Of course, we love volunteers; the time spent away from their priorities and the willingness to get involved is admirable. Not only do we love it when our volunteers take away all the 'good feels', we equally like to engage and interact with them. When making your mark within the plethora of charity messages, there's little that's as powerful as taking the words off your marketing and putting it into human terms. Any fundraiser will know the value of face-to-face.
So why the angst when we get approached by volunteers, and especially so when it's a corporate team? Simply put, often there are (hidden) costs with little financial return, and the costs are largely unknown to the company.
I'm sure everyone has their 'wall-painting' anecdote and perhaps another time I'll indulge in my share of memories; I have a strong recollection of gagging on toxic paint fumes and of spending a fair proportion of my budding career averting gardening disasters. On a serious note however, the cost of arranging and supervising (any size) group of corporate volunteers, and the resources needed to provide them with the means to do so, is a large commitment enforced on you. Hands up if you've feared saying 'no' and you just don't want to turn down well-meaning supporters? We are only human, after all!
My early mistakes were simple; I was afraid to ask more questions before committing and my inexperience led me to believe there was no other valid 'model' of volunteering. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to be creative. After all, creativity and adaptation is why I enjoy (and have remained) in strategic partnerships. When enough was enough, I finally settled on pitching a one-day entrepreneurial challenge to my corporate volunteers (which was ultimately introduced as a permanent part of our corporate 'repertoire'). They were encouraged to utilise their skills and knowledge, both in professional and personal capacities, to generate income for the charity. On occasion, I ran this as a competition between different companies, and engaged key stakeholders with an invitation to judge which team was the 'bestest with the most-est' (of fundraising and entrepreneurial flair).
This format was recycled and reused many times for the various companies who made an approach. It accommodated their commercial imperatives and we matched as far as we could, their marketing and business-to-business interests. It surpassed my expectations in terms of participation levels, given that I was sadistically swapping their day out of the office for a 'less-than-appealing' day's hard graft, with very measurable results they couldn't hide behind. The project pushed my volunteers beyond their expectations too. In addition to designing and launching an entrepreneurial campaign in a day, it got them thinking about why our organisation exists and the impact funding has on our service users. In doing so, I hope I was able to pass on more than just the 'feel good' factor but wider understanding of our sector and the challenges we face. I can't complain about the small pot of gold, either!
You can hear more from Vicky and other guests on volunteering in the third sector in The Hive’s latest podcast.