had a campaign where different departments would take a half day and go clean up a local beach or park. They had to rent busses, pay employees, provide lunch while doing so, but it was great public relations for the company. Employees loved doing it and before you knew it, 50 people were all using social media to tell their networks what they were doing. Between those that saw it happening, those that were involved in it, and those Marketing it, that companies name and values had a lot of looks from this event. Good stuff!
Managing Volunteers and Expectations
As mentioned earlier, this week is National Volunteer Week. Larger organizations may provide a lunch or dinner for the volunteer population, smaller organization may only afford coffee and donuts. It is important to do something calling out what this group has done for you and the impact they have made for other people. That is why most people volunteer, because they want to provide impact. The more you can point the impact out and quantify it for them, the more likely they will continue to do so. If they feel what they are doing is not helping or being recognized, they are far less likely to continue. Not unlike any employee engagement.
I have always challenged my clients to manage this workforce like any other workforce they have. Both positive and negative reinforcement is needed and managing expectations are a must. If you welcome your volunteers to work or thank them at the end of the day, then do the same for paid workers. If you would correct a paid worker for doing something incorrectly, correct a volunteer for the same action. I am not suggesting cracking the whip to get more productivity from volunteers. But nearly every organization that has spoken to me about issues around “managing volunteers” doesn’t hold them to the same standards, and that is where the problems begin. Be diplomatic, be polite, add more training time, but maintain your standards or you’ll have problems down the road. You will be REALLY surprised what an effect this has on your entire workforce.
Tip – Most importantly, thank them for doing something right periodically and each will be more loyal to you.
C.S.Simons Consulting provided over 200 hrs of skill based volunteer work last year and I hope to increase that this year. It feels great to contribute to and build more sustainable local organizations and we challenge you to do the same.
Thanks to all the volunteers!