Best practices for virtual volunteering to keep your people connected in crisis

Volunteering is the most popular way a company engages its people in purpose. It’s not surprising given the ever-growing body of evidence that volunteering boosts employee pride, decreases employee turnover, increases team connection, assists in developing soft skills (like leadership and communication skills, which can lead to promotions!) and boosts employee health. Not to mention the tangible benefits volunteerism brings to the nonprofits — who rely on the time and skills of people in their communities.

As COVID-19 has reached pandemic levels and social distancing has become one of the best defenses against the spread of the virus, corporate volunteer leaders have found themselves searching for new ways to support their people in finding a sense of purpose, connection and impact.

It may no longer be about getting together in large groups for big team-building events or volunteering at a local shelter. Instead, it’s starting to be more about building a sense of togetherness and connection by engaging in “acts of Goodness” that may include remote or virtual volunteer opportunities, and other non-traditional ways of giving back.

At Benevity, we have the privilege of seeing first-hand what some of the world’s most iconic brands are doing when it comes to volunteering in a world where close personal contact is not always possible.

Here are some ideas for re-imagining your program so that you can continue to offer your people (and your communities) all the benefits that flow from volunteering.

Consider acts of goodness as volunteering

Volunteering in our daily lives can look like small acts of kindness — and they aren’t always tied to a specific cause. For example:

  • Donating blood.
  • Collecting food donations from doorsteps and delivering them to food banks.
  • Coordinating a virtual book reading, exercise or entertainment hour for children (to help out parents who may not have childcare).
  • Purchasing arts and craft supplies for parents who may need them while they are homeschooling their children.
  • Taking part in digital support groups for causes that matter to you.
  • Joining an adopt-a-senior Facebook group.
  • Supporting small businesses in your community (if you can).
  • Checking on elderly neighbors and offering to run errands or grab groceries.

Volunteer program pro-tip: Consider expanding the definition of volunteering for your program and allowing your employees to track time they spend doing good for others and their communities. Remove the need to associate volunteer time tracking with a registered nonprofit and reward this activity in the same way you would traditional volunteering.

Reward volunteers for their time – no matter how long or short!

Many corporate volunteer programs offer rewards – like dollars for doers — as a way of recognizing their people’s contributions (and providing them with financial incentives that they can then direct to a cause of their choice).

Did you know? Volunteers are donors too! Among employees who volunteer, 72% also donate money through their workplace giving programs, according to Benevity client data. And when they do, they give twice as much those who don’t volunteer.

When you expand your definition of volunteering to include acts of goodness (see above!), you may need to re-think how you reward your volunteers.

Since some of these activities are shorter in duration and some people can only give minutes, not hours, consider allowing volunteers to track time in smaller blocks and still be rewarded.

It tells your people that every minute of their time counts and allows them to earn and accumulate rewards that can turn into financial support for the cause they volunteer with, or other causes they care about.

With Benevity’s software, Spark, volunteer rewards are deposited into the employee’s Giving Account and can only be donated to eligible, registered organizations. If you’re a Benevity client, contact your Benevity Client Success Manager to discuss reward configurations.

Feature remote volunteering front and center

In a time like this, making it easy for your people to find ways to volunteer is an act of kindness in itself! So, think about ways you can feature virtual volunteering in your program. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Check your Featured Content to make sure that you are promoting remote and virtual volunteer opportunities until things change and social distancing becomes a thing of the past.
  • If you have demographic data in your program software, you can get hyper relevant by targeting content to your people in a specific office, city, country, or in a particular department with content that may be more suited to them.
  • In Spark, you can add an event descriptor to any new virtual volunteer opportunity that you (or your partner causes) publish. COVID-19 Relief (or something similar) is a good descriptor. Follow it with #remote so that your people can easily identify virtual opportunities as they scan the page. Use this descriptor in a Quick Filter to allow your employees to quickly find remote opportunities within their search results.
    You can also link to this Quick Filter from Cover Story to make it easier for your people to discover ways they can virtually give back.

Offer more (relevant) choice

One of the biggest challenges in running corporate volunteer programs is getting enough content for your people to find something resonant, relevant and relatively easy for them to get involved in. There’s a few ways you can increase the breadth of volunteer opportunities in your program without increasing your work!

  • Allow your cause partners to publish content directly to your giving and volunteering program site. You probably have some nonprofits you have deep partnerships with. Some software platforms, like Spark, provide your partners with special access to your program so that they can publish volunteer opportunities directly into your site.
  • Use Spark’s “Share Keys” to allow your cause partners to publish content directly into your program so your employees have access to events that are made just for them! Remind them to include #remote and #virtual as keywords on their cause profiles and in events so that the opportunities appear in filtered search results for remote volunteering opportunities.
  • If you have a large employee base in the U.S., consider adding the millions of volunteer opportunities VolunteerMatch has to offer to bring more remote and virtual options to your people.
  • Check out this list of virtual opportunities from Points of Light, or this list from Thrive Global.

Benevity and VolunteerMatch have partnered to bring you more than 7.5 million volunteer opportunities in Spark. Contact Benevity or your Client Success Manager to learn more.

Lean on your local champions

If you run a program that spans multiple cities – or even multiple countries — program ambassadors can help you by identifying and creating local opportunities with local organizations. They can even help change in-person events to virtual ones.

Encourage your ambassadors to reach out to local causes to find out whether there are ways you can match the specific skills and experience of your employees with virtual volunteering opportunities.

Publish your own remote opportunities
Sometimes you just want to make sure it’s perfect. So, feel free to leverage this bundle of resources and templates we’ve created for you to publish and promote various kinds of remote opportunities (and not just volunteering!) for your people.

  • Remote Volunteering & Acts of Goodness Templates 
    This package contains resources for you to promote volunteering in several different ways in the context of the current social-distancing situation. It includes remote volunteering templates, skills-based volunteer templates and an acts of Goodness template.
  • Giving Kit: Help Stop the Spread of COVID-19
    This bundle includes some content for you to publish a giving opportunity to support the global healthcare response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Care For Our Communities During the COVID-19 Outbreak
    This bundle includes locally relevant content suggestions on the types of regional community organizations that you can promote – these organizations need your help more than ever during this unprecedented situation.
  • COVID-19 Awareness and Action Content
    Here are some key actions and awareness points that you can use to promote general awareness to your people around the situation: tips for protecting yourself and others, using social media consciously, preparing your home, maintaining a healthy mindset, supporting the people in your community, and working from home.

Create a way for employees to share other ways to do good

Different organizations will have different needs, so it’s beneficial to have a way for your people to share what help may be needed in their local communities. Encourage your people to share what they know via the internal instant messaging/online collaboration channel or platform your company uses.

Benevity is working with our global cause community to create even more virtual volunteer opportunities in the Benevity Causes Portal, so that they can be published directly to your site. We’ve asked them to tag them with #remote so that your people can easily find them in their volunteering search results. Contact your Client Success Manager to make sure you have access to cause-created content in your Spark site! 

Still looking for inspiration?

Find out what your CSR and Social Impact peers are doing, and how you can support each other through the COVID-19 discussion thread on Benevity’s online community, B-Hive.

WeAreWe Covid