Episode #083 – Make the Most of Corporate Partnerships with Alyson Gallaher

Tobi: Welcome to the Volunteer Nation podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you.

Welcome everybody to another episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and I have a super treat with you today. My friend Alyson Gallagher is here to talk to us about corporate partnerships.

Now, we’ve had a few different people on the show, Volunteer Nation episode 29, where we talked about evolutions in corporate social responsibility with Chris Jarvis. That was good. We talked about trends and what’s going on in CSR and the new acronyms for CSR.

We talked on Volunteer Nation episode 66 with corporate employee volunteer programs with Lynn Margherio. And Lynn actually talked about her own organization and how they partnered with corporations to bring on volunteers and to bring in money.

And then I have also written about partnership development on my Tobijohnson.com blog – Three Steps to Building a Sustainable Nonprofit Partnership. You can check that out. All of these are in the show notes and we’ll have links and also we’ll have links to catch up with my next guest, Alyson Gallaher.

And I want to tell you a little bit about Alyson and the reason I asked her to come join us today. Alyson has called East Tennessee home for 18 years. So y’all know I live in East Tennessee. So, Alyson is my neighbor. Not literally. I wish you were. You need to move over to the Highlands at Northshore, girl!

Her passion for community led her to marketing, fundraising, and community engagement roles within nonprofits in a range of sectors, from visual arts, technology, historic preservation, and most recently with Volunteer East Tennessee and the United Way of Greater Knoxville.

And you may not know it, and I don’t know, Alyson, if you know this, but she has a B.A. in history with a minor in art history from Roanoke College. I have an art history bachelor’s and a master’s degree in modern art history theory and criticism. And I do not know if we have ever talked about this, have we?

Alyson: No, we’ve never talked about it. I wonder we get on so good. No, I don’t expect anyone to have the same borderline useless degree that I have in this work, so that’s hilarious, Tobi. Yeah, gang, those liberal arts.

Tobi: I actually started out in nonprofits in the arts community. And, when I got my degree, I was like, okay, I’m going to go work in nonprofit arts organizations, which I did for a while. And then I wanted to get into social service, direct service. So I moved from that.

I really thought, I don’t know about you, but I thought my art degree, especially my graduate degree, helped me think better critically and to see things differently. I felt like it was really good for my critical thinking skills.

Alyson: Oh, I would agree. II say my useless degree, but my useless degree has gotten me this far, right? Like, so it can’t be that bad. And. You know, it’s, it made me a great writer and just an overall better communicator than I think I would have been in being a more, in a more specialized or narrow, I don’t know, degree. Yeah.

Tobi: So, people, it always blows people, my people’s mind when I start talking about art degrees, they’re like, wait, what? How come? In my undergrad, I had a bachelor’s well in art history and studio

Alyson: I actually did some studio as well, but yeah, we’re creative. We just do our creatives in different ways. We do we do

Tobi: So, I met Alyson. This is the real reason is not because we’re geeky about art but We uh met I want to say in 2017 or 2016.

Alyson: Yeah, it would have been, it would have been 2017 probably.

Tobi: Yeah. When you came to Knoxville. Uh, to Volunteer East Tennessee.

Alyson: Yep. Yeah .

Tobi: And I remember back then  I had started VolunteerPro a couple of years before, and I had done some work with Volunteer East Tennessee.

You came on board and then I came out and did another round of training with folks locally in person. Yeah. And since then, we’ve kind of kept in touch. I think you guys were VolunteerPro members for a little while. And at some point, assumed the role of Executive Director for Volunteer East Tennessee, right?

Alyson: Well, I came into that role in 2017.

Tobi: Okay, so you started in that role. I don’t, why am, why am I thinking you started and then you were, no. It’s because she’s, moved on to a new role. So you’re new. Tell us a little bit about your new role and when that happened. And I’m just catching up because we’re friends and I haven’t seen you for a long time. Tell me what you’re doing now because you’re not, you’re not the executive director of Volunteer East Tennessee, which for anybody who doesn’t know is a volunteer center that serves our section of the state.

Alyson: So let’s think now, , in COVD years, so 2019, Volunteer Tennessee was housed, so our offices were in the United Way of greater Knoxville’s building.

We worked with them pretty regularly and we started having conversations around is there an alignment here that makes sense to merge, because there are a lot of volunteer centers that are internal to United Ways, local United Ways, and those conversations continued, and it did make sense, and we essentially, we say merged. But if we’re being honest, we were acquired by the United Way of Greater Knoxville, but it was relatively painless because we were already roommates in some way, so we’re already there.

And COVID happens, and as you know, our revenue really came from corporate engagement, and that absolutely evaporated overnight. Right? Like, so, you know, yes, we could do some online opportunities, but it wasn’t the same levels of revenue that we could do with in person volunteering.

And … That was, I don’t like to use the word blessing when it comes to business decisions, but in some ways it was very much a blessing. And so. It’s no longer a standalone organization. I am become the Chief Community Engagement Officer at the United Way, which, you know, essentially was still doing my job as ED of a volunteer agency, but then a little bit more. It involved boards and committees for the United Way.

