Finding and using corporate volunteers

Corporate volunteers

Are corporate volunteers part of your program’s strategy? You might want them to be.

Good journalism starts with answering the five Ws – who, what, where, when and why. The Ws can be used to explain more than news stories. They’re a great way to understand a lesser-known concept, like involving corporate volunteers.

I’m going to take them out of order, though, and start with “what.”

What are corporate volunteers?

There are a few different ways that a corporation or group can bolster your volunteer program, depending on how they are set up.

One is by encouraging their employees to volunteer in the community through providing paid volunteer time off or other rewards and incentives. In this case, each individual chooses which organization to volunteer with. You, as leader of volunteers, would treat them in the same way as any other volunteer, with perhaps a media shout-out to the company. Because of that, this blog will focus on the next method.

The second way is that the company can participate in larger scale volunteer events or projects. An example of this might be to provide a number of employees to help the organization with running a fundraising gala, or by building all new kennels for your animal shelter.

Finally, they can provide a pool of highly experienced managers and executive to serve on your board of directors.

Why corporate volunteers?

Well, besides the fact that most organizations are always looking for skilled volunteers, by reaching out to local companies, you can increase awareness of your cause.

Depending on the size of the company, you may introduce your organization to dozens or hundreds of new converts. This not only can bring you new volunteers, but it may also bring you new donors. Also, when corporations are involved with an organization, it is to their benefit to promote what they’re doing, so you get the spin-off marketing.

By having a corporate group come in to do large-scale projects, you can reduce the wear and tear on regular volunteers. This can help reduce burnout, and allows the regulars to keep to their usual schedule.

An extra bonus of having corporate groups is you don’t need to do the regular screening and training you would have to do for individual volunteers. The company is responsible for the behaviour of their staff while volunteering for you and roles for events and projects tend not to require the same in-depth training as other roles.

Who are the companies that have volunteering programs?

So now you know what corporate volunteers can do, and why you might want to involve them, who are they?

Start by talking with other organizations in your community. Who have they brought in to do project work? What was their experience like? Next, reach out to your local chamber of commerce or board of trade. They may have a list of companies that are willing to do volunteer work, or they may allow you to reach out to their members.

Finally, use good-old Google. Research companies that have been noted for volunteer work in the past. You may come across old news articles about their contributions, or they may even have a page on their website dedicated to their social impact work.

Where do you start?

You’ve decided that you want to involve corporate volunteers, and you may even know a couple of companies that have volunteer programs. Now what? Where do you start?

First, look at the tasks and projects you have coming up. Is there something that needs doing that you’ve been putting off because you don’t want to overload the volunteers you currently have? Reach out to the group and find out if they’re interested, and what they need from you to move forward.

When should you involve corporate volunteers?

Bringing in corporate volunteers for one-off tasks is ideal. Rather than involving them in day-to-day tasks, think in terms of projects. Maybe your thrift store needs to be reorganized, or your hospice needs to be painted. Perhaps you have a food drive coming up. Maybe you just need a new fence built.

These kinds of projects are ideal for group volunteering. You say what needs doing, and the company brings in the people to do it. You can even target specific companies for specific projects – a retail outlet to help reorganize the thrift store, or a construction company to build your fence. This gives you skilled labour, and it gives the company a chance to market themselves.

Involving corporate volunteers should be a key part of your program’s strategy.

There are incredible benefits all around: to your organization and the cause it serves, the company you partner with, and the volunteers themselves.

And that’s the five Ws of corporate volunteering.

As for that tag-along "H" in the five Ws explanation, "how" (as in how do you set up your program to involve them?), I’ll answer that in another column.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Dealing with unappreciative clients

Helping volunteers cope

It happened near the end of a long, stressful shift.

A client came up to the registration desk, and blasted the volunteer for the length of time it took to get through the people in line ahead of her.

