Engaging Corporate Volunteers Takes Careful Planning
By Lori Tsuruda

Lori Tsuruda
Lori Tsuruda
Engaging a large group of volunteers from corporate partners can provide a great boost to nearly all nonprofits, but like any important project, success relates directly to the time and effort you spend planning it.

For Charities Looking to Engage Corporate Volunteer Groups Who Contact Them
Keep the following in mind:
  • Identify what your charity really needs, beyond solely funding, in advance so that you can respond quickly with a selection of at least two tasks and detail the staffing level, tools, materials, funding, etc. they require to be successful
  • Frame what your charity offers, such as expertise and connections to specific cause(s), opportunities to strengthen STEM education )even if volunteers have no STEM backgrounds), to play with youth, to make something needed, etc. for a tangible impact in two to four hours or more.
  • Shape your volunteer opportunities to balance corporate partners’ expressed rationale and needs with your charity's priorities and integrate education and philanthropy to further your mission.
  • Commit staff/board to develop relationships and to plan and to prepare attentively for volunteer groups.
  • Don't undervaluing the staff time and funding required for a successful partnership that creates a positive and impactful experiences for everyone involved.
For Charities Looking to Partner with a Company
The most important task is to identify that entity. For successful partnerships, recognize that this is a marketing/development role that will likely take considerable effort requiring you to:
  • Engage staff and board leadership volunteers to target and engage/approach potential partners.
  • Consult colleagues and non-board volunteers and their networks.
  • Ask existing partners.
  • Engage your board members and their communities in order to gain introductions from their own companies to aggressive salesmanship (i.e., clients of their companies).
Once potential partners are identified, charities must plan and coordinate approaches and prepare targeted materials, much like contacting a prospective major donor:
  • Lead with what your charity has to offer, not needs.
  • Make the case for why a partnership will be mutually beneficial.
  • Listen to what they articulate as their needs and concerns.
  • Answer questions and address concerns honestly.
  • Demonstrate that you can be trusted by doing what you say you will do.
  • Build relationships over time. Don’t just contact them when you need something.
  • Integrate learning and philanthropic opportunities regularly, yet remain focused.
For Companies just Starting Out
It's best to ask them to begin with organizing a pilot project, before planning a large, companywide volunteer day. Even for a pilot project, a company must first identify why they want to volunteer, which may include
  • Ways to contribute to the community while improving their bottom lines
  • Developing and promoting their distinctive brand
  • Motivating and developing camaraderie (and retaining) their staff
  • Improving their reputation in specific cohorts
Case in Point
For the past three years, I have partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (#ServiceDay16). It's a great partner because it:
  • Has an excellent track record. It has grown its company-wide volunteer service based on community connections and partnerships developed from smaller projects that employees participate in throughout the year. They take volunteering seriously, so when they commit to sending X number of people to volunteer, X number of people show up ready to volunteer. Furthermore, volunteering is part of their culture; it’s even officially integrated into employee performance reviews.
  • Contributes financially so that volunteers will have the tools and materials appropriate for the tasks. Funding also makes it feasible for charities to invest staff time into planning and execution.
  • Starts planning early, more than six months in advance, using a short application, vetting process, meetings, proof of insurance, grant disbursements, site visits, Gantt charts, etc.
  • Involves and trains its employees in the planning and management of tasks and volunteers, and requires two site visits so they learn about charities’ missions, meet key staff, tour the facilities/project spaces, learn about the tasks, contexts, and associated tools and materials needed, plus think proactively about accessibility and other potential challenges like alternatives in case of bad weather.
  • Recruits, organizes, and handles travel logistics for all of its employee volunteers.
  • Provides its own t-shirts, name badges, lunches, and water (and often provides these for our nonprofit staff).
  • Appreciates/celebrates the work nonprofit staffs do to create positive and impactful experiences for all involved.
Lori Tsuruda, founder and executive director of People Making a Difference (PMD) and president of the Directors of Volunteer Administration, assists charities and companies in building successful community involvement programs through hands-on projects. Call her at 781-963-0373 or email Lori@pmd.org.
October 2016