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5 Strategies to Transform Your Corporate Volunteering Program

In conjunction with National Volunteering week this week Doug Taylor, CEO – United Way Australia, writes here about 5 strategies corporations from across the world have successfully used to transform their volunteer programs.

I’m lucky enough to be able to have some fairly frank conversations with corporate leaders about their volunteer programs. While most of them would suggest that their programs have all the basics in place and are doing some good things, more often than not they will suggest that they believe they can do better and would like to see more employees engaged, their people utilised more strategically and greater levels of impact created in the community. As part of National Volunteering Week, I want to take this opportunity to highlight 5 strategies that I have seen corporations from across the world use to transform their volunteer programs. There is enormous potential within Australia to capitalise on the enthusiasm and expertise of corporate volunteers, and the support and investment of their employers, in order to bring about effective community change.

1. Be fit for purpose

It sounds overly simplistic but the key question to ask yourself is; why do you run a volunteer program? So many corporate volunteer programs have become transactional services for voluntary experiences without an overarching purpose. Of course there’s a place for this but it’s critical to remember that corporate volunteering is a means to an end but not end in itself. The end should be about improving people’s lives in the community. Here’s a question to think about; can you clearly articulate how someone’s life will be improved by a specific volunteer activity or program that you operate? Being able to do this might help people understand how what they are doing really makes a difference. Being able to clearly communicate this to your people can really fire up your program.

2. Build clear pathways

Just as every customer is not the same, so too are employees. Every workforce has different demographics and it’s critical that these are understood to ensure a corporate volunteer program reaches its potential. This means creating multiple pathways into and along your program. What does this mean? Firstly it’s important that there are different ways into volunteering in order to create a variety of different programs to attract the diversity of your workforce. One size doesn’t fit all! Similarly once people have been engaged in a volunteer program they are often open to doing more activities so it’s critical that this be capitalised on by providing opportunities for people to move along the volunteer journey. At United Way we often see people start with our Team Volunteering programs, moving into Engaged Volunteer programs where they support people more directly and then to Strategic Volunteering where they are able to exercise their leadership and specialist skills.

3. Power your program through peers

You know better than anyone that no one person can transform a corporate volunteer program. It needs a team and workplace peers are critical allies to energise and scale a program. Ideally these allies will be at all levels of your business and can be from both formal and informal networks. Champion’s networks of employees are a great tool for creating ideas, disseminating information, recruiting volunteers and creating a pipeline of advocates for your community program. Of course this won’t happen without engaging, training and equipping them to do this work, but it’s a worthwhile investment and sure to get a return.

4. Develop an integrated program

One of the greatest problems that corporate volunteer programs face is that they often look like a lot of good ideas thrown together by competing interests in the organisation. One simple strategy that can have a transformative impact is to better integrate volunteering efforts. You can start doing this is by leveraging existing core community partnerships including ones that might be supported through fundraising and grant making initiatives. Once you do this start to look at the many other ways you to touch the community and explore how these connections can be better leveraged for volunteering. But remember a few deeper relationships are more efficient to manage and more compelling in your communications.

5. Apply CANI

The best form of transformation comes from the virtuous loop of acting, reviewing and improving or CANI- Continuous and Never-ending Improvement. At United Way we recently released our Community Impact Report and core to this was our public reflection on two key questions that are critical to seeing improvements in corporate volunteers programs; ‘As a result of our learning from the year prior what did we do differently?’ and ‘What have we learnt this year and how this will influence what we will do differently next year?

It’s fun to be caught up with the new and exciting programs but this can only be done on a solid foundation of improvement. As well as celebrating the efforts of the 3000 volunteers that United Way worked with last year, I also want to use this opportunity to recognise the contribution of those people who are responsible for delivering corporate volunteer programs. These people are the ones working away in the background and are often not acknowledged for their efforts, so thanks. Corporate volunteering has come a long way since we started engaging with our corporate partners 10 years ago and I hope that this article might get you thinking about what we can do in collaboration to get better outcomes for corporate volunteers and the communities we serve.

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