Guide to Virtual Volunteering: How to attract and encourage in your organization

In this episode, we discuss virtual volunteering ideas and how to encourage online volunteering in your organizations. We explore creating virtual volunteering programs, the importance of workplace champions and employee resource groups, and the role of company leader. We also discuss how businesses connect with organizations that need volunteers and recognizing stand-out virtual volunteers.

This is part 2 of our two-part series discussing virtual volunteering.

Watch or listen to part 1: The rise of Virtual Volunteering: Top ideas and opportunities to get involved

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What we discussed:

Karl Yeh:

So, today I'm joined by Susan Keith Bleekman with Benevity and this is part two of our series on virtual volunteering, and we're going to be discussing how to actually attract and encourage virtual volunteering in your organization.

So, Susan, in our last episode we talked about what is virtual volunteering and all the reasons why it's important. [00:01:00]

How do we go about encouraging or setting up virtual volunteering programs in our businesses?

How to attract and encourage virtual volunteering in your organization

Susan Keith Bleekman:

Such a great question, and there are so many tactics actually to kind of unpack here, so let me see where might be the best place to start. I think really there are two key aspects, and then I'll focus on some smaller tangents from that.

1. Get organizational support

First, you're going to want to sit down with your [00:01:30] organization and make sure that you have that support.

That support to, as we had talked about earlier, expand that definition of what it means to have impact, so that people aren't fixated on sort of a traditional volunteering means this, but the fact that you can do a lot.

Part of that organization support really starts from all of the key teams in your organizations, because what we're finding with these virtual volunteer activities [00:02:00] is they drive a lot of business initiatives, in addition to helping out in the world and helping things with your causes.

So, I would say first to sort of sit down with your other teammates and stakeholders, sit down with the head of HR and talk about the talent retention and talent acquisition programs that are going on, the diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging goals of the company, [00:02:30] the sustainability.

What are the things that the C-suite is focused on right now?

And how can you create these virtual volunteer opportunities that actually expand your program and help to drive those key initiatives?

One of the things that I've seen people do really successful, because for some people, their senior executives are onboard, they love the new ideas and they're ready to go.

For others, it [00:03:00] might be a little bit scary or you're wanting me to do what?

So in those cases, I would also say don't be afraid to pitch some things as a pilot.

Say, "These are some key initiatives that we're looking to do.

I think we can engage a lot more people if we do some of these virtual volunteer activities that are going to help them learn, gain awareness and work in this hybrid force."

If you have a global organization, you need to be hitting on that [00:03:30] key of inclusion.

If you have only invited a portion of your company back to the offices or people are doing Monday through Wednesday, and Tuesday, Thursday for other folks, again, sort of position this as a way of, hey, we're all entering a new workforce, let's redo the way we do volunteering.

So, I think that's the first thing that's really key.

2. Create experiences

The second thing on virtual volunteering to make it successful is you want to focus on creating [00:04:00] experiences.

So, you need to build these opportunities in a way that for your employees, does it have it feel like I'm virtual and by myself and I did something 30 minutes outside of here, and it's not connected with anything else?

You want to let employees become the storytellers of these activities that they're doing.

So, how can you create an opportunity for them to share their stories with one another [00:04:30] and sort of encourage and empower that, because that's actually going to motivate others and it's going to drive further participation.

So I like to say, as think about that magic sauce when you volunteer and how can I bottle that up in this digital world to create that same thing? [00:05:00]

So if you have Slack, start a Slack channel that's the latest virtual volunteer activity, encourage people to capture photos when they're out and upload those to share.

Think of if you're having a town hall, get that CEO involved in sharing what people are doing, spotlight then.

So that's the other thing that I think that's really key is ... or compile video clips of all the things that people have done around a theme and share that at some of these key events.

You [00:05:30] also want to do things like offer fun contests and rewards that are going to get people excited.

So, think about your organization and your C-suite and the strategic business goals and what you're trying to accomplish for causes, and then really focus on the individuals, your employees, and how do you make this engaging and exciting for them.



Karl Yeh:

When you talk about encouraging or starting a program, is it similar to workplace giving programs [00:06:00] where you're identifying those key people who are more likely to volunteer or more likely to lead people to volunteer? Is that usually how you start?

Start virtual volunteering programs by identifying workplace champions

Susan Keith Bleekman:

Karl, you always ask the best questions.

When I mentioned that I had some tactics, you were in my head.

So again, when I was thinking of the level of the organization and the employee, then you are spot on.

That is exactly what you want to do.

In every organization [00:06:30] you have champions.

So for some folks, they might have that formal ambassador program, right?

If you have that, that's the first place you're going to want to go. Go to those ambassadors, find out what they think would be exciting.

If you don't have, look for those champions.

You and I have talked a little bit about how you can look at your program data to help point you in that direction.

Who's doing some innovative things? [00:07:00] What are the causes and experiences that are encouraging people?

The other part is engaging.

Engage your Employee Resource Groups

If you have an employee resource group, oh my gosh, that is the best place to go, because that is already an energized group of people.

They're already doing activities, they've already identified things and now you're coming to them and you're not only going to get their ideas, but you're unleashing this opportunity [00:07:30] for them to expand what they're doing to the rest of the organization.

