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Mary Merrill

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Recruiting Corporate Volunteers

The workplace is a valuable source of volunteers, but working people face unique challenges for combining work and volunteer activities. While many corporations encourage employee volunteerism, volunteer mangers can increase their recruitment effectiveness by considering the following issues.

Workplace volunteers must juggle the demands of home, family and work. Employees increasingly shy away from long-term commitments and voice concerns about time away from family/friends. Free time is family/friends time. Volunteer managers must continue to provide a variety of short-term, episodic volunteer opportunities to attract workplace volunteers. Walk-a-thons and fund raising events are often attractive options to corporate volunteer programs because they are short term and require a minimum of training or preparation for the employees.

Formal corporate volunteer programs like group activities that encourage small or large groups of employees to work together on a one-time or short-term project. This minimizes the time commitments, but maximizes employee contributions. These activities are attractive to employers because they help to foster a sense of camaraderie among employees.

Family Volunteering:
Workplace volunteers increasing express an interest in engaging other family members in volunteer activities. National corporate studies through the Points of Light Foundation indicate 60% of large corporations encouraged family participation in corporate volunteer actives. Corporate volunteers report that volunteering as a family helps strengthen meaningful family time, allows parents to share values with children, and allows family members to see and appreciate one another in new settings/situations. Family volunteering requires thoughtful planning and is not an option for every organization.

Release time:
Release time for volunteer activities is a desirable concept but in reality most corporations find it difficult to set a company-wide policy on this issue. Some have an informal policy that allows employees some flexibility in their work schedule for work time volunteering, such as an extended lunch hour for classroom tutoring.

Volunteer managers may wish to identify businesses within the immediate neighborhood where travel time is minimal so employees can maximize their on-site volunteer time. Offer volunteer assignments that can be combined with lunch hours, or with shift changes, or the after work commute time. Consider rotating volunteers from one company so that an individual employee serves once every 6-8 weeks.

Volunteer information:
Employees like to have volunteer information available in the workplace. Literature, volunteer fairs, speakers, electronic postings, and an internal clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities are possible venues for sharing information. In many companies this information is kept in the Community Relations office or the Human Resources office. Small companies may share information through bullet board postings or internal newsletters.

Volunteer managers should provide detailed, specific information when approaching corporate volunteer program representatives. Job descriptions should include accurate, realistic time requirements. Specify training and orientation requirements. Identify skills that might be learned through the volunteer work.

Volunteer training:
Because time is a premium for workplace volunteers consider offering volunteer training at the work site. Lunch seminars on topics like mentoring, tutoring, and boardsmanship eliminate travel time for potential volunteers and decrease the need for after work training sessions. Orientation programs might be offered to small groups of employees at the worksite, before or after work or over lunch. Some companies will offer refreshments or meeting rooms for volunteer related programs.

Skill Building:
Many companies encourage their employees to engage in volunteer work as a way to improve or gain skill that are important in the workplace. Volunteer managers may wish to promote personal skill development opportunities through volunteer activities. Working on committees or projects may foster teamwork and the development of leadership skills. Working with children and young adults can strengthen conflict management skills. Other types of activities may promote public speaking, writing or communication skills.

Corporate financial support:
Corporate "Dollars of Doers" programs are designed to support volunteer efforts by making cash contributions to nonprofits organization when employees contribute a specific number of hours of service. Employees often view this as a form of corporate recognition for their volunteer contributions. Other corporations may match employee financial contributions.

Performance reviews:
Volunteer managers have traditionally thanked and recognized volunteers with plaques/certificates, personal letters of appreciation, articles in corporate newsletters, and through a variety of public recognition events. With consent from the volunteer, administrators might consider sending letters of commendation and documentation of service to a corporate volunteer's supervisor. Such letters should document leadership, teamwork, initiative and other pertinent skills and abilities. Additionally, volunteer managers may wish to assist volunteers in documenting their service, training and skills on resumes, applications and vitas.

Virtual volunteering
Opportunities to serve as a tutor or mentor without leaving the worksite are attractive options for workplace volunteer programs. In today's electronic world it is possible to perform volunteer services without ever entering the non-profit agency. Newsletters, web page design and maintenance, and research can be done on-line. These create new challenges for recruiting, screening, supervising and recognizing volunteers that you may never meet in person.

Virtual volunteering presents unique management challenges as organizations strive to combine high tech approaches with human touch experiences. It is worth noting that while many of us may view this type of experience as highly impersonal and undesirable there is a growing world of cyber interaction that is neither impersonal nor undesirable. Young people today see the Internet as a highly personal and interactive medium. It may represent the beginning of a unique and exciting method for extending volunteerism to new and diverse audiences.

Merrill, Mary, Safrit, R.D., 1998. An Empirical Study of Volunteerism Among Baby Boomers and Generation X Employees of Bank One, NA. (An unpublished paper presented at the 27th Annual Conference of The Association for research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, November 4-7, 1998

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