Category Archives: CSR

How to look at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

I had planned on writing my thoughts about the Chan Zuckerberg initiative – then found this blog by Anil Dash (thanks, Susan Tenby) which says it better than I can:

It is absolutely fair and necessary to be critical of Zuckerberg’s philanthropic efforts, both past and present, to ensure that this gift of $45 billion dollars is put to good use. That is because the default dispensation of the money will be to waste it. For example, Zuckerberg donated $100 million to Newark schools to almost no effect, in a gift that was revealed to have been explicitly managed by Sheryl Sandberg to be timed to offset the negative publicity surrounding the release of the movie The Social Network. Given that track record, our default assumption should be that this is a similar move, though obviously this announcment (sic) being coupled to the birth of their daughter makes such assumptions seem churlish or rude.”

Please read the full blog by Anil Dash here.

Should the NFL involve volunteers for the Super Bowl?

Taking a break from promoting The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook to talk volunteers and the Super Bowl (for those outside the USA, that’s the National Football League’s championship game).

In a story by the New York Times, Alfred Kelly, the chief executive of the New York-New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee, estimated that 9,000 people would serve as volunteers in the days leading to the Super Bowl . That is far fewer than the 20,000 who were initially contemplated. Those numbers are down because the NFL opted to hire temporary paid workers for positions in which volunteers had typically been used. The decision was an apparent response to a class-action suit against Major League Baseball in the USA, which did not pay volunteers at the All-Star FanFest in July 2013.

It took me a LONG time to find out what volunteers actually *do* for this billion-dollar nonprofit with millionaire staff. From what I can tell, volunteers are at sites like airports, hotels and various transportation hubs days before the game to direct city visitors to whatever they need – transportation, bathrooms, etc.  And if that’s the case then – hold on to your hats – I’m fine with those roles being filled by volunteers. Why? Because, in those situations, I think these roles are best filled by volunteers – people who aren’t there for any financial gain, who want to be seen as volunteers, specifically, in doing these tasks: I’m here because I want to be here, because I love football and love my city, and I want to make you feel welcomed. But if volunteers are asked to do anything else – selling anything, cleaning anything, moving or hauling things, etc. – I have a HUGE problem with having these roles filled by unpaid staff, because I don’t see why volunteers would be best of those roles other than the NFL getting out of not paying people.

Even if the NFL wasn’t, officially, a nonprofit organization (which, by the way, I find that outrageous, IRS!), I would feel this way about its volunteer-involvement. Why? Because if I truly believe that some activities are best staffed by volunteers, NEVER as a money-saving activity but, rather, because unpaid people are best in that roles, I have to believe it for every sector.

Back in the summer of 2010, I attended an event by Triumph motorcycles in the city where I was living at the time (Canby, Oregon). The company had brought about 20 motorcycles you could sign up to ride, on group rides, every 30 minutes. The Triumph truck traveled all over the USA to bring these events to cities all over, and these Triumph events were staffed primarily by VOLUNTEERS. Because volunteers are “free”? Nope (volunteers are never free!). It was because an event attendee talking to a volunteer — someone who owns at least one of the motorcycles in the line up, and owned at least one other probably at some point, who can speak passionately about the product, who wants you to get to have the experience they have been having, and who won’t get any commission from a sale and doesn’t rely on this activity for their financial livelihood — is in such contrast to talking to a salesperson or paid staff person. The few paid staff there stayed in the background, there to fill in blanks and maybe to make a sale, but volunteers were the official spokespeople. It gave the event a total no-sales-pressure feel from a customer point of view – it was just a day to enjoy Triumph motorcycles.

I’ve never forgotten that experience. And it’s one of the reasons why I’m not ready to condemn the NFL’s involvement of volunteers. At least not until I can see what exactly it is that they do.

UPDATE: an article from The Star Ledger about what NFL Super Bowl volunteers did in 2014. Note – 1500 ambassadors were paid. Did those paid folks do the SAME work as the volunteers, or something more/different?

And now, back to promoting The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook.

Also see:

Have you ever changed your mind?.