So I have found that when people go to those already defined teams, they are blown away by the creativity and this gold that is just sitting there for them.

Karl Yeh:

What is the role of company leadership in setting up virtual volunteering programs? Do you need their participation to show everybody [00:08:00] that this is something that is important to the business?

Or is it more grassroots and eventually we can include leadership into it?

What is the role of company leadership when developing virtual volunteering programs?

Susan Keith Bleekman:

It can definitely be both, but it is so powerful when you can get that senior executive who participates.

I was just sharing with you ideas of how you kind of want to capture this new digital world.

And you want to find ways to express that [00:08:30] experience that I did outside that you weren't a part of with me, but I want to bring it home.

Imagine how powerful it is when you have a CEO who's a part of that video clip or who sets up a friendly competition to say, "This month I'm going to give X amount of hours and virtually volunteer for this cause, and I challenge you to do X, Y, Z." That's [00:09:00] phenomenal.

The grassroots part though is really crucial as well, because you want to be tapping in to those passions that already exist, and you want to get those ideas bubbled up so it doesn't feel top down.

So it's almost like you have the grassroots of where [inaudible 00:09:18] things that we really should do, and then marry that with the C-suite support and their enthusiasm.

When they can see how tied in those are to [00:09:30] the strategic imperatives of the company, that's when you've really hit the secret sauce.

Karl Yeh:

So Susan, when we talk about virtual volunteering,

How does businesses connect with the causes that may need those virtual volunteers?

Susan Keith Bleekman:

Yeah, in addition to going internally, I mentioned kind of the teams and your built-in champions and ERG and those who are already really active, [00:10:00] look at your key causes that you're working with, or even just those that are in your neighborhood.

Again, going back to that program data, where has your company already been involved with?

I recently had a conversation with a cause and I was actually really surprised.

When I asked them what do you need?

How do you want companies to engage with you?

The first 10 things that [00:10:30] they shared were all virtual volunteer opportunities, and I hadn't even asked about virtual volunteering.

So they're like, "You know what? We need somebody who knows Salesforce and can help us with our contact management.

We have this administrative need, this IT need, we need a finance person who can help us run some of this analysis that we're looking to do." So, the first thing that [00:11:00] I was just really surprised at.

So your causes are an absolutely great source of inspiration, of ideas, of how it's going to be meaningful, impactful for them, and then you're tied in.

So yeah, start with the key ones that you work with and then expand out a little bit and you're going to find some great ideas.

So Susan, let's say you do have a program that's well-run and then there's a lot of participation,

how would you go about recognizing some of those stand out volunteers that have put in a lot of time into some of these causes?

That it's nice to give a little bit of recognition.

How to recognize your stand-out virtual volunteers?

Susan Keith Bleekman:

Absolutely, absolutely.

I think for [00:12:00] a program manager, someone who runs the program, giving that recognition is one of the most rewarding parts of the job, right?

So, there are several ways.

First and foremost, you want to spotlight those people.

Spotlight your volunteers

So when we were talking about even capturing photos or video clips, or what is the role of your senior executive, there is nothing more powerful than if you're having a town hall meeting and the CEO [00:12:30] actually recognizes those people who've been leading.

In your own solution as well, there's opportunities for you to promote those people in the dashboard.

Put them in charge of helping to create the next opportunities.

What do they want? Then of course, there's always other incentives.

Seed accounts

We talk about at Benevity a lot about seeding accounts.

So if I've [00:13:00] done something really great, giving me $25 for me to then give to a cause that I care about, or something that we do at Benevity a lot that I think is so fun is recognize sort of some key leaders, but anyone who's participated, maybe you put together a drawing.

Create internal lotteries/draws

So for however many times I've participated in a particular key strategic initiative, I get my [00:13:30] name in a drawing.

One of those is going to be a larger dollar amount, right?

Like $1,000 seeded to my account. Then everybody is looking to see was I that one?

So you can get really creative where you don't have to have a large budget, but you can build in this fund. So I think it's key to be spotlighting those great champions, getting really creative with the type of rewards that you do.

Then again, giving them more [00:14:00] ways to give back is also super helpful.

Karl Yeh:

So Susan, do you have anything else to add in terms of encouraging virtual volunteers or even just setting up virtual volunteering programs in businesses?

Susan Keith Bleekman:

Oh my gosh, that's such a great question.

I am sure that I do have more, but I'm not sure how much more time we have. I would just say that I gain inspiration on the type of programs in [00:14:30] looking what are our clients have done.

Atlassian is a global technology company and they do these good happy hours, and so that was kind of the way that they launched in to virtual volunteering.

It was a way where they could bring together the employees and the causes that they cared about, and have the causes directly tell the employees, here's what we need, here's how you could really help us.

They found that they learned so much from that and it drove [00:15:00] participation and engagement, and it kind of just had wings of its own.

Ciena, another client, they just really embraced virtual volunteering, and they had some fantastic senior executives who allowed them to pivot really quickly and sort of enabled this idea of a something else category, right?



It wasn't that traditional volunteer, and that was [00:15:30] these small acts of kindness. They grew. 367% of their volunteer rewards were recognized after they made this expansion.

Question of the day

How have you encouraged your employees [00:11:30] to engage in virtual volunteer activities? What are some of the tips and strategies?

Connect with Susan Keith Bleekman