And then last year I was offered the position of Chief Operating Officer. So that is where I’m hanging out now and, but I’m still over resource development, which includes corporate engagement, which includes the same, you know, corporate partnerships and volunteering. And so, I’m still doing it, but just a little bit further removed.

Tobi: Well, congratulations! I think it’s well deserved.

Alyson: I mean, thanks. I appreciate that.

Tobi: Yeah, I mean, you are a consummate collaborator and communicator I’ve witnessed firsthand. And that’s why I wanted to have you on because first, and first of all, let me just, as a side note, say to folks, some of you wonder what your career trajectory could be as a leader volunteer.

Some of you are, who are listening, are already Executive Directors. Go you! Lovely! But some of you are leaders of volunteers and wondering what your career can be and here you go. Someone who worked in volunteer engagement has made her way to the top. By working hard, by understanding the community, by adding value, I’m sure, you know.

So, you know, there is a career trajectory for everybody in nonprofits. And, you know, my, I myself, I think I started as an unpaid intern. That’s my first job in nonprofits. And my last job was a Program Director with like a three and a half million dollar budget. So, there you go. Yeah. It can happen. And I think that, I mean, being a Program Director, in a lot of ways, that’s what I’m doing, right? Like, I’m hurting the cats a lot.

So, before Volunteer East Tennessee, I always love to ask about how people got into volunteerism. And why they think, you know, how did you get into volunteerism, the voluntary sector early on? And why do you think it’s vital for today’s nonprofits to really engage the community in their work?

Alyson: Well, my experience as a volunteer, just growing up and volunteering as part of essentially a requirement for school, you know, to get those volunteer hours, being a part of Greek life when I was in college. Volunteering was a part of that, but also my mother volunteered. And so, I saw her being a volunteer.

And so, it made sense. Like I knew that that was going to be part of my adult life. I just didn’t know I would be working and volunteering. My first nonprofit role was in, was for a small art center and museum, regional museum, and. I was the director of marketing and development and, but I also had to staff volunteer docents for weekends and events.

And that started this adventure in understanding the relationship between volunteering and. The rest of the operation, right? Like volunteers are not just serving in one capacity. Your committees are volunteers. Your board is a, it’s a volunteer role for most nonprofits, right? Like this is, it’s all part of how we operate as a nonprofit.

And It’s not having a good pipeline and not having a, delivering on a good volunteer experience directly impacts how the entire organization. So that’s how I got here.

Tobi: Could not agree more. I think sometimes undervalued or misunderstood all of the connections. I can imagine you might’ve come across that from time to time.

Alyson: Oh, just a few times.

Tobi: We’ve talked about this, so I know, so, but let’s talk about corporate partnerships. That’s really what we’re, we’re here to talk about. And I know some of you out in the audience are wondering, you know, especially if you’re newer, but even now, you know, I think collaboration is evolving. I think. It’s sometimes really nerve wracking for people who haven’t done a lot of partnership development.

I remember, you know, just picking up the phone. Back in the day, you didn’t really email, you just called people. And I remember, I built a business roundtable once with a colleague of mine. We decided we wanted to get businesses around the region. I was in a four-state region to get involved with helping us understand what the students needed in our vocational schools.

And then just understand better how we can make sure they got employed. And that business round table was amazing. We brought all these different small business owners together and they gave, not only gave us advice, but they started referring others and then helping us find additional employers. It was just a really great group.

And so I know, you know, and I’ve worked in a few other corporate partnerships, and I know it feels, I think, a little bit overwhelming, especially for those working in the nonprofit who’ve had a career in the nonprofit and really don’t understand the corporate world.

And it feels intimidating, and I can assure you it’s people working with people. At the end, it’s just people, you know, whether they are working in a corporate structure or nonprofit structure, whatever. So, I thought we would pick this apart, maybe talk a little, go dive deep a little bit into what do we mean by corporate partnerships, et cetera, and then really talk about what, what makes for success.

And I know you have forged so many of these, whether it’s a day of service and onward. That I think you’ll be able to really help us understand some of the key like stumbling blocks and so people won’t make those mistakes early on. So let’s start with. just corporate partnerships. What do we mean? How do you define that when you think of a corporate partnership?

Alyson: I define a corporate partnership as a mutually beneficial relationship between the organization and a for profit company That’s to me the foundation – if it is not mutually beneficial it’s not sustainable.  It’s not hard to find that common ground and share outright like this is what this is how you benefit and this is how it what you’re doing benefits our work.

It’s a win-win and who’s mad at that? And it’s okay to say that it in your initial conversation. So that’s my definition. It has it’s a mutually beneficial. Arrangement between the company and the nonprofit.

Tobi: I love it. It’s very simple. I think the key is mutually beneficial. I have forged collaborations where one side is really getting more benefit than the other.

Alyson: And it is true. Like it might work for a season. But then it fizzles out or falls apart or sometimes does ends badly because the expectations aren’t there. So, yeah, as a nonprofit, we are nonprofits sometimes think that we have to sacrifice or we have to go without or we need to be willing to take less and I don’t believe in that.