Fortunately, a supervisor was walking by at the time. Laying a comforting hand on the volunteer’s shoulder, the supervisor explained to the client that the volunteers were all working as quickly as they could, and while she understood that the client was under a lot of stress, to please not take it out on the volunteer.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? It’s a hard thing to deal with. Unfortunately, other than posting signs asking people to be respectful of the volunteers, and stepping in when a problem occurs, there isn’t much we as leaders can do to instil appreciation—or even courtesy—in unappreciative clients.

And maybe we shouldn’t try.

Let’s face it, the clients are there because something horrible has happened or is happening in their lives and they don’t have the emotional bandwidth to care about anyone other than themselves and their families.

In the situation above, the client was one of close to 1,500 people who were evacuated from their homes at a moment’s notice because of a fast-moving wildfire. She didn’t know whether her house was still standing. Her dog had wandered off just before the evacuation order so she didn’t know whether it was alive or not. She had nothing but her purse and the clothes she was standing in. Her life was in ruins and she had to stand in line two hours before she could even register as an evacuee at the reception centre.

Suddenly a stressful shift sounds pretty minor, doesn’t it?

So, what can we do? What doesn’t work is becoming resentful, and lecturing unappreciative clients about being nicer. They are already teetering on the edge, and adding more to their emotional load will only make things worse. In fact, the only really useful thing you can do is encourage the volunteers to not expect the clients to appreciate what they do.

Help them understand the mental state that the clients are in. Teach them the value they provide is not measured by thank-yous but by the difference they are making in people’s lives—whether those people recognize it or not.

In other words, intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation.

I’m not in any way saying volunteers should accept verbal or physical abuse. There is no excuse for that. Just don’t expect clients to be pleasant or sympathetic and understanding of the volunteer’s situation. If volunteers can develop that kind of mindset, the clients who do have the ability to express their appreciation will seem like superstars, rather than just average people. The clients who don’t have that ability won’t be seen as terrible, but as people who need even more care and attention.

Finally, you, as the leader, need to provide the appreciation and understanding that the clients can’t. Ten fold. That’s because volunteers need appreciation, and lots of it. —just not necessarily from the clients they serve.

The client mentioned above lost her home to the fire, but her dog was found and rescued by a neighbour. Her insurance kicked in and allowed her to rebuild. And the next day, she found the volunteer and apologized for her behaviour.

As leaders of volunteers, it’s up to us to build resilience in our teams to help them deal with situations like unappreciative clients—and to thank them for their service when the client can’t.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

'AIDA' is a good process to follow when recruiting volunteers

Using 'AIDA' to recruit

There is a simple acronym that marketing people use—AIDA—that can help you recruit volunteers.

AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire and action. This is the four-step process that everyone goes through before a purchase—or any other decision.

My marketing guru friend, Patty, uses this analogy. Think about walking in a grocery store. You cut down the cereal aisle and you notice a particular brand (it’s got a bright red box). You may or may not be actually looking for cereal, but this one grabs your attention.

You pick up the box and read that it’s sugar-free but still delicious. Hey, that’d be nice. Now you’re interested.

You read the ingredients and other info and realize it gets its deliciousness from real raspberries – your favourite. A desire to try it grows in you.

Whether you were originally looking for cereal or not, you take action by putting the box in your cart.

Cycle complete. Attention. Interest. Desire. Action.

When buying a box of cereal, this process may only take a few seconds but the exact same process is gone through when making any purchase, even buying a house. It also works for things that don’t actually involve money.

Let’s look at it from a volunteer recruitment perspective, from the point of view of a prospective volunteer – me!

Attention—Understand, there is no way I’ll volunteer for you if I don’t know you exist. Pretty basic. I need to know you’re out there. This is where your organization’s community awareness strategy comes into play, just like the bright red cereal box on the grocery shelf. The more people who notice you, the easier it is to find volunteers (and donors, clients and other stakeholders). Spend some time thinking about what you can do to raise your organization’s profile in your community.

Interest—Once you have my attention, you want to interest me in what you do. On your website, in general conversation, on social media and in any other way that you can think of, tell me – and everyone else – about the wonderful ways that you are making a difference in our community. Tell stories about the clients you’ve helped, the beaches you’ve cleaned. The impact that you’re making.

