corporate Corporate Volunteers: What Do They Want From Nonprofits?

There’s quite a bit of buzz about corporate responsibility lately.  In the midst of scandals, declining trust, and lost profits, businesses are increasingly concerned with maintaining a positive reputation in the public eye.  This represents a potential windfall for nonprofits who are looking to leverage needed resources from the business community, including volunteer support. However, many nonprofits struggle to work effectively with corporate volunteers.

So, what do corporate volunteers want?

This focus on brand reputation is a relatively new phenomenon, as chronicled in a recent Harvard Business Review post. According to the author, “People have become increasingly concerned with business’s impact on the world, and search engines…make it trivially easy to find out who makes a product and how, where they operate, who they have offended, and what causes they have supported. Social media makes it easy to learn more and spread the word. 

Suddenly, a brand’s paternity is not only easy for customers to discover, but it’s also important for them to consider.  And they have no trouble boycotting products from companies that they believe fail to live up to their standards.”

It’s a cold world for business when the public shuns you, so some companies are taking proactive steps to prevent it, including stepping up their volunteering.  Despite (or maybe because of) the economic downturn, new corporate volunteer programs are popping up across the country.  In the past, corporate support was offered mostly in the form of donations and grants to charities.  Now, the private industry is looking to donate time either in addition to or instead of, cash.  

It’s a surprising role reversal.  For-profits are now turning to nonprofits for support and connection to the community.  And, lest you think this is an insignificant development, just take a look at the long list of conferences this year devoted to corporate citizenship and volunteering from the Realized Worth website. 

Three Corporate Volunteer Program Expectations

So what are corporate, or skilled, volunteering programs hoping for when they partner with you?   Here are a few themes I’ve noticed as I listen in on webinars and read posts about corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.  And, they are things to think about, if you plan to approach a business for help.

1) Impact Focus
CSR programs are deeply interested in generating concrete outcomes.  They hope that the experience of volunteering will encouraging greater teamwork amongst employees, will lead to enhanced skills development, and will result in deeper job satisfaction and retention.  They also hope the program will have an impact on the community and advance the cause they are investing in.

2) Strategic Alignment
Corporations are also keenly aware of how they use their valuable resources.  They seek to form strategic partnerships with nonprofits that align with their own corporate culture, values, and organizational objectives.  And, more and more, they are looking to build a portfolio of volunteer opportunities that are in direct alignment with their brand.  If their brand is about kids, they’ll most likely look to help programs that benefit children.  But, this isn’t always the case.  Sometimes, the focus is in helping the community refresh its economic vitality which, in turn, will make it a better place to do business.

3) Efficiency
Coordinators of corporate volunteer programs are also under pressure to make the most of their employee’s time.  Many are experimenting with different models of episodic, or short-term, volunteering that give the best “bang for the buck.”  Their staff are working under time constraints that make volunteering a potentially expensive proposition, so they want to be sure their investment in time is well spent.

If nonprofit volunteer programs are aware of these needs, find ways to meet them, and are able to find private partners who are closely aligned with their cause, a fruitful mutually-beneficial collaboration can be forged.  It’s an interesting proposition — the private-public partnership.  And, although it’s not new, it appears to be making a comeback.  Is this an opportunity your organization can take advantage of?

Have you had experiences with a corporate partnership?  How have they worked out?  Do you have any wisdom to share?