I think we’re short-changing ourselves with that mindset. And we offer something that a for profit cannot buy themselves. They cannot, you know, they cannot consult their way out of it, right? Like this is, they can’t find this anywhere else, but with a partnership, a relationship with a nonprofit doing work in their community.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it feels good for, you know, if you’re talking about it, one partnership might be an employee volunteer program or a project that you do together and that feel good for the corporation. Sometimes it’s about improving employee experience and what better way.

Alyson: To do that, then to get out in the community and do something good for your neighbors. I mean, come on, you know, you can’t … If we could bottle it, they would buy it, right? And that’s just it. And you have a generation entering the workforce that is expecting employers. To provide them with opportunities to engage with their community, but also want their employers to be taking action and to have some sort of community pillar and what do they believe in rally around support. It’s a recruitment tool. It’s, but it’s more, it’s also a retention tool, right? So I don’t think you can not have it as a company.

Tobi: Yeah. So you’re offering, when you, when you’re a nonprofit and you’re offering to enter into a collaboration, you’re offering that corporation a way to satisfy that need. And I can tell you employee turnover is extremely expensive, is a ding on productivity.

Alyson: You know, so it’s not what corporations want to do. And, and we’re in an employment market. That’s fairly competitive. I mean, people have their choice of places to go work if they’re talented. So they are, and you have a generation or at least, you know, I call them in the office. When they’re, when we have, we have our, anyone under 35, I call them the kids, which is lovingly, but the kids just think differently about working.

And if you’re saying one thing on your, your company’s website, but you are not acting on that in a genuine way, in an authentic way, they will call you on it and employers can’t afford that.

Tobi: Yeah. So let’s talk about these types of relationships. I know some nonprofits have had challenges. So let’s talk about more of the upsides and maybe some examples.

What are some of the most effective or exciting partnerships you’ve seen, maybe you’ve been part of, or you’ve seen others be part of, and how are they moving the needle on? sort of community impact causes, et cetera. What are a few highlights just to give people some ideas about what we’re talking about here?

Alyson: The highlights that I’ve seen most recently have been companies that have been giving to organizations or to programs or sponsoring something, but it’s been, you know, in a silo. They’re not doing anything beyond just making that. That gift that that financial transaction and engaging them in a conversation saying, what if you could be more involved with this program?

What if your employees could be delivering financial education material to these participants in a program and it was yours? And. You ran with it. You, I created the curriculum. You delivered it. You hosted the dinner for participants. You did the graduation ceremony. We are just connecting you to the participants.

And I’m not going to say it was easy because it wasn’t, it was not easy, but it was at the end so rewarding. And even if it were, I think at the end it was 15 employees that were delivering this content, but then they were able to train another 15 employees to be able to deliver that content. And then we’re talking now about replicating that program in other markets for this company.

Tobi: I’m not going to ask you the name of the company, but what kind of company was it? So you’re talking about financial education.

Alyson: It was a financial institution, a bank.

Tobi: Oh, okay. Awesome. Yeah. So, and banks don’t banks have a requirement to do some type of support of the community or community engagement?

Alyson: They do. And it can be challenging. And when you say financial, Education or, um, you know, I don’t even, there’s, they’re phrasing, you know, um, helping the unbanked or the underbanked, which is just, we can do better than that. Right, but helping the unbanked, right? Like the unbanked, um, okay. So this is where they need some nonprofit help with copywriting and branding.

I know, uh, so. You know, they don’t know where to, those people are not walking into the branch, right? So how are they connecting with those people? They’re connecting with those people through nonprofits who are already working in the space of. Economic mobility as part, you know, whether they are addressing issues related to homelessness or refugee services or veterans that are in recovery or I mean, these almost every organization.

I know that is in the social services sector. Financial education is some component. It’s a piece of it somehow, some way managing debt, whatever that looks like. And oftentimes they maybe have a staff person who can fill in as that trainer. But imagine if you have a class or a group within a program that can connect directly with a volunteer.

That they build a relationship with that they trust and that they can call or text if they have a question, no matter what, right? Like, Hey, I have been cashing my paycheck. Should I, but I’m nervous about a bank. I’m nervous about a bank having my money and. Talking them through that. We’re helping them negotiate a checking account that doesn’t have a penalty fee.

There’s lots of ways that these volunteers are helping the participants, but it starts with us. It starts with us connecting them and figuring out how do they deliver this information in a way that’s compassionate, that maintains the dignity of the participant and they’re not used to that, right? Like they don’t, do that work all the time. And it, we, that’s where we come in.

Tobi: Yeah. I think too, on a more macro level, corporations that sell goods and services in a certain, you know, regional area or community. Are and if working with the nonprofits helping folks with economic mobility in whatever way It makes sense. There’s a vested interest. And I think people need to think about this when they’re partnering – what was their one thing to satisfy.

The most obvious is a day of service. That’s the most obvious for employee volunteer program. That’s the most kind of obvious benefit That the corporation is going to get and a little bit of goodwill in the community, whatever, but there’s a deeper when the when the Corporate folk who are selling goods and services in a certain area They will benefit if the population is upwardly mobile in whatever way, you know, if they are people who are bringing, have some money to spend, right?

