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Ways to Cultivate Volunteerism in Your Business During the Next Phases of COVID-19

Katie Zwetzig
Katie Zwetzig

Involving your employees in volunteer efforts is a good way to build employee engagement and your brand while serving the community.

It is a goal of many businesses to give back and do more for the community through corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs or initiatives. Although the unimaginable outbreak and impact of the coronavirus pandemic has directly caught our beloved small businesses in its wake, many still seek to graciously support their local communities and help those in need. If there has ever been a time for volunteerism – both hands-on and online – to thrive in local communities across the United States, it is now.

As our emergence from the pandemic evolves amid an increasingly socially conscious world, there is a renewed desire to make a difference. There are several ways volunteers can get involved, particularly via virtual engagement opportunities. Let's explore the topic, considering that some nonprofits may be open and operating but people still have individual preferences and comfort levels for social distancing.

Here are four ways small businesses can support volunteer efforts and come together to show their perseverance emerging from COVID-19.

1. Empower employees to make a difference.

As a business leader, you can keep your employees engaged by making volunteer opportunities available and providing a social outlet at the same time. In fact, volunteers looking for ways to give back can make a big difference for nonprofit organizations. The Sterling Volunteers 2020 Industry Insights: How Volunteer and Organization Perspectives Align report shows that 81% of volunteers do it to make a difference in their community and to be social. That is unlikely to change after the pandemic.

Give thought to your company mission and the impact your business wants to make in serving your community. This will influence the cadence of volunteer activities and your reach in the areas that need it most. Make one-on-one inquiries or conduct a quick employee survey to learn more about causes that are near and dear to your employees' hearts, and then develop a plan to rotate volunteering for a different cause – perhaps each month or quarter as appropriate. You could make an impact on both a local and national level depending on the employee input you receive.

2. Make volunteering accessible and opportunities diverse.

The key is to make volunteering accessible amongst a diverse set of volunteer opportunities. Be sure to address the varying comfort levels and circumstances of your team. Whether a volunteer event will be in a nonprofit's space or yours, ensure the area is comfortable, clean, and in accordance with established CDC guidelines for phased directives. Share with the volunteers how you are keeping them safe, and provide an orientation on their responsibilities in keeping others safe. You might consider how COVID-19 testing, background screening, and identity verification fit with your policies and procedures and an organization's requirements. Creating a safe environment is an important step to ensure volunteers and other staff feel secure with being part of the opportunity to help.

Offer volunteer-from-home opportunities that can be done on an employee's own time. Support such as making masks, writing notes to those who are isolated, giving acknowledgments by phone or email, and organizing food drives can serve many – including the elderly in need of critical supplies and emotional support. Additionally, virtual volunteering requests to fill gaps in mentoring and connecting with youth can assist with remote learning and caring for kids who are home for summer.

3. Make it fun.

Balancing the desire for impact with the social aspect is key, as noted among 54% of volunteers in Sterling's research. Particularly in our current landscape and work-from-home scenarios, making it fun is a challenge worth taking on. This could be a great opportunity, since people are eager for connection yet still want to respect others' views and circumstances with regard to social distancing. By looking for ways to make it fun, you can offer options that enable employees to make a difference while also connecting as a team.

You could schedule Zoom get-togethers to write notes of thanks and social media posts. Even using Zoom while doing these tasks individually can be effective. As some examples, think about how Peloton allows you to join a friend for a yoga class, or Google chat rooms where people can do projects together like a sewing circle. Drive-by appreciation and check-ins as well as daily or weekly meal deliveries can lift the recipient's spirits alongside the giver's. Consider in-person get-togethers – many people are now ready for some face-to-face time – which could, for instance, include writing notes to residents at a local assisted living home, with your team members gathered 6 feet apart on portable lawn chairs. There are plenty of ways to keep it safe and fun while social distancing outdoors in backyards, parks, or even parking lots.

4. Connect it all together.

Make sure your volunteers feel connected, valued, and tied to the mission of your company and (ideally) the nonprofit you are serving. Both the nonprofit organization and your business should have a strategy to keep volunteers engaged. Keep communication channels open. Checking in now is more important than ever, so you'll want to do this in a group or individual setting. Use social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn to connect your volunteers. If you have permission, share pictures of them in action, helping others, or with the items they helped to produce (such as masks, blankets and crafts), remembering to be sensitive about the current climate and those that may be impacted.

Remember that volunteers appreciate thank-you notes even more than gifts. Ultimately, volunteers want to feel connected. Reflect on how to link their volunteer work to your mission and measure outcomes. You will want to highlight their service by recognizing individuals and teams and showcase the impact it has had on your company. You might create a webpage on your company site to show the meaningful work your company and employees are passionate about. Tell about the efforts, share images and videos, and include testimonials from those impacted as well as from engaged volunteers.

Benefits of nurturing volunteerism

The benefits of creating volunteer opportunities for businesses of all sizes and their employees are boundless. Notably, businesses see increased employee engagement, especially if the volunteering employees didn't interact much before giving service together. Participants often feel a sense of accomplishment and personal growth from the experience, which instills a positive association.

Finding ways to build your company brand is especially critical in this time of emerging from COVID-19. Volunteer employees help with advocacy and building the narrative around your community impact and service. An authentic approach will amplify these benefits. Finally, cultivating volunteerism will seed new employee recruiting efforts and help you further position your brand in a positive light.

The impact of the pandemic is profound. All community members, including employers and employees (or furloughed staff and even  workers who were let go), will benefit from staying active by immersing themselves in volunteer opportunities. Even during challenging times, small businesses can play a large part in advancing volunteerism, simply by bringing people together at a time when it is needed most. Uniting for a cause will rise above all and always make a difference for the greater good.  

Sterling Volunteers

Sterling Volunteers is dedicated to the nonprofit and service sector, helping organizations fulfill their service missions and positively impact communities. We represent the largest network of vetted volunteers, millions of people ready to mobilize when opportunities arise, helping simplify the volunteer recruitment process. Sterling Volunteers is a division of Sterling, a leading provider of background and identity services, which offers a foundation of trust and safety that spans across industries, professions, and borders.

Image Credit: dragana991 / Getty Images
Katie Zwetzig
Katie Zwetzig Member
A dedicated volunteer, honored to sit on several nonprofit boards and committees in Northern Colorado over the years, Katie is excited to lead the innovative transformation Sterling Volunteers is bringing to the nonprofit and volunteer industry. Katie is an influential thought leader having founded her own background screening company, Tandem Select, and been at the forefront of the screening industry for 15 years. She is based in Ft. Collins, Colorado where she lives with her husband and 3 daughters. Katie holds an MA in Marketing from Colorado State University and a BA in Finance and Marketing from The University of Colorado.