Make corporate volunteering work for your small charity
by Amy Appleton
Increasingly, companies are adopting a corporate volunteering policy into their social responsibility programme. Employees are being offered a day or two each year to get paid to support local charities. This should be music to every charity’s ears but, for many, corporate volunteers just aren’t adding the value they should be.

Ultimately, every fundraiser wants to engage corporate employees as we all know that employee engagement can be a great gateway to charity partnerships. This article shares some top tips to make corporate volunteering work for your charity.

So, what is the problem and what can you do about it?

1. The volunteers don’t want to do tasks that you would find most valuable.

It can be very frustrating when your charity could really benefit from a volunteer’s professional skills and experience, to find that they would rather do some gardening or paint a room. However, we need to try to understand that paid volunteer days are also an employment benefit for your volunteer who may want to escape the office and their usual day job.

To solve this, you could try splitting the role in two halves. Explain that in the morning you would really appreciate their input on a new policy, followed by an afternoon doing something more practical and ‘fun’. Or, approach their employer and ask for the task to be completed as a gift-in-kind as part of the agreement that you provide the painting and gardening tasks for the volunteering days.

Another option is to consider some tasks volunteers could do that directly involve your beneficiaries. Volunteers often favour tasks where they can see the difference they are making. It may not get your policy read, but if used wisely some one-on-one time could really add value to your beneficiaries.

Finally, don’t be afraid to say no. You don’t need your community space repainting every six months. Declining volunteering requests that won’t add value to your charity will not jeopardise your relationship with the corporate. Just explain why you can’t facilitate what they are asking, offer an alternative and let them know you will be in touch as soon as you need a fresh coat of paint!

2. Corporate volunteers are too short-term.

With the average company offering one or two paid volunteering days per employee per year, it can be difficult to get maximum value out of such a short time frame. Sometimes a volunteer’s time with you may feel like it ends before it really starts.

One solution is to break-up bigger tasks into small chunks that could be completed in half a day to a day. For example, rather than asking one volunteer from a marketing agency to overhaul your entire bank of resources, break tasks into bite-size chunks:

- Review and refresh case studies (one day)

- Develop an easy template for collecting emotive case studies (half a day)

- Develop an infographic for your annual report (one day)

- Evaluate your social media presence and recommend improvements (one day)

- Develop a social media calendar (two days).

This way, you can present the tasks as a wish list to the company and different employees may get involved to do separate tasks.

Sometimes, corporate volunteers may become long-term volunteers, but this is the exception rather than the norm. Adapt your volunteering approach for corporates to have realistic expectations of a temporary role and keep tasks as simple and practical as possible.

3. We need your money, not your time – corporate volunteers actually cost our charity money!

Facilitating volunteer days takes time, which is an expensive commodity for busy fundraisers. Without careful planning, that one volunteer day (to paint a room that didn’t really need it) can actually cost your charity more value than it adds. This can be a tricky situation to navigate as you want to grow your relationship with a corporate, but your charity just doesn’t have the cash to gamble with.

The first step to solving this is to do a full cost analysis of the activity. How much time and money will this cost? Factor in all expenses including materials, refreshments, paperwork and staffing hours to plan and deliver the activity. Once you understand the cost to your charity, the next step is to be honest and communicate with the company. Explain how much the activity is going to cost and, if it is too much, recommend alternatives that would add more value to your charity. Some companies may be prepared to cover the cost of the activity and large companies, such as Barclays, already have systems in place to expense any cost associated with their employee volunteers.

You can also be creative when it comes to increasing the value of your corporate volunteers. Generally, corporate volunteers do not want to do bag packs or bucket collections, for many it is a boring use of a ‘free day off work’. Think about how you can make a day of fundraising something for your corporate volunteers to get excited about. One way to do this is by making it competitive. A ‘ten pound challenge’, or similar ‘The Apprentice’ style task, can be a great way to get corporate teams raising money for you. Even better, it requires very little resource or time from you. The idea is to give corporate teams £10 seed money, some t-shirts and buckets, and set them the challenge to spend the day turning that £10 into as much money as possible for your charity. You can even set-up a league table for the year for different teams to compete in.

Corporate volunteering can work for your small charity.

It may take a bit of extra planning and some tactical negotiation of new corporate relationships, but corporate volunteering isn’t just for larger charities. Your charity can make the most of the increasing number of corporate volunteer days to inject more capacity, skills, experience, opinions and cash into your charity.

Are you finding breaking into the world of corporate fundraising difficult? Do you wish you had a bit more time to build corporate connections and develop partnerships? Get in touch with me at to see if we can add capacity and expertise to your corporate fundraising.

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