Alyson: Just in a purely capitalistic sense, if the economy of an area rises, so do the profits of the corporations that are in that community. And so, if you’re working in a nonprofits helping with any of those areas, that’s also a benefit to that corporation, you know, yeah. And I would even take it a step further and say, yes, it, from a capitalistic standpoint, yes, there are benefits to it.

Also from a, just in terms of advocacy and understanding the systems that are in place. That in many, in some ways, prevent our neighbors from being upwardly mobile or, or even just, for instance, we recently at the United Way just took on community schools. We, we now are over 16 community schools in Knox County.

And, you know, one of the things that a lot of community schools do in other places, they do a walking school bus where kids walk to school with volunteers. Well, we would love to do that in all of the neighborhoods that, you know, we have community schools, but not all those neighborhoods have sidewalks.

Well, why don’t they have sidewalks? Well, because we don’t want to increase property taxes. And I’m not saying this is what’s happening in Knoxville. I’m just saying, like, these are the things that happen that prevent things to happen as well. Right? So, it’s just a general education about knowing what the needs are in your community and understanding.

The ecosystem around that. Yeah, and you know if a corporate group who has friends in government, right? They have friends in government and volunteers are part of this program.

Tobi: I love the idea of a walking school bus. By the way, that is so I can just like imagine it. Isn’t it really cute? That’s so cute.

Alyson: And, you know, but I can see that a volunteer wants to set this up, they’re, they’re partnering with that community school and, and they realize, Oh, we can’t do this because of this simple thing.

And, of course, it’s not like a, you know, magic fairy dust and next week we have sidewalks. However, there are people in power in that corporation. Those volunteers can funnel that information up and say, who do we need to talk to? To make sure that we get some sidewalks in our neighborhood. Yeah. And that banded together with the local residents.

And you’ve got a powerful coalition for change. And that’s like above and beyond, as you’re saying above and beyond. Direct service. There’s nothing wrong with direct service. Of course, we want people involved in direct service. We want people giving, we want people experiencing. So, there’s that level of advocacy.

There’s also the level of internal advocacy. I can imagine with the financial services company where they’re realizing, we want this customer group. We want people to be to have a place to put their money and feel secure and be able to actually grow their money. Um, that’s the reason to put it in a bank.

Tobi: Right. You don’t want it in your mason jar under your bed either because you know, you might lose it. No, you also don’t want to be, you know, using a check cashing service or wildly expensive. It is. And yeah, there’s a yes.

Alyson: Yeah. So then. As an employee, you start to see, okay, if we want to add this as a customer group, now we’re having firsthand experience with what their pain points are.

And we understand now why they might not be using our services. So, there’s so many levels. I love the fact that it’s sort of this, like one of the biggest benefits I think is just like interface with one group with another.

Tobi: Right. And so many lessons to be learned there both ways.

Alyson: Oh, definitely. And it’s, there’s no shortage of opportunities just like that one.

Tobi: So, when folks are thinking about this, you know, mindset’s such a big thing in our sector. And I think we have some limiting beliefs about, as you said early on, just first of all, you know, you can have demands of this partnership. You can have expectations, you can voice them, you can set them up as part of your agreement, but what are other Mindsets that you find to be super helpful when approaching and developing and maintaining a relationship with and developing corporate partnerships?

Alyson: I have found that if their approach to the conversation is from a place of we want to learn, we want to be engaged. And we are realistic about our human resources, right? We are realistic about what we can commit to and, um, what the, and timing. Being realistic about what planning looks like and getting buy in from others.

Then those are the signs to me that people have done their homework. They’re in a good place. They understand what this will, what this could look like and trust us as subject matter experts. That’s when I know we’re in a, we’re starting from a great place. It’s the people that roll in that say, we want to do a day of service.

Well, we want, you know, 500 volunteer slots to fill. That’s when I know that this is going to be a tougher conversation.

Tobi: So is that on the corporate side or the volunteer or the nonprofit or the volunteer involving organization side? When you’re thinking mindset like that, are you seeing it on both sides?

Alyson: I think that, well, the corporate side, definitely, but on the nonprofit side, especially for small organizations, I can’t stress enough, you know, anytime I’ve ever consulted or done any kind of coaching, it’s you are way better off taking your time and building out something that you can manage and you know exactly what your needs are in that for these volunteers.

Then to not know and not be organized and get people to volunteer and they don’t have a good experience. They don’t feel like they did anything and you, it’s a lose. It’s a total loss across the way for everyone and you won’t get them back. They’ll have a bad taste in their mouth about you and if you think that that news won’t travel, you are lying to yourself. So, you can burn bridges fast.

Tobi: My takeaway is you can burn bridges fast if you don’t get your stuff together.

Alyson: Yeah. And that’s hard because we, so many, especially small grassroots organizations, are operating from a  need or a little bit more reactionary and, I can’t stress this enough, but slowing down to speed up is a thing and you know, even in, in building a board, those are your, that’s the most important volunteers.

Those are the important volunteers you’re going to engage with. Making sure that how you manage your board and the expectations and your onboarding and your ongoing training for your board is Really buttoned up right?

Tobi: Yeah, I think also mindset of the long view You know, I think I’ve shared before maybe not on the pod, but I know I’ve shared in some of my training We did a day of service with Bain and company back in San Francisco and I ran a program for homeless youth And we had them come in and do some workshops on job readiness and interviewing and all that good stuff.

