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Embracing New Paths for Volunteer Engagement

  • 3 mins

corporate volunteering

TL;DR

  • Corporate volunteerism sometimes fails to tackle systemic issues.
  • Volunteer coordinators need to find opportunities to tie in education and discussions around policy with their volunteers. 
  • 70% of volunteering is done informally, in the community. 

During my experience in training and onboarding corporate volunteers, it was a daily occurrence to see 7-8 volunteers, mainly from the oil and gas industry, entering the kitchen ready to make lunches. Our volunteers came from diverse backgrounds, including sales, marketing, engineering, and accounting, reflecting the local context. Once they settled into their roles, we would engage in casual discussions about how our organization supported clients and the significant number of people who depended on our services. This served as a valuable opportunity to raise awareness about the pressing need in our city and was an integral part of the volunteering process, helping the volunteers understand the gravity of the poverty situation.

Midway through the volunteering session, we would provide the volunteers with a break and introduce them to a short talk delivered by a staff member. During this talk, the staff member would reiterate how volunteering directly impacted our clients and address any remaining questions or concerns.

These experiences have led me to contemplate how we can engage volunteers more effectively to create a lasting impact. Many corporations offer paid time for their staff to invest in non-profit organizations of their choice, often as a means of fulfilling their corporate social responsibility goals. However, these short-term volunteer projects often fail to address systemic issues, particularly when these same corporations donate to conservative political parties that actively defund social programs. It's ironic that we justify avoiding government funding due to its instability and lack of dependability, while some of these corporations indirectly contribute to the defunding of crucial social initiatives. 

Moreover, the focus on instant rewards and the feel-good aspect of volunteering may inadvertently overshadow the long-term consequences. This is not to undermine the positive emotions associated with volunteering, but as volunteer coordinators, we should capitalize on these moments and channel them into actionable items that extend beyond a simple return visit. It's about exploring how volunteers can make a supplemental impact in the community beyond their volunteering activity.

Ultimately, the end goal for most social issues lies in political action. I understand the concerns of non-profit organizations that refrain from endorsing specific parties, but we can still facilitate discussions about the policies that have affected our clients and organizations without explicitly naming parties or putting volunteers in uncomfortable positions. By fostering these conversations, we can raise awareness and inspire volunteers to consider the broader implications of their actions." informal volunteering

Around 70% of volunteering is done informally and is not affiliated with any major organization. What does this statistic signify? It highlights the significance of how we inspire and engage volunteers. We cannot solely depend on formal volunteerism to bring about substantial change, but we can utilize it as a catalyst that propels volunteers into their communities to undertake long-term projects.

 

Here are some things you can do as a volunteer coordinator: 

Emphasize the connection to the community: Move beyond highlighting the short-term impact of volunteering. It's easy to focus on how many stomachs a meal will feed or the happiness a client will experience when they receive their care package. Let's shift our focus to the long-term impact, including the financial savings to society and the economic and social benefits for the volunteers themselves.

Provide education and context: Offer educational sessions or workshops to provide volunteers with a deeper understanding of the social issues they are addressing. By sharing information about the root causes of problems and the broader context of community needs, we can help volunteers connect their formal volunteer work to the bigger picture. We already conduct workshops for staff in the social sector, so why not allocate some resources to education? It can have far greater utility and be just as fulfilling as traditional volunteer work.

Encourage skills-based volunteering: Tap into the expertise and skills of corporate volunteers by offering opportunities for skills-based volunteering. Identify specific projects where volunteers can utilize their professional skills to make a meaningful difference. Corporate volunteers have so much more to offer than just menial tasks. We need to connect their skills to the right projects. Volunteer Connector already has a search engine dedicated to interests and activities, so we can continue to improve that system.

Facilitate ongoing engagement: Encourage corporate volunteers to stay connected beyond their formal volunteering activities. Provide avenues for them to continue supporting the organization and the community through informal means, such as promoting advocacy, fundraising, or joining committees or advisory boards. This helps sustain their engagement and creates a bridge between formal and informal volunteering.

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