My first ‘official’ foray into the charitable sector was a series of job interviews for corporate partnership positions. At each of these I was asked about how I would handle corporate volunteering requests.
Responding that I would manage partners’ expectations sensitively, while trying to divert the potential partner towards a cash donation, I realised there was something of a trend. A few months into my role at Battersea and after responding to yet another request for ‘a wall to paint’, I realised that this wasn’t so much a trend as a flood.
The relatively new desire of corporates to demonstrate their CSR credentials by offering a day or two of volunteering has resulted in the majority of charities receiving a deluge of corporate volunteering inquiries. A few weeks ago someone on the IoF corporate fundraising forum was requesting ideas for 65 volunteers who were landing at their hospice for a day of corporate volunteering.
Communicating to corporates who want to make a tangible difference that we don’t actually have anything that needs painting or repairing can be difficult. Their generosity and support is welcome, but interacting with beneficiaries requires training and sensitivity (even those of the animal kind) and most building work needs to be done by professionals.
Here at Battersea we have developed a series of alternative ideas and projects that try to meet some of our partners’ needs without intruding upon our operational staff and their activities. First, we try to establish why they want to volunteer and what their team is looking for. Then we see how else we might engage with them. Some of the ideas that have worked include:
• A calendar of one day corporate fundraising challenges. This is a series of creative and fun ideas with a seasonal theme that corporates can use to instigate their own day of fundraising. Not everyone can commit to this, but we have had success and raised approximately £5,000 off the back of two of these days.
• Office-based projects that can be delivered in one day. Asking for an overview of your prospects’ skills and experience can trigger some great ideas of projects that could benefit from some external expertise.
• The collection box drop day. A team of volunteers gather up as many boxes as possible and deliver them to local businesses. Those with a competitive streak could turn this into a sponsored competition.
• Event volunteering. Some of our best event volunteers are from corporates. They are skilled in dealing with members of the public, happy to get wet, dirty and stand around all day at an event or shake a tin. It can make a huge difference to the success of these events and help prevent staff burn-out.
• Charge for the volunteering. This can be a tough sell but if you have a boardroom or some space they can also use for meetings then the morning can be spent volunteering and team building, with the afternoon set aside for a meeting. Bear in mind that hiring a meeting room in central London costs at least £800, so working with a charity can actually be a bit of a bargain.
You may not be able to turn the request to repair something into a day spent fundraising, and it may be impossible to find suitable projects, but it’s worth trying. The offer is genuine and most corporates actually want to help and ultimately it’s a great way to engage them. Many of Battersea’s best donors have started a relationship with the Home after experiencing the passion and enthusiasm of the team here – sometimes without even walking a dog or cuddling a cat.