And we had a great time. Not a ton of kids, not a ton of participants because it was our, our folks who were in our transitional living facility. They came down and we gave them an overview of, Hey, here’s what we do at Larkin street. And here’s what we’re going to do today. And we worked with them on the programming, you know, and we set expectations, said, look, it’s not going to be a hundred.

People, it’s going to be like 20 and, you know, we almost had as many volunteers as young people, but that didn’t matter because that meant people got one on one talk. And it was a way for the youth to see, you know, professional employees and what they do.

Alyson: Yeah. Right. And caring people.

Tobi: Yeah. And. And you know, a month or two later development office calls me and hey, I can’t remember whether it’s a $5,000 or $10,000 check. Hey, just want to let you know that Bain Company made a contribution and it was because of their employees. They, every year their employees vote. On the nonprofit that they want to that they want the organization or the company to give money to and the reason why is because they knew us, and they could see the impact.

Alyson: I think nonprofits underestimate the power of just a tour of their facility and a talk about what they do because it’s like, oh, wow, you know, it’s it. Some people have never stepped foot in a nonprofit. And so, they have no idea what’s happening around their community. So, it was like, great. So, what that made me realize was, Oh, wow.

Tobi: So, we should not think of these relationships as a one off. We should think of them as building on itself. Not that always the goal is to get a check in the mail, but to continue to have that relationship foster. I know when I interviewed Lynn Margherio and gang, I’ll put links to her. She had a corporate partners that were with her organization for years. I mean years. And they just continue to like expand, expand, expand.

Alyson: So, first impressions matter. And I’m totally with you. Get, keep it organized people. Cause in the corporate world, they’re organized. Cause they’re not, they’re not wasting anybody’s time and they’re not losing money. No. And it’s incumbent on the nonprofit to remove as many barriers or speed bumps as possible to be on ramp to volunteer with them.

I mean, you gotta make it easy. You have to make it just accessible, and you have to be clear. About what you need from them always. And straight talk is fine. Totally. In fact, it’s appreciated.

Tobi: Well let’s, let’s take a break, and then we’re gonna dive in a little bit more into the real practicals.

I know you have run many, many a project with corporate partners. And, I want to talk about how to successfully prepare. What are the factors when choosing a partner? What are the problems that come up? We’ll talk about that all after the break. So gang, stick with us. We’ll be right back after this break on more about how to make the most of your corporate partnerships with Alison Gallaher. So don’t go anywhere.

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Okay, gang, we are back with our discussion with Alyson Gallagher on the untapped potential of corporate partnerships. We talked a little bit about mindset. We talked a little bit about what these partnerships might look like, what we’re talking about and how do we define that. Now let’s talk about how nonprofits can better prepare for successful corporate partnerships. Is there a minimum level of technology capacity?

Program staff or strategy in place when you’re coaching and I know you when you were working with East volunteer East Tennessee You were doing a lot of coaching of nonprofits around how to get prepared What are so the basic minimums or are there any that you want people to have in place? We talked earlier about being organized. What does that mean? And what does that look like?

Alyson: So you need if there’s two things right know what your ongoing needs are right like so what do you need a regular volunteer for do you know if it’s sitting at your desk there a front desk or something for two hours every Tuesday like just know get have an ongoing list, if a hundred volunteers came knocking on your door to be regular volunteers where you could plug them in and the skills that would be required for that work have a running list of that. So, there’s that.

But also, what are your dream project? And I’m not talking about a new building. I’m talking about, hey, we’d love to have a mural on this wall leading up to the Kids Center. We would like someone to do a training for us on using Google Drive more efficiently. These are things, like, have your wish list set so that when you do come across that potential partner, Or that new board member who says, Hey, my company would like to volunteer here or whatever that case may be, that you are ready to go and you know what you need and approximately how many volunteers, you know, to what it would require to be successful. That’s basics to me.

From there, who’s going to manage it? Who’s going to manage the questions? Who’s going to manage the, the day to day back and forth leading up to whatever the project is, but also who’s going to be there on site to make sure that the supplies are ready to make sure that the volunteers are happy? You know, they break for lunch, they get snacks, whatever that looks like, and then following up to make sure that they had a good experience.

Any feedback is good feedback. Let’s, you know, tell us how we can, how we can do a better job. And keep it up. Like if you have kids that love the mural or they, if you did a garden and they are eating vegetables from the garden, take the photos, send it to the company, like let them see their good work in action. That is that the communication part is probably.

Technology, you can do a signup sheet. You can deal right? Like we, you don’t need anything fancy, but that communication and staying in touch and keeping it, staying in front of them and telling them if you have another project and seeing where their interests are.

If they have a section or like a group of employees that aren’t able to leave the office, right? Is there a kit packing opportunity that you could bring to them so that you’re not just, it’s not this, this one group or this one department that you can help the entire company engage in service? You’re solving problems for them that they didn’t even know they had.

Tobi: It’s almost like you’re a concierge.

