Corporate Volunteering Extends Past Soup Kitchens and Fun Runs

posted by Boyd Neil

By Leigh Nakanishi

(Leigh Nakanishi is an account executive in Hill & Knowlton’s Washington, DC office. He was also a City Year Fellow and currently serves on the Alumni Board for City Year Washington, DC.)

In the past when many people thought of corporate volunteering, images of soup kitchens or fun runs came to mind. Although these programs are important, companies today are finding ways to tie volunteer activities to key business and HR goals. The Corporation for National and Community Service found that in 2006, 62.1 million volunteers dedicated 8.1 billions hours of volunteer service in the United States. As volunteerism continues to increase in the United States, having a well developed corporate volunteer program has become an essential part of corporate responsibility planning.

Volunteer programs, if done right, can have many positive benefits for businesses.  Volunteer programs can help to raise the visibility of companies in communities in which they do business, build teamwork and develop the skills of employees.  A recent survey by Deloitte & Touche USA found that four out of five respondents (78 percent) see volunteering as an opportunity to develop business skills including decision-making, problem-solving and negotiating.

Here are a few ideas that companies should consider when developing and improving their volunteer programs:

Tie Volunteer Activities to Key Business Strengths and Capabilities

Finding ways to lever the core values and business capabilities in volunteer programs is probably the most important thing to consider when developing a program. This strategy will allow a company to utilize already developed talent and cut costs through using in-kind goods. Having a program that surrounds key business capabilities gives companies new avenues to present product offerings and can help position them as leaders in their field. Many technology companies have developed programs to donate their software, computers or infrastructure to educational institutions to help bridge the technology gap. In conjunction, many have also run volunteer tutoring programs where employees teach staff and students how to use the new technology they have received. The companies are able to reach future customers while demonstrating to the community how their products are able to help people.

Establish a Committee to Plan and Promote Volunteer Programs

Having an internal team plan and oversee volunteer programs is an important part of making any program sustainable. As in business, effective planning is essential for a successful program. The committee should consist of members from all parts and levels of an organization to ensure that the programs being developed will be of interest to a wide variety of employees. It is also important to identify or develop internal communication tools to share the successes of efforts with employees to build buy in for future programs.

Brand Volunteer Programs

Branding is an important driver to raise visibility of a volunteering campaign and can help ensure that the public knows the good work a company is doing.  Branding should go well beyond wearing company t-shirts on service days. Finding creative ways to brand support materials is one good way to raise visibility. Many companies have gone the extra step of developing specially produced versions of their products as part of their campaign. For example, the Aluminum Association created branded canned water for recent Habitat for Humanity builds they worked on. Consider working with company communications staff on local media outreach and signage for events.

There are many great non-profit organizations that provide resources to companies and individuals looking to build a volunteer program. These include the Points of Light Foundation (http://www.pointsoflight.org/), The Corporation for National and Community Service (http://www.nationalservice.org/) and The Hands On Network (http://www.handsonnetwork.org/welcome-corp-partners/)

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