Learning, learning everywhere, a blog about where I find new marketing and volunteer engagement ideas (spoiler alert: it’s not at conferences or workshops)

Corporations: here’s what nonprofits really need

It turns out I’m not the only one who mocks the business community when they decide to “save” the nonprofit community: Kelly Kleiman does too! She goes after some of Silicon Valley’s business elite (the latest is the the “Palindrome Advisors group”) who are planning “to disrupt the nonprofit space”  with their business genius. And she could not be funnier – or more accurate – in her blog! As she states so well, the breathless accounts of these business efforts “ignore the fact that what nonprofits need isn’t more advice, it’s more money. When business people are ready to provide that—when they’re ready to serve on boards, not as agents of disruption but as securers of resources, and when they’re ready to advocate for a tax system that will underwrite the necessary work done by the voluntary sector—well, that will be news.”

Over the last 20 years, I have seen so many of these business movements come and go. I’ve sat in audiences of nonprofit conferences while the featured speakers – business leaders, often paid to give us their wisdom while the nonprofit trainers are expected to volunteer their training time – tell nonprofits, with great contempt, all that they are doing wrong and how they need to act more like businesses. Nevermind that, a year or two later, their businesses have gone under with the bursting of the latest tech bubbles, while all the nonprofits they scorned are still around.

Yes, we need businesses to partner with nonprofits. But how about this:

  • Businesses sit down with nonprofits and LISTEN to what they need.
  • Volunteer not just on an advisory board but on the front lines, for several weeks: go through the volunteer orientation and get some time with the clients served by the nonprofit.
  • Sit in on some staff and volunteer meetings, and listen, don’t talk, a few times.

Learn about nonprofits first. Then talk.

I still dream of nonprofits waking up and marching into the corporate world and saying, “You need to do things differently. Let us help. Let us disrupt your for-profit space. Let us show you what it’s like to be driven by a mission rather than your profit. Let us show you how to do so much with so little resources. Let us show you what it’s like to use old computers to try to access your fancy tech tools, because you refuse to fund our ‘administrative costs.’ Let us show you how to balance the whims of donors with the very real needs of our clients. You could learn so much from us!”

Also see:

(note: most of these URLs no longer work, as my former blog host is now defunct and got rid of their archives for some reason)


Is group volunteering all its cracked up to be?

Do most nonprofits really need groups of volunteers from corporations or other organizations showing up for one-day volunteering activities?

I’ve been thinking about this for a few months lately, and now the British-based company nfpSynergy has scooped me with its own thoughts on whether or not corporate volunteering really all its cracked up to be. An excerpt from its blog:

There is nothing more difficult to deal with than an employer who rings up a charity offering 30/300/3000 employees who want to do a bit of volunteering as part of their team-building on Thursday afternoon in three weeks time. Charities quietly (for fear of upsetting their corporate partners) dislike employee volunteering while companies are much more enthusiast.

It’s so true!

I started thinking about blogging about this myself when I saw that a certain corporation had won a certain state’s group volunteering award for its participation in a range of one-time events. IMO, this corporation was being honored for “volunteering” in events that had been created more to accommodate the corporation and others looking for a one-time, feel-good experience (and photo ops) than to actually make a difference in the community.

As any person who has worked with nonprofits knows, one-time volunteering events – walks, runs, dances, auctions, benefit performances, beach clean-up days, house painting, etc. – are very expensive and time-consuming. They are worthwhile for most organizations only if they result in one or more of the following:

  • measurable results regarding community awareness of a particular issue or organization
  • candidates for longer-term volunteering in more substantive activities regarding service delivery
  • funds raised to cover all costs, including staff time to organize and supervise the event, insurance, etc.

A school once asked me if it had to accept a corporation’s request for a group of their employees to hold a pizza party for two of their classes of fourth graders just before the students went home on an upcoming Friday. The corporation considered this as somehow a great thing for the kids, and as a volunteering experience for their employees. The teachers balked at losing even an hour of teaching time, and saw nothing beneficial about such an event for the kids whatsoever. They were reluctant to tell the corporation no, however, for fear of losing the chance of a grant down the road. The school representatives were at first stunned, and then relieved, when I told them they had every right to refuse any such offer, that they could say, “Thanks so much. Because every hour of teaching time is vitally important, we can’t do anything that takes away such time. But here’s information about our lunch-time mentoring program; we would love any of your employees attend our next orientation about this program. Or we could do a presentation at your corporation about the program and how your employees could get involved. We have some other volunteering activities we would welcome your help with as well.”

(In case you are wondering, the corporation declined. Lunch time one-on-one mentoring wasn’t the kind of experience their employees were looking for, and they didn’t have time for employees to sit through a presentation by the school. Sigh.)