Alyson: 100 percent you’re a concierge. Yeah, I think if you have that level of customer service now, I know folks are like, well, wait a minute. They’re supposed to be serving us. Yes, and You know, do you want the long-term relationship? You know if people are like, wow, that was so amazing.

There were no hiccups or even if there are you’re like, yeah, that’s fine. I’m your concierge. We’re gonna fix this and fast, you know?

Well, imagine then you have your fundraiser after they had this great volunteer experience Well, you can go to them and say, Hey, we would, would you be willing to sponsor X? And also, we have some volunteer opportunities for our check in table. Would some of your, would any of your employees be willing to. Help us out at the event.

There’s more to this, right? And so, the customer service is donor development. It is stewardship. It is not just making sure that they, it’s a fun project and you, they came away with some cute pictures and a good t-shirt. This is donor development.

Tobi: Volunteerism is the on-ramp to being a financial donor to an organization. So ongoing donation, even employee- employer matching of donations. So, you know, if they like your nonprofit, then when it comes time to, you know, the season of giving. Are they going to highlight your nonprofit to their employees when they’re doing matching?

Are there dollars for doers? Programs where each volunteer hour is matched with a financial contribution. Sponsorship opportunities with you know, you’ve got an event coming up You need a corporate group to buy a table at your event or to be the keynote sponsor or whatever. You know, there’s all of that you need to advocate to lawmakers. Will some corporation corporate folks step up with you?

There’s so many ways to think about this I think you’re right too when you said, you know kind of keep a running list It’s almost like you need fact sheets with just you know, these are like these are the different volunteer options None of these are make or break. You know they can be done at any time.

Maybe you have some that are certain seasons of the year and that you are prepared. I mean that this thinking has already been done and so you know the corporation may show up one day knocking on your door or you may meet somebody in a networking event. You know you may be at your Chamber and you may meet somebody in a networking event and you have these projects in the back of your mind.

And you go, what kind of ways have you gotten involved with the community? What are ways you’d like to get involved with the community? Well, you know, we have a project. I mean, you’re just, you have already done the strategic thinking. You’re not having to scramble because it’s already been thought out.

Alyson: Yeah. I love that idea. Yeah. The other thing that I usually recommend to people is having an Amazon wish list, which a lot of organizations already have, but especially for direct service organizations when they have a great volunteer day or they have a project goes really well. Volunteers will be like, Oh, how can I help out, you know, your clients or how can I help out your  neighborhood or your program?

And they usually want to do something immediately, right? Like they are that those endorphins have kicked in. They feel really good and how they want to be able to help immediately. That is something you can connect them to immediately. And, in the future, then that’s a cultivation that becomes, is this a committee member for you? Is this a potential board member?

Tobi: Right? That is where, that’s where we’re headed. So, at the end of the project, having other ways to help?

Alyson: Definitely. Maybe a QR code or a handout or a thank you note with an insert? I think a thank you note, if you are working with children or whatever, if there is some sort of like little card or something that they have drawn or something like, or with a quote or a statement from a member of the population you’re serving to let them, I mean, that’s the little stuff that goes a long way to create and forge that relationship that you have that will serve you indefinitely.

So getting prepped for the sponsors or the corporate partnerships that come your way randomly, which people are always like, I just get these random people. I’m like, get prepared. Then if you know that that happens to you, then get prepared.

You don’t have to get caught flat footed, if you know it’s going to happen sooner or later, but there’s also, you can also do your own outreach and start to have conversations with people when nonprofits are considering corporate partnerships, what should they?

Think about how should they how should their decision making, you know, because we do have limited bandwidth It’s not we’re gonna partner with 20 at least off the bat anyway But as you grow gang, you might have a person who that’s their job, right?

Tobi: Yeah, as you grow, but what should they be asking of these potential collaborators before they just jump in with two feet and say like, okay, let’s do it because I, I’ve done a fair amount of partnership development and I had to vet people in my mind, even though I thought it would be a win-win. And there were times where it didn’t work out. So, we do want to make sure we invest a little bit of time upfront and just not say yes to everything.

So, what are the key questions and what are things people should be looking for to decide it’s a good fit on the, on the nonprofit side?

Alyson: If they are reaching out to me and we have no existing relationship, I want to understand their culture. I want to understand what are they already engaged in by way of community and what does their involvement look like right now? What is, what is their internal landscape?

Because I’ve had experiences where someone has contacted me because they are in crisis and they are looking for a way to fix internal issues by way of like having an, a volunteer day, like this warm, fuzzy thing will fix other issues.

Tobi: Oh, within the corporate, within the company, right?

Alyson: And so understanding their culture and where they are in terms of community, where they are in terms of supporting other organizations, does your mission and your work align with their pillars? Like, does it make sense? Are you aligned? You know, if you’re not, I think that’s a tough, that’s a really tough sell to a workforce to get involved with an organization that doesn’t make any sense for them.

I think my for-profit heart says, if it’s also not aligned by way of the business that they’re in, right? Like if I’m running convenience stores, yes. I might want to volunteer with an animal rescue, but animal rescues, dogs don’t buy at convenience stores, right? So the owners do, but let’s, you know, thinking about does this make sense for our culture? Does our team want to do this? Like I always ask those questions like Well, especially if it’s an HR manager who’s reaching out to me, or it’s someone who’s just like in a department that is not a director level or up. I have questions.

