Corporate Volunteer Programs: What Do Nonprofits Want From Them?

A blog today lists what corporations want from nonprofits, schools and other mission-based organizations for employee volunteering. It’s called Corporate Volunteer Programs: What Do They Want From Nonprofits?

Yes, yes, nonprofits, schools and others know what you want, corporations. The corporate world has written endless presentations and blogs about it. You remind us of it during your lectures at conferences on corporate – nonprofit “partnerships.”

But here’s a thought: how about considering what nonprofits, schools and other mission-based initiatives want from corporate volunteer programs?

(1)   Respect the expertise at the organization where you want to volunteer

Teachers are not teaching because they couldn’t make it in the corporate world, and just because you are a marketing director at a Fortune 500 company does NOT you can do their job for a day. The same for all the other people working at nonprofits and other mission-based organizations: many have experience, training and certifications you do not have. Respect their professional training and experience. Don’t imply that you could step into their roles for an hour or two – just as you know they couldn’t step into your role at your company.

(2)   Volunteering is not free.

It takes a tremendous amount of resources to design volunteering experiences that will give you the things you want, as detailed in this blog, like encouraging greater teamwork amongst employees, or enhancing skills development for your staff “resulting in deeper job satisfaction and retention.”

Are you ready to pay for the time of staff at these nonprofits, schools and other organizations to develop these volunteering opportunities for you, not to mention the time they need to supervise and support your employees? Are you ready to say to nonprofits or schools, “Tell me how much staff time will be required to create these opportunities, including staff time for meeting with us and supporting us as we do these activities, and we will pay for that time”?

(3)   Nonprofits & Schools Needs > Corproate Volunteering Needs

A mission-based organization is driven by its mission, and that may mean saying no to your offer of volunteering, no matter how “skills-based” you want the volunteering to be. Your fantastic idea for a one-day volunteering event for your employees which will make your staff feel all the things you want might not fit into the schedule or priorities of the organization. Your marketing team’s stellar idea on a new online community may not fit the organization’s critical organizational needs – or may be beyond the time or capabilities of staff to manage when your corporate volunteers move on to something else. Respect that.

A good starting point for developing your corporate volunteering partnership is to sit down with the nonprofit, the school or other organization you want to help and ask, “What do you need? What are your biggest challenges? What does success look like at this organization?”

And then listen. Not just for one afternoon – listen for days and weeks. Go to the events and activities the organizations already undertakes, and sit in on their staff meetings, and just listen. When offering your volunteers, frame the offer on what the organization needs, not on what it is your corporation wants to do. And work together to develop what success will look like for the organization as a result of your volunteering, and how the organization can communicate best to you when things aren’t working.

Here’s a radical idea: why not treat the nonprofit or school or other organization as your client?

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4 thoughts on “Corporate Volunteer Programs: What Do Nonprofits Want From Them?

  1. Tobi Johnson

    Wonderful post, Jane! Thanks for sharing the nonprofit perspective on our partnership needs. In order for collaborations to be truly effective we must listen and understand what BOTH sides want and need, so that we can determine right off the bat whether or not there is alignment. No alignment, no partnership. And as you allude…no respect, no partnership, either. Our two posts taken together offer great counterpoints to launch from.My post — http://tobijohnson.typepad.com/tobisblog/2012/02/corporate-volunteer-programs.html — was not intended to dictate what nonprofits must do, no one can do that, but to share my preliminary observations about what appears to motivate possible collaborators. Business and nonprofits live in two seemingly separate worlds, but some folks are finding ways to meet in the middle to great success. It all starts with the will to understand and a fair amount of good will and patience.

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  2. Toni Maloney

    How true. We at Bpeace recently turned down a major Wall Street firm who offered volunteers for a "done in a day" project. We don’t build houses, or paint schools. We help businesses grow and create jobs. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if that could be "done in a day."

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  3. Anonymous

    Thanks for the comments to both of you. Tobi, my frustration is reading over and over what corporations want from nonprofits, or how corporations think nonprofits should be run – it’s frustrating! Hence my reply to your blog. If I got your attention – good! Maybe it’s the first step in including nonprofits’ perspectives in corporate volunteer strategies!And Toni, oh, I so hear you… I’ve had to turn down a couple of "generous" offers like that…

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  4. Tobi

    <html><body><div>Indeed, your frustration is totally understandable. &nbsp;No one&nbsp;wants "hit and run" relationships; what we in the nonprofit sector need are authentic partnerships that add true value and further our missions. &nbsp;There just simply isn’t enough time or resources to do otherwise.</div><div><br></div></body></html>

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