Caroline McKenna on how to get the most out of volunteering
At a time when organizations and the people who work there say they want to connect more with their communities, how can charity leaders expand the way they seek volunteers from businesses as qualified means of resources and support?
And after agreeing that more volunteers would be helpful in the face of ever-shrinking annual budgets and grants, how can leaders get the most out of all types of volunteers, whether skilled, unskilled, physical, virtual, micro or occasional?
I would say it starts with rethinking what volunteering means and appreciating that it is modernizing. We know that traditional community volunteerism (mural painting, gardening, food deliveries) will always be needed, but how else can we tap into the enthusiasm of employee volunteers?
How can you also ask the right questions? Ideally, you would source your volunteers from purpose-driven businesses with similar values to your charity. But the demands of day-to-day firefighting and operational survival can prevent leaders from stepping back and thinking about what kind of long-term support is needed, let alone how to find it.
In this time of the “great quit”, organizations are facing extreme skills shortages and recruitment challenges, so I think it’s worth asking:
- Have I recently reviewed our long-term vision and prioritized it against day-to-day operations so that I can identify long-term skill gaps, not just funding gaps?
- Have I asked anyone, including business groups like the IoD or local chamber of commerce, for expert help in areas where the board lacks expertise?
- Have I thought about the role volunteering could play in creating sustainable, long-term partnerships with local or like-minded businesses?
- What would a less transactional partnership with a supportive business look like and what person/role in that business should I focus my efforts on building a relationship?
- Operationally, have we put ourselves in the shoes of the CSR/HR managers of our target businesses? Have we as a team thought about how we align with their ESG goals and can we explain how working with us could help them achieve those goals?
One of these emails could mark the start of a meaningful relationship and open doors to potential new recruits to your cause. No matter how busy we are, we could all be better at asking for help and not just relying on our own ability to get things done.
But we can’t do that until we’ve taken the time to think about exactly what kind of support will help bring the vision to fruition. It’s a throwback to Michael Gerber’s E-myth principle that leaders should think like entrepreneurs and should work on the organization (and its vision) and not in this. Charity leaders cannot afford do not create space and time in the journal for this level of strategic thinking. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll probably get what you’ve always gotten, and given the current climate, there’s a serious risk of not having a charity in a year’s time.
This challenge is as critical as the day-to-day operational work. Rather than limiting yourself to “what work should we do now?” and “we can’t find the time and money to train someone new, so let’s do it ourselves”, I would say revisit the vision, then go back to the present and identify who can best help you get there. For many charities, this expertise does not sit on the board and may never do so.
Companies made up of lawyers, accountants, marketers, HR specialists, data and technology experts, and social media gurus have these skills in abundance. And I know firsthand how many hundreds of them have employees who want to contribute more to their communities by volunteering these skills. The need for a broader sense of purpose has never been stronger. Now is also a great time to leverage the surge in regular “pandemic-turned-continuous” volunteer support – the once-furloughed volunteers who never stopped giving.
Recent research we conducted with 45 leaders of small and medium-sized charities on board Social Good Connect confirmed the biggest challenges (beyond funding) as follows:
- looking for volunteers – not only finding specialists and landing the right mix of skills, but volunteers who meet the demographic needs of the beneficiaries. Finding volunteers willing to fundraise is another major challenge.
- raise awareness of their cause – this has been hampered by the pandemic and the limitations of being online only, and there is a “crowded market” issue.
- recruit trustees – specifically obtain the right skills, often specialized, and the right to mix together of skills. Ensuring gender, age and ethnic diversity is also important, as is trustee engagement in fundraising and maintaining trustee engagement and activity.
Since the creation of our employee volunteering platform in 2020, I have regularly witnessed how qualified volunteers use their time and expertise to solve these unique operational needs and challenges.. Invaluable qualified professionals willingly volunteered their expertise, both on a project and long-term basis. Others have become directors and are helping charitable boards build invaluable business relationships.
These include DC Thomson and 20/20 Business Insight – respectively providing ongoing social media help and a new admin for SmartSTEMs, the education charity (main image). Lawyers for Morton Fraser helped Edinburgh BAT navigate the complexities of applying for official charity status, Direct ID used data skills to help young data students prepare for employment through DataKirk and Thorntons lawyers have helped a cancer support charity provide vital long-term friendship support. In less skills-based community group volunteering projects, wealth management SME Wells Gibson engaged a team of volunteers in a street clean-up for the Dundee Heritage Trust (pictured below) and veterinary imaging specialists IMV have hired a team to tackle the clearing of a donated space at the Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow. The list goes on, and this list started because the leaders of these charities asked deep questions about what they really needed, and they asked for help. Always worth it!
Caroline McKenna is CEO and Founder of Social Good Connect and accelerated the launch of this Dundee-based social enterprise in response to the pandemic. The digital search and matchmaking platform connects charities with qualified volunteers from private sector companies. Since an early launch during the first confinement, 300 associations have joined the movement and receive voluntary help from employees of more than 50 companies from all types of sectors. In the summer, Caroline will launch The Charity Lounge at Social Good Connect for nonprofit leaders to enjoy. peer advisory group discussions on decision making, problem solving and exploring opportunities.
To learn more, email email@example.com or visit https://socialgoodconnect.org/