By Stacey Rago
Single days of volunteer service are exciting, moving, impactful and inspiring. Getting a team of employees out to paint a school, build a playground, or read with dozens of children is great. It’s offering help where there was none before, and it’s a wonderful way for companies to support work/life balance and give back to the communities in which their employees work and live.
But after a year or two of the ‘one and done’ volunteer events, many corporate employees hunger for more. Maybe the school they painted is now closed, or perhaps they simply wish they knew more about the challenges facing the people they helped. Human beings crave long-term relationships. But a single day of service can’t sustain that. To develop an enduring relationship, multiple points of connection are needed.
Here are six ways to move your corporate philanthropy from a one-night stand to a long-term relationship, and create deeper, more meaningful bonds between employees and the nonprofits their company supports.
1. Find the right partner
Your employees want to help solve societal problems, but they may differ on how to prioritize which to work on. Survey your employees to find out what impact they most want to make on the community, or otherwise make sure they understand why the company chooses to support its select nonprofits. If there’s a broad spectrum of interests, find a nonprofit that serves many different needs. Or focus on improving a certain community, rather than a specific issue area. Employee input into the partnership begets ownership, which ultimately begets connection.
2. Variety is the spice of life
Offer your employees an a la carte menu of ways to engage with your community partners. We love Will and Wendy Volunteer, who want to be a part of every fundraiser and volunteer event, but offering multiple ways to participate will increase the likelihood everyone in the office will find something that suits their interest, availability, and style.
Everything from a bake sale to planning a large fundraiser, from showing up weekly for an ongoing volunteer program to a one-time offering of a specific skill-set that may advance the cause – these are all great opportunities to engage and should be offered when possible.
3. Calendar it in
Just like Date Night, connecting with a nonprofit and its mission takes deliberate planning. Brainstorm at the beginning of your partnership, and put together a calendar of events that can be shared with your employees. You may even want to target different departments of the company based on when their workload is less hectic. Don’t ask the accounting department to volunteer in early April, but Operations might be sailing along smoothly that time of year and be eager to find ways to connect outside the office. Regardless of whom you invite, if it isn’t on their calendars, you can’t assume they’ll be there. Make Outlook your friend.
4. Ask! (aka "flattery will get you everywhere")
Not only is it harder to turn someone down when you ask them in person, but it’s also flattering to be personally requested to attend an event. Email is perfect for getting people information about a volunteer or fundraising opportunity, but it’s also easy to ignore. Assemble a team of enthusiastic staff members who will take the time to go from desk to desk, or make a few phone calls, to get people engaged. If someone tells me that it matters that *I* be somewhere, I am much more eager to commit, and to show up!
If your employees help with a volunteer event or fundraiser, but never hear the impact of their work, they will lose interest. We need to talk to each other. Find out what they liked (and didn’t like) about their experience so you can continue to fine-tune your relationship with your nonprofit partner. Then share data and stories about the event so people know their efforts matter.
My favorite thank-you note from a volunteer event wasn’t written to me, but I’m grateful it was shared with me! It was from a 2nd-grader whose school our team gave a nice facelift – all the classroom walls were painted, line games were added to their blacktop playground, landscaping was planted, and murals painted in the hallways. She drew before and after pictures of her school on her thank-you note and added, “Our school was a hot mess until you came here. Thank you for making it look like new!” I want to be friends with that little spitfire…
6. Motivate yourselves and one another
As a parent, I was once told: “Find a way to get your kids to want
to help you.” It was and still is brilliant advice! If you add an element of fun in a chore, kids are all in. As we get older, we still respond well to having more than one reason to commit to spending our time in a certain way. Provide an incentive, add music or costumes, or make it a competition (our personal favorite here at the Chicago Charity Challenge).
At the Chicago Charity Challenge, we help support companies that are interested in entering into a long-term philanthropic relationship by building year-long partnerships between companies and nonprofits. We want employees to know that they’re meeting the needs of the same group of people on multiple levels, not just on one day. Their sustained giving truly deepens their impact, and connects them personally to the recipients of service. These relationships are deeply fulfilling and help companies retain talented employees who care about others.
Stacey Rago is Executive Director of the Chicago Charity Challenge, the only philanthropically-motivated competition that inspires businesses and their employees to give back to the community and makes giving back a team sport. She welcomes emails at Stacey@Chicagochacha.org.