Tobi: Right. Right. Right. Interesting.

Yeah. I mean, you think about it. Just think about if you’re a nonprofit, you’re trying to figure out where, where should you go to, to find. People to connect with to form corporate partnerships with just think in your own niche like you said animal welfare then What corporations do? animal stuff whether it’s you know cat food dog food pet supplies That kind of thing, you know, similarly, if you’re in healthcare advocacy or you’re somehow involved in hospitals, et cetera, although hospitals are kind of for profit, nonprofit, but maybe it’s, you’re a small community clinic, then what kinds of corporations in the area would care about healthcare, right?

And so, you want to look, I think you’re right. You got to look first. What’s closest to people or people already kind of understand what you do. You don’t have to explain it completely. They get it. Cause they already work in a similar, you know, sort of sector.

Alyson: Yeah. And if they already supporting you financially, like if they’re already a sponsor of something, or they already are a corporate donor, or it’s a board member who, you know, you approach to deepen that relationship or diversify that relationship.

You know, that’s great. That’s a great starting point because they’re already invested in your work. And you get to say, Hey, let me help you create more impact. Let me help you make a $10,000 gift become a $25,000 gift overnight. And you have a story that you can tell to the entire community. That is, that’s the sweet spot in my opinion.

Tobi: Yeah. I loved how you said that too. Let me help you. Right. Let me help you do, let me help you convert this into this. So, what would you say to folks who haven’t done a lot of this and they’re kind of afraid? Where’s the best place to go to start networking and, you know, should they just pick up the phone on cold call?

Should they send emails? Should they network work through board members who might know people? If somebody wanted to get started and had never done this before, what would be your biggest pieces of advice?

Alyson: Start with the people that you already have relationships with. So, start with a corporate, you know, if you already have a company that’s sponsoring You know, your luncheon or, you know, your Halloween event or something start there.

And if they’re a good partner already and a good supporter of yours, kind of use them as like a sounding board in a way like, Hey, we are interested in offering. Service opportunities to companies. And we wanted to based on the good work and what you have, how you’ve engaged with us already, we would like to see if you have employees that would be interested in serving with us, whatever you want to say.

And, we’re not talking about exchanging of money or anything like that. Like this would just be almost a thank you to them for supporting you for so long, and then they can give you feedback on the experience and it’s your, they trust you. They’re already supporting you. You’re not nervous.

This is not the first date or approach a board member. I would not, I would say you start small, you know, is it a 10 person project? Is it. Again, help at events is a great way to get yourself up because you’re already doing it. That’s a great way to offer a way to volunteer with you.

So, you don’t necessarily have to build something new. You can think about what are your ongoing things and how can you plug volunteers in. from corporations. How are folks, I know impact measurement is a big thing for our audience and a lot, a lot of folks struggle with how, how do we show impact?

You know, they want to talk about it in their annual reports. They want to share in the community. They have grant reports. They need to write all those good things. How have you found people? Cause I think you have to get kind of creative with some of these things.

It’s not always easy. To show impact what are some ways you recommend people think about or frame how they might demonstrate the impact of some of these partnerships I’ve seen it done a couple of different ways if you’re operating from a perspective of we want to demonstrate Need in a way then I’d like to  position it in a way that communicates if we did not have the volunteers to do X, Y, Z to participate in this project, then we would not be able to do this and, you know, 4000 people would not be able to receive X, right?

Like, I’m not someone who believe in poverty porn. I don’t believe in like taking the stories and the situations of those we serve. Using it in a way to market what we do, but I do think in showing we could not do this. If 20 people did not spend a Saturday building a garden, right? And that would be for, you know, let’s say 400 people that did not have fresh fruits and vegetables for six months this year.

I think if you, if you are framing it in that way, that impact is huge. And then we all know the, the value of the dollar amount associated with a volunteer hour, right? Illustrating that, that’s, that’s impressive if you’re engaging volunteers on a regular basis and, you know, knowing that without these hours, the organization could not hire people to do this work.

Tobi: Yeah, the dollar equivalent is a controversial, it’s a controversial topic in our sector because folks feel like, well, it doesn’t speak to impact. But it does speak to impact on your bottom line as a nonprofit. It frees up dollars for that volunteer time. If you were to.

Alyson: You know, hire staff since you don’t, and it frees up dollars for that can be used and redeployed in other ways. So, I think that is an impact on your budget. Oh, yeah, and not even staff, but just if I hired a landscaper to do this work, right? Like, I mean, I don’t, there’s controversy in that, like, well, you know, could you be hiring a small business?

Tobi: There’s lots of, we don’t need to go down that rabbit hole, but I do think you can say we would not be able to do X. If we did not have these volunteers serving on our behalf, I like that way of framing impact that, you know, what’s the opportunity cost if people don’t step up, you know, what are we unable to do rather than looking for, you know, You know, X number of kids.

Alyson:  I mean, in these smaller, in these smaller projects, it’s really hard. Impact doesn’t happen immediately. You know, like you can’t raise test scores in one afternoon of tutoring, you know, don’t we wish, but no, that’s not how it happens. But if you could show the opportunity cost, I also think sometimes it’s great to survey both the participants and the volunteers and just hear some of their insights, like really short.

