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Managing great corporate expectations

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.

  • Lee Willows

    Loved reading Leon’s blog and I think he presents a well-balanced view; particularly interesting and timely for an organisation like Trailblazers (www.trailblazersmentoring.org.uk). We mentor young offenders (18 – 21 years) six months prior to release from custody and continue that relationship for up to nine months in the community. The mentoring is undertaken by volunteer adult mentors whom give on average, an astonishing ten hours per month to their individual mentee. The combined commitment of both the volunteer mentor and the mentee over what is often a twelve month period is incredibly powerful and often results in a successful resettlement. The re-conviction rate for Trailblazers mentee’s during 2011 was only 9%.

    So what does this have to do with paying trustees?

    Firstly being an organisation with well over 100 volunteer mentors, many of whom have been with us for several years we absolutely believe it would be most unfair to pay trustees in the main. What is the difference between paying a ‘well-connected and experienced’ volunteer trustee whom can help you push your charity forward, verses paying an ‘incredibly well qualified and experienced’ volunteer mentor whom can change an individual young person’s life. Kevin Curley’s comment to David Ainsworth’s blog is very true, good charities will attract good trustees whom do not need to be remunerated.

    However as an organisation who is working with NCVYS and Young Charity Trustee’s, we have just completed a Twitter campaign as we are seeking a young trustee to join our board. We have purposely targeted young people outside of Trailblazers predominantly and did encourage those with an offending background to apply. Though we advertised this as a voluntary post, depending on the personal circumstances of the individual whom we appoint we would be more than happy to pay the individual an attendance allowance or similar. Charities should absolutely have at least one trustee that is of similar background to the beneficiary group that the charity supports. If that happens to be young offenders, young homeless people or young unemployed people, having one such person on the board and potentially paying an allowance so they can participate is a critical foundation stone to that organisations success.

    • Leon Ward

      That’s very useful thank you Lee. Charities like yours that work with particularly vulnerable young people really need to think carefully about offering an allowance to ensure participation from the young people you work with – you’re right it is a foundation to their success. It means better decision making, fulfills diversity requirements but also means you get to tap into unused and specialised talent. Also, we never know what your young people may blossom into, in the future and it’s always a useful tool to keep strong links with your alumni. Supporting them through difficult times will strengthen that bond.

      We should remember that this a trial and error process. If it doesn’t work then you make the next post unremunerated. Congratulations on your open minded approach and good luck for the future.

  • Grahame Darnell

    This is interesting but the one thing that is really big is skills-based volunteering. Large numbers of companies, particularly in the services sector, are looking for these opportunities rather than painting the walls or doing a challenge. I’d suggest that any charity faced with a volunteering conundrum needs to consider how it can offer these kinds opportunities. Think laterally and talk to colleagues about your needs in HR, IT, Finance etc. An obvious example is bringing some highly skilled volunteers in to advise on an IT project. In so doing you save some project management costs, get a top level service and build the relationship with the company. Working in this way involves some internal legwork upfront but it is is more strategic and ultimately more rewarding for all concerned.

  • Sam Broderick

    A word of caution on the collection box front, which I think is a very good idea if managed properly. However, if it’s not, it becomes a one-day thing for the corporate employees, and the charity is then left with lots of ‘orphaned’ boxes in local businesses. Since local business staff have much better things to do with their time than count and bank coppers, this means that either the boxes never get emptied or a member of charity staff has to take time out of their day to go collect, empty and count collection boxes. As someone who’s recently had the back-breaking experience of carrying full collection boxes around the city, I can say that this definitely isn’t much fun, especially when the yield ends up being about £30 per collection box.

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