Successfully engaging corporate volunteers

Corporate volunteers

Corporate volunteers can be a powerful addition to your organization.

The trouble is, few leaders of volunteers know how to approach companies effectively. Here is a step-by-step process to finding the right company for your needs and convincing them to support you.

1. Research

Once you know what you need in terms of volunteers, research companies that employ that type of person. For the purpose of this article, I’ll use drivers for a Meals on Wheels program. What kind of companies employ drivers? Taxi companies, trucking companies, couriers, etc. Because the program deliveries are during the day, companies that have shift workers would be best.

Create a list of these types of companies in your general location. Then start checking out their websites. Watch for phrases like “corporate responsibility”, “giving back” or “importance of community”. Note that family-run businesses tend to be more community minded. Also, very large corporations often have a department, or at least a staff member, in charge of “corporate social responsibility”. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) is a good example. Don’t exclude other companies, though, if they meet your needs. Some companies may be interested, even if they don’t mention it on their websites.

2. Prepare your facts

Know what you are looking for. How many volunteers do you need? For how long? Are you trying to recruit for a one-time event or a recurring shift? Have answers ready for any question someone might ask. Of course, don’t expect one company to fill all your vacant positions. Try to be as flexible as you can.

Also, think about what you can offer the company, not just what they can offer you. Are you able to put their logo up on your sponsorship page on your website? Include their name in your newsletter and ask people to purchase from them? The more you can offer them, the more likely it is they will support you.

Finally, try to think of reasons that they might say no, and have a come-back for each of them. More about that below.

3. Direct contact

Phone each company and ask for an appointment with the person in charge of corporate social responsibility or community relations. If the website gives a name for this person, ask for them specifically. If they don’t have anyone specifically for that (many won’t), ask to speak with the head of human resources. HR tends to be the catchall for anything to do with employees. Be warned, you may be connected directly, rather than given an appointment, so be prepared to have the conversation right then and there!

4. The interview

Once you’re talking to the person in charge, explain why you’re calling, ask for details of their program if they have one, and ask how you could be included. If they don’t have one, explain what you need and ask if there is any way that the company or its employees would be able to help out.

This is when you may need to use the answers I suggested you come up with earlier. Be ready to negotiate. If they say they’ve reached their volunteering quota for the year, ask when their year end is and can you call back then. If they say they don’t have a corporate volunteer program, they only donate money, ask if there is a way that you can get your request in front of their staff directly. Your request is reasonable, so it may be hard for them to turn you down if you are willing to help them figure out how to do it.

The most effective strategy for convincing someone, company or personal, to support you is to be friendly but persistent. In the book, Think Like A Negotiator, Eldonna Fernandez writes “…typically people say no three times before they ever say yes. With that in mind, you should figure the first two to three “no’s” are simply automatic and the other party hasn’t even considered what you are offering!” In other words, they don’t even really hear you until it’s been repeated. By staying curious and asking questions when you get a no, you can make people think about their answer, which can often turn that “no” into a “yes.”

5. Follow up

Once you get even a tentative “yes,” stay on top of things.

If they’ve asked for more details, provide them within a business day. If they said they need to run the idea past a supervisor, ask when that will happen and follow up the day after that to see how it went. Once everything has been agreed to, get the volunteers trained and into a shift as soon as you can. Keep in touch with the person in charge to make sure that things are going well. Express your appreciation regularly, verbally and in writing, both to the volunteers and to the company.

Also, provide the company with stats, photos and impact stories that they can use in their public relations campaigns. Face it; that’s one of the main reasons they’re helping you. Corporate volunteering should be one of the main tools in your volunteer toolkit. Take the time to do your research, plan out what you are going to say, be friendly but persistent and follow up.

The trend toward corporate social responsibility is growing quickly. Take advantage of it.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Volunteer Matters articles

About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories