Practically every not-for-profit you encounter is stretched thin and could use more workers to help raise funds and conduct other activities furthering its mission.
But you can’t always hire more workers in this budget-conscious environment — not with donations trending down during the first half of 2019. Of course, volunteers can pitch in and you don’t have to pay them, but these charitable-minded people are often hard to recruit.
Yet there may be another option: Partnering with a business entity, or combination of entities, to form a corporate volunteer program.
The idea of partnering a corporate entity with a not-for-profit organization is hardly new. According to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), a New York City-based coalition of business higher-ups dedicated to charitable causes, about 60% of the world’s large companies provide some form of paid volunteer program for employees. This figure is only expected to rise.
It appears to create a match made in heaven. For corporations, setting up a volunteer program raises their visibility, polishes their reputation in the community and enhances teamwork within the workplace. It is also suggested that such programs may improve employee morale and reduce employee turnover, although that is difficult to quantify.
For not-for-profits, the benefits of a corporate volunteer program can be even more pronounced, especially when the revenue stream is considered. Nevertheless, there are certain risks associated with the potential rewards. Notably, you may expend an inordinate amount of time and effort on a program that doesn’t prove to be profitable over time.
The Main Benefits
At the outset, it can’t hurt, and it almost always helps, to have more hands on deck. In addition, teaming up with a well-known company can raise your organization’s profile, making your not-for-profit instantly recognizable to a wider segment of the population.
For organizations that are typically short of staffers, sometimes to the point of postponing major projects, the program can be a godsend. What’s more, if the word gets out through the media or even word of mouth, potential donors may sit up and take notice. Employees who participate in the corporate program might eventually become permanent volunteers or even employees. And these individuals often continue to support the organization when they leave the company for another or retire.
In the best case-scenario, the not-for-profit’s core mission and the company’s business model are in sync. For example, if a not-for-profit engages in after-school athletics for underprivileged children, a sneaker company could be a good match. Does your organization have any logical candidates?
Frequently, a corporation will open a limited window – perhaps just a single day or one week – when employees can participate. For instance, the company’s employees may help decorate or renovate a hall or other venue where an event is being held. However, make sure you will have the firepower to finish these tasks. Also, be careful when corporations offer volunteers on short notice. You can’t rely on a company to stage an event taking place next week – it takes advance planning.
Finally, realize that opportunities exist, but there are pitfalls to avoid. If your organization isn’t going to benefit from the enterprise, it’s not worth your while. If so, be sensitive about turning down corporate volunteers. When it is feasible, suggest an alternative that will work better for both of you.
Four Steps on the Path
Some factors are simply beyond your control. For instanced, you can’t gauge with 100% accuracy the motivation of the corporation and its volunteers or their willingness to take direction and follow it. Nor can you foresee all the problems and hindrances that are likely to crop up. On the other hand, you can boost the chances for success through several steps, including the following measures:
- Plan ahead. Don’t assume you can simply throw a volunteer team into the fire on the first day and generate immediate and satisfactory results, no matter how skilled and talented the volunteers may be. It’s going to take effort above-and-beyond what you usually do for your organization. (Remember that these aren’t your regular staffers.) That means taking the time to develop the program in conjunction with the corporate entity. Not only is planning critical, it is important to approach matters in an organized fashion.
- Set the tone. As one of the higher-ups of a not-for-profit organization, it’s up to you to keep the ship running smoothly on all cylinders without curbing the enthusiasm of the volunteers. There’s a fine line between being a strong and effective leader and an overbearing boss. In other words, you must retain a firm grasp on the proceedings, but give volunteers enough freedom and flexibility to operate and enjoy what they are doing. The message comes from the top.
- Delegate. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do everything yourself. Even worse than having an overbearing boss is going through the motions because someone else is doing all the work. It can be a mind-numbing experience. If your staffers are available, they can handle some of the menial jobs and allow volunteers to express authority in others. In many cases, you might accomplish this by simply working side-by-side with the corporate volunteers.
- Leverage volunteer skills. On the other hand, volunteers may have skills that you, or others in your organization, don’t possess. Put them to your advantage and position these corporate volunteers to optimize their talents. That will often lead to a lasting partnership.
Seek a Match that Makes Sense
There are plenty of opportunities for improving your fortunes through a corporate volunteer program, but missteps can set your organization back. Look for a match that makes sense for everyone concerned and then operate with a spirit of cooperation.
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