It’s a perception survey about how things went. If you have service beneficiaries being involved, and that can be part of your, that can be part of your storytelling. And I agree, you know, we don’t need to sensationalize the stories of the people we serve, but if people participate in an event and they want to share a little bit about their experience and what, what it felt like.

I think that people can have, if you think about, there’s probably somebody in your life who maybe wasn’t in your life for long, but had a lasting impact. And you know, there’s these chance encounters we have with people who inspire us to do more, be more, et cetera. And you know, it, it could happen in any of these projects, you know, It could.

Tobi: And it does. Yeah. It does happen. When you think about the future of corporate partnerships, what are the things that you think hold the most promise in the future? Are there trends or sort of future casting or where do you think it’s headed? And where are corporations at? Are they pulling back how they’re partnering? Are they doing more? What can just give us your crystal ball on, on this topic?

Alyson: I think companies are becoming more strategic around their engagement with nonprofits. I think that they are looking for more out of their relationships. I think the old school tickets and tables kind of way to support nonprofits is it’s not, it’s not disappearing, but it, it’s different.

And I’ve been to three luncheons this week. Right. And so, wow. And that’s me. And I also work at a nonprofit. Right. So I’m not. So I think that that is. They’re, they’re looking for more because the pressure is on them from the employee standpoint, and they’re also impact is real, and they are looking for organizations that are meeting real needs in the community and can demonstrate outcomes from their investment. And that can be challenging, especially for a small organization, but not impossible. And also, doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Yeah. And I think just having that conversation while you’re developing the partnership, Hey, I want to make sure this has an impact. What do you think? What are the ways that we, you know,

Tobi: I love how you’re framing these questions of, it’s a conversation gang. You know, just say, hey, I want to talk to you about this opportunity. You know, and start from there and ask questions, you know, ask as many questions of the company as you can, because you want to know where they are.

Alyson: You want to know what can I craft for them? That makes the most sense. That it delivers on what they’re looking for and, but within reason for you. I mean, you have to be able to deliver on it too, right? So don’t, don’t set yourself up for something that if they’re like, that sounds awesome, let’s do it. And you’re like, Oh, now what?

So being realistic about what you can deliver on, and also looking at what else they’re doing. I mean, do your homework, look at their, look at their website, get on their LinkedIn, look at their social, look at what. Their employees are doing if their employees are serving on other boards or they’re sponsoring tables for other organizations like do your homework Yeah, yeah, I think that’s a great spot to end on do your homework y’all get prepped and people are out there You’re not you’re not trying to sell something that people don’t want.

Tobi: That’s the other thing – you’re actually offering an opportunity To help people get involved with the community and make an impact. So, and that what a what a great thing to be able to give people. Let me ask you one more question. What are you most excited about in the year ahead?

Alyson: I am most excited about at the United Way are two things. We  worked with a group of small grassroots black-led organizations through our community healing fund. And  that work has been awesome. I’m excited to share that with our investors, our donors, and looking at how we can support those organizations moving forward, whether it’s through volunteerism, you know, how can we help them create a volunteer program that’s sustainable for them and their work.

And then also community schools, which is an awesome volunteer opportunity and figuring out what that looks like and how to engage companies and community schools. I’m most excited about that because United Ways, at least this one, haven’t always been in sort of direct service mode. And so, to have an opportunity that we can directly connect our volunteers with versus connecting them with other organizations is exciting.

That’s what makes it good, that’s it. Those are pretty good projects.

Tobi: Yeah. Pretty good. Pretty good. So Alyson, where can people find you if they want to learn more about the United Way and more about your work or get in touch if they have questions?

Alyson: Anyone can email me at gallahera@unitedwayknox.org. I’m not always good with my email address that we might put in the show notes.

Tobi: Yeah, we will.

But LinkedIn is a decent way. And they’re also always welcome to call the United Way of Greater Knoxville. I’m always happy to talk to people. It’s, it’s fun. This is the fun part.

Tobi: Yeah, it sure is. This has been great.

I hope that it has offered you all that are listening some ideas maybe on new partnerships. If you’ve never taken the dive into corporate partnerships, give it a try. People really are people. It’s not as scary as you think. Pick up the phone, go to a networking event. Contact your United Way, do research, go to the Chamber of Commerce.

There’s lots of ways to get connected with people and just start to have the conversation and you’d be surprised. How much people are willing to step forward. They are. Go ahead.

Alyson: Wait, I just, one more, like, and don’t be discouraged if they say no; don’t be discouraged at all. Like keep doing it, keep reaching out, keep like not to them, like give them time to marinate, but you will be surprised at how many people, sometimes it’s the season. So just, just be mindful of that and don’t be discouraged.

Tobi: Excellent. Yes. Good advice. So gang, if you like today’s episode, we’re going to wrap it up, but let us know, share it with a friend, leave us a review. We like to be rated, so give us five stars if you’d like, and we will see you next week.

Same time, same place on the volunteer nation. Thanks everybody.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the volunteer nation podcast. If you enjoyed it. Please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause. For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at Tobijohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.