A Look Back: A year of Corporate Virtual Volunteering
Lenovo is a valued member of Activate Good’s Triangle Corporate Volunteer Council (CVC). Lenovo’s guest blog is part of our CVC’s calendar of events and a follow-up to the group’s May 6, 2021, meeting titled “A Look Back: A Year of Corporate Virtual Volunteering.” With Libby Richards at the helm, the group’s discussion covered how companies pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic and how those strategies had an impact, causing lasting effects on how companies engage communities and their employees in volunteering. To learn more about Activate Good’s CVC member benefits and how to join us, please visit activategood.org/corporate/council.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit organizations have stepped up to serve the community in big new ways. Staff at many corporations, including global technology company, Lenovo, still wanted to lend a hand. However, social distancing made “typical” in-person volunteering difficult. In an effort to give back, Lenovo staff created corporate virtual volunteering opportunities to provide needed services in the community and engage staff in meaningful ways. After more than 15 months of honing our virtual service activities, our philanthropy team created the list of best practices. The response we’ve received from staff about our virtual volunteer projects has been so positive that we will continue to offer virtual options in the future, even when staff can be together in-person.
10 Corporate Virtual Volunteering Best Practices:
Determine your Focus
When planning, determine what your team would like to accomplish through a virtual volunteer activity. Does your company have a goal they would like to achieve when serving the community? For Lenovo, we focus our efforts on empowering diverse populations for STEM education and access to technology. Additionally, volunteer activities are often structured to not only serve the community, but to build team camaraderie. Should the activity include team building aspects? Volunteer activities can also help inform and education your staff. Do you want staff to come away with a better understanding of the community needs?
Create a planning team
A small planning team can help create buy-in from staff and share the planning responsibilities. If the virtual activity will be live online, determine who will “host” the event. Designate a backup in case of connection issues. Other responsibilities might include monitoring the chat or Q&A feature, taking screenshots throughout, and sharing live updates on social media.
Set a budget
Like in-person events, virtual activities often have associated costs to either the sponsoring company or the nonprofit you are serving. Calculate and account for any material fees may be incurred by the volunteers or partner organization.
Consider donating to the organization you’re serving to offset their administrative costs associated with planning the activity. Just because you are volunteering, doesn’t mean there isn’t an underlying cost to the organization you are supporting.
Other costs might include incentivizing or thanking volunteers. If the activity takes place during lunch, consider sending the participants a voucher for a meal delivery service. Advertise that prizes will be given for those who sign up and “virtually” participate. Don’t forget to budget for shipping costs!
Find a partner
Once you’ve determined what kind of impact you’d like to make, find a community organization that has needs that match your team’s goals and skill sets. Reach out to past community partners to ask if they would be interested in helping develop a virtual volunteer experience. Or, consider surveying your staff to see where they have volunteered in the past. If you don’t have pre-existing relationships with community groups or you are looking to expand the list of nonprofits you serve, Activate Good can help to pair you with an organization.
This is where your planning team and your nonprofit partner can really get creative!
Think about what motivates your team. Does your group want to share their professional skill set, or should the activity be an opportunity for staff to “unplug” from their day-to-day and give back in a different way? Does your team crave one-on-one interactions, or would they rather work together as a large group?
Talk to your partner about what their current needs are. Be mindful: volunteer engagement takes coordination on the part of the nonprofit as well. Make sure the volunteer project is helpful to the organization and not a strain on resources.
Of course, don’t forget to nail down your logistics, such as the number of team members needed, the date, time, length of the activity, and the format. A benefit of virtual activities is that staff in different locations can participate. If a group meeting is needed or the activity is going to be done at the same time, be sure to consider time-zone differences. Record meetings with instructions in case volunteers can’t attend “live.”
Create an agenda and “run of show” for the activity. If the activity is multi-day or is to be completed on the volunteers’ own time, provide time estimates so they can appropriately schedule their participation.
Over-communicate with volunteers
Because virtual volunteering may look different from how staff have given back in the past, you’ll likely want to be very clear in communication of what the activity will entail. Provide “what to expect” descriptions in your sign-up materials through emails and your website. Recruitment emails from leadership may put staff at-ease, showing that your leadership encourages staff to take time away from work to give back.
Once staff have signed up, send a follow-message and calendar invite (when appropriate). Send a reminder the week of the activity, and re-emphasize what’s going to happen plus any materials needed to prepare.
Don’t forget to send a thank you message after the activity is complete. Include photos or recordings if possible.
Staff may be burnt out from conference calls. A virtual volunteer activity should feel different from their day-to-day duties. Find ways to incorporate a team building activity. Consider giving away prizes for participation during the event or through use of the chat feature or social media.
The session should also be informative. Ask your nonprofit partner to provide an overview of the organization and a testimonial from someone who has received services. Testimonials from your staff members who have a personal connection to the organization are also extremely impactful.
Measure your impact
As with any volunteer activity it is important to measure impacts. Ask the partner to share impact metrics with you. Share that information with your volunteers so they can see how they have made a difference.
Also remember to survey your volunteer participants to see what they liked best and what adjustments may be needed for the future. Gather quotes and photos from volunteers and your nonprofit partners for storytelling.
Share your results
Use your impact metrics and collected stories to share with others. Encourage your team to use a hashtag on social media. Don’t forget to share with your company’s leadership, too.
Say “Thank you”
Be sure to thank everyone involved for their contribution including the nonprofit staff, any of their clientele involved, the volunteers, and your leadership for their support.
We hope these tips will aid others in planning future virtual volunteer activities!
About Activate Good & Corporate Engagement
Activate Good’s Corporate Engagement Program provides networking, sponsorship opportunities, custom services for employee volunteering that is suitable for team building, conferences, Corporate Social Responsibility, employee engagement, and more. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with us today and learn more about Corporate Virtual Volunteerism and others ways to serve!