Successfully Engaging Corporate Volunteers

corporate volunteers

In a previous article, I wrote about the value of corporate volunteers. They can be a powerful addition to your organization. The trouble is that 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.

Step One – 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”. CIBC is a good example (they have a goal to donate 1 million volunteer hours in the next ten years!). Don’t exclude other companies, though, if they meet your needs otherwise. Some companies may be interested, even if they don’t mention it on their websites.

Step Two – Prepare Your Facts

Know what you are looking for. How many corporate 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.

Step Three – 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!

Step Four – 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 that 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 by Eldonna Fernandez, she 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 them sending corporate volunteers your way.

Step Five – 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 would 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 volunteers 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!

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