The nfpSynergy blog continues, with an experience very similar to my own:

For nearly five years now nfpSynergy has had a company policy of giving each employee 5 days of paid volunteering time. Doesn’t that make us wonderful? Well no not really because it didn’t work: very few staff used their volunteering days. And this is despite the fact that almost everybody who works for us is very committed to the charities and non-profits.

So why didn’t people use their volunteering days? The answer is simple. Five days is ‘diddly squat’ in the world of volunteering. It was like telling people they could go and buy a free lunch on the company but only giving them 10p with which to do.

My experience exactly: once upon a time, I ran the philanthropy activities for what was then a Fortune 500 company with hundreds of employees at headquarters and at another location in the USA, and thousands abroad. We also gave USA employees five days of paid time off to volunteer. In the two years I oversaw the program, less than a dozen individual employees took the days. Only two groups of employees did, in events organized by me: people from our facilities department painted a room at a nearby family homeless shelter, and three employees from our IT department networked the new computers of a nearby nonprofit over two days. It took me twice as many hours to organize these two group volunteering events as it took the volunteers to actually do them! 

Right now, I’m trying to find group volunteering activities for Girl Scouts in my area. And the reality is that, not only are most organizations not prepared, in terms of insurance, supervision and program, to host groups of girls under 16 (most under 13, in fact) as volunteers, most organizations do not want a group of young girls as volunteers; the staff have critical activities that must be taken care of, that cannot be delayed in order to give a group of young girls a feel-good experience.

Attention corporations and governments: if you want to see more group volunteering activities by corporate employees, youth groups, professional associations, etc., prepare to pay for it. Money is needed to fund the staff, material, training and other resources to not only make the activity happen, but to make the activity a meaningful part of the organization’s mission or outreach efforts.

Also see:

Creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities

One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers

Finding Community Service and Volunteering for Groups

Pro Bono / In-Kind / Donated Services for Mission-Based Organizations: When, Why & How?



My favorite Super Bowl moment: NFL Man of the Year

My favorite Super Bowl XLV moment came before the game: it was the presentation of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.

Minnesota Vikings (American) football player Madieu Williams was the 2010 recipient of the award. Williams has built a primary school in Sierra Leone and is now building a secondary school there. His foundation sponsored a mission to Sierra Leone that brought American teachers, surgeons and dentists to help educate the teachers at his school, give free dental cleanings to all of the students and provide free surgeries. He recently gave a large donation to create The Madieu Williams Center for Global Health, affiliated with the University of Maryland College Park School of Public Health. The center focuses on the public health issues in Prince George’s County and Sierra Leone, his birthplace. Williams is also involved in the North Community YMCA, the United Way and Harvest Prep/Seed Academy.

The other nominees were Oakland Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha and the Chicago Bears’ Israel Idonije.

Asomugha serves as Chairman for the Orphans and Widows In Need (OWIN) Foundation, providing food, shelter, medicine, vocational training, literacy efforts, and scholarships to widows and orphans victimized by poverty or abuse in Nigeria. In 2006, Asomugha launched the annual Asomugha College Tour for Scholars program, taking selected students from San Francisco Bay Area high schools on college tours across the country. Asomugha participated in the 2009 Meeting of Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) to discuss the importance of global service and student activism. Additionally, Asomugha distributes backpacks to the incoming freshmen each year at Narbonne High School in Los Angeles and outfits the football and basketball team with shoes, a mandate he wrote into an endorsement contract he signed with Nike.

Idonije established the Israel Idonije Foundation to help families in economically challenged communities around the world. It provides medical health care services, clean water and youth sports empowerment programs to underpriviledged residents in Africa. Its Street Love program provides assistance for the homeless and those in need of support. Its First-Down Attendance Program works to encourage and sustain sutdents’ regular school attendance, high achievement and good citizenship in Chicago and Winnipeg. More than 600 students participate annually. It’s a shame, however, that the Foundation’s web site isn’t accessible under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The three finalists were chosen by a panel. All of the 32 nominees receive a $1,000 donation to the charities of their choice. The three finalists will receive an additional $5,000 donation to be made in their names. The final winner of the award receives a $20,000 donation to the charity of his choice.

What a shame I didn’t see this news covered on any TV news report. If we have to be subjected to stories about NFL players’ reprehensible behavior (Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, etc.) can’t we also have some positive news about off-the-field activities as well?

On a related note, Forbes did an interesting article about celebrity charities, focusing on the amount of money they have given out versus how much they spend in overhead.

Also see an article I did back in 1999 about Fan-Based Online Groups Use the Internet to Make a Difference (would love to have the time and resources to update this!).