Maura Koehler-Hanlon

Maura Koehler-Hanlon

The following is an article originally posted on VolunteerMatch, written by vice president of Client Services Maura Koehler-Hanlon, in which she describes how she recently challenged the existing system of employee volunteer programs, and argued for an overhaul of the field. Visit VolunteerMatch for more articles about volunteering and corporate social responsibility.

Earlier this month I hit the road with Vicky Hush, VolunteerMatch’s VP of Engagement & Strategic Partnerships. We headed up to Portland to present to Hands On Greater Portland’s Corporate Volunteer Council to share our expertise with employee volunteer managers about how to keep your employee volunteer program (EVP) fresh and exciting. Leading up to the presentation, we had a tough internal conversation which amounted to this: how controversial did we want to be? What would happen if we just came out and said that we think EVPs should be doing more? We decided to go for it – those Portlanders are a tough bunch with all that fresh air! And it worked: when we asked the room of EVP managers “how many of you feel like your employee volunteer program is as strong as it can be?” we (not surprisingly) didn’t see a single hand.

Through the conversation, we reviewed a few frameworks that can help companies “reinvent the road,” including:

  • Go back and review the core reasons that your company has a volunteer program – other than for the community benefit. And be honest.
  • Look at the overlap between your employees’ passions, your corporate strategy and your communities’ needs. Think about the shared value between your company’s strategy and society’s needs.
  • Constantly adapt, assess and evolve using the program change model.

Towards the end of the presentation, we shifted to brainstorming specific program components. There were some great insights!

Communications Trends

We discussed communications, and two trends became clear:

  1. People are overstimulated with messages, so we have to think about creative, new ways to reach them, particularly focused on social, inclusive, lively, fashionable, and visual methods.
  2. We have to go back to basics. Sometimes the least efficient mode of communication is the most effective (meaning, sometimes you have to go back to face-to-face interactions).

Measurement Challenges

One area where most companies struggle is measurement. Everyone in the room agreed that the silver bullet is tracking impact, but we have not yet developed a way to successfully track this. By the end of the discussion, the trending idea was that corporations need to invest in nonprofit infrastructure to build open-source tools to track metrics that are mutually beneficial for corporations and nonprofits. VolunteerMatch loves this idea – who is up for helping us achieve this project?

Incentives that Work

Finally, we brainstormed on creative incentives. While we all agreed that awards, competition, dollars for doers and VTO are effective, there was one major idea that emerged: incentives need to be carefully implemented to feel authentic. The culture of philanthropy is not something that can be forced or created through incentives, as the true motivation to volunteer is inherently intrinsic. You want to create incentives that match this ethos: Make it easy and rewarding for the volunteers who already engage, and don’t try to force employees to volunteer who aren’t naturally drawn to it. In an ideal world, what if you could flip incentives on their heads, and instead recruit and hire employees based on their community-minded drive? So now our challenge for you – how can you innovate on your EVP to increase your impact? Think about how your program is unique, and what value your employees can bring to the community. Think critically about why you do what you do, and start to challenge your company to do more.

(This article, originally posted on volunteermatch.org, is one in a weekly series highlighting the pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!)

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One Response to “Shaking Up Employee Volunteer Programs”

  1. Jill says:

    I appreciate this topic so much. However, I have concern with providing incentive for volunteering. Isn’t the guilty pleasure for helping with no strings attached reward enough. Over the last few years people have said to me “if I volunteer what do I get” or “how much do I get paid”. It has stopped me in my tracks. In fact, those thoughts are completely opposite of the concept of volunteering. I have also encountered towns, schools, courts etc. mandating volunteering as a punishment. Do we really want volunteering equated with punishment? I don’t have the answer but I can say that something new has to happen. Thank you for your efforts!

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The pARTnership Movement is a new initiative from Americans for the Arts that provides businesses and arts organizations with the resources they need to make meaningful collaborations; partnerships that not only support a healthy, creative and artistic community, but that also give businesses a competitive advantage.
For more information please visit www.partnershipmovement.org.

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