Desire—Now that I see what amazing work you’re doing, I’m starting to wonder how I can get involved. Again, on your website and other platforms, talk about what volunteers do for the organization and what a difference they make. Show how easy it is to volunteer, and list the benefits that would come to me by volunteering with you. Tell about how much fun the volunteers have, and what a great social community I could be part of. Make it easy for me to see myself in one of your volunteer roles. I want to help your cause! I want to be part of your team.

Action—Now all you need to do is make it easy for me to sign up. The simpler and more convenient it is to apply, the more likely it is that I will. You have caught my attention, excited my interest and stirred my desire. All that’s left is to have me take action. Don’t make me jump through hoops at this point. Make it as easy as dropping a cereal box in my grocery cart, or clicking a button that takes me directly to an application form. The interviews, security checks and all of that can come afterward. By then, I’ll be hooked. Don’t make me phone someone, or print a form and upload it, or anything else that takes extra work.

As a leader in charge of recruiting volunteers, you are a marketer. If you think about the recruitment process the same as you would retail marketing, you will find that the same techniques work just as well to find volunteers.

As my friend Patty says, you don’t need to sell people anything, you just need to make it easy for them to buy, or in this case, volunteer.

Using the AIDA process will do that for you. Good luck.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Ways to help volunteers become more resilient

Building resilient volunteers

If you google “resilient volunteers”, you will get thousands of articles, blogs, videos, etc on how volunteering can help build resilience in individuals and communities. It won’t give you much at all on how to build resilience in volunteers.

Many roles we ask volunteers to perform are emotionally draining or outright traumatic. Helping dying patients in a hospice or talking to people on a suicide hotline are just two of thousands of examples. And that’s in addition to the regular stressors of life.

Volunteers are at risk of breaking down or burning out. It’s our responsibility as leaders to build resilience in the volunteers who help us so that that doesn’t happen.

Here are a few ways you can do that.

Keep the volunteer team connected

Being connected to a community with similar interests and goals keeps us strong. Even if volunteers are working remotely, create opportunities for them to share time together, in person or online. Virtual coffee get-togethers or in-person training are good ways to allow volunteers to interact with each other. This way they can build a community of friends that can support them when things are tough.

Focus on progress

When, every shift, a volunteer deals with abused children or other distressing situations, it may start to seem like nothing will ever change. Make a point of showing the good that they do. Point to children who have come through your program that are now leading happy, healthy lives because of them. They may not be able to stop all abuse, but show that their volunteering does make a difference.


Knowledge and understanding are key to having resilient volunteers. Warn volunteers of upcoming changes and explain why those changes are happening. Educate them on the signs of burnout and how to care for themselves and each other if they see those signs appearing. Explain that feelings of frustration and despair are to be expected in your sector, and they are not alone. The more you communicate, the more resilient they will become.

Create a support group

Especially in sectors where volunteers are working in highly-traumatic situations, having people to talk with who are going through the same thing can be vital. Set up an in-person or virtual meeting on a regular basis where volunteers can share the distressing scenarios of their shifts and get support and comfort from those who have been there. Longer term volunteers may have suggestions for self-care tools or routines that helped them.

Educate yourself

To effectively assist your team, you need to be aware of the warning signs of burnout and compassion fatigue, methods of prevention, and different ways to handle it when it appears. Study the resources out there. Train yourself in spotting the symptoms. Determine which prevention methods, like the ones above, would work to create resilient volunteers in your program.

Finally, advocate

Educate your executive director and board members on the risks, and encourage them to support—financially and otherwise—your plans to mitigate those risks. There is much that you can do on your own, but more that can be done with the backing of senior staff and the board.

Resilient volunteers should be a goal of every not-for-profit leader

Resilient volunteers are the core of a strong volunteer program. A strong volunteer program equals steady progress toward your organization’s vision. Taking the time to build resilience in volunteers, therefore, will make your entire mission more successful, not to mention making everyone happier.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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