From February 2015 to the current date of this article, Startups Give Back has organized 20 volunteering events (and counting) in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Phew! That’s a lot of events in a short period of time.
With 2017 right around the corner, this is as good a time as ever for a little reflection. Here are 7 lessons I’ve learned over the last two years of organizing volunteering events.
#1: It’s easier if executives mandate volunteering
When it’s a mandate straight from the top, it’s easier for companies to get a volunteering program up and running. And it typically has a longer life span because employees know it’s wanted.
I’ve seen plenty of companies consider volunteering and charitable giving part of their company’s culture. And as a result they reap the intangible, and at times tangible, benefits such as employees feeling a heightened sense of purpose in what they do.
#2: There’s still pushback from executives
While there’s a segment of executives that do want philanthropy to be part of their culture, there’s another segment that isn’t quite sold on spending valuable employee time on volunteering activities. This is especially true for early-stage startups that feel there’s not enough hours in a day.
To that I say this:
There’s over 1,500 hours in a quarter. If you can’t find time to spend 2–3 hours to volunteer as a team in your local community, you’re not making an effort. Period.
#3: Employees are eager to volunteer their time
Whether it’s in person or virtual skills-based volunteering, employees want to give back to their local communities. In fact, they’re eager to do it.
However, referring back to lesson #2, employees are hesitant to volunteer during work hours because they don’t know if it’s frowned upon. Basically, there’s no encouragement, or even guidelines, from management.
The simple solution is to draft clear guidelines so employees know exactly what’s expected (e.g. One team volunteering day a quarter).
#4: Companies are slowly starting to realize the impact volunteering has on culture
It’s like a lightbulb turned on.
Maybe it’s pressure from their peers, or maybe (hopefully) it’s a genuine shift to wanting to be a business that has an impact beyond just the bank.
Either way, companies are slowly starting to see the real benefits of volunteering. Most notably, the effect is has on company culture.
#5 Volunteering is an underutilized team building activity
Rope courses. Happy hours. Bowling. There are plenty of team building activities at a company’s disposal. However, the one activity that’s often overlooked as a team building activity is volunteering.
Teamwork + volunteering + learning about a local nonprofit = one fun, meaningful team building activity.
#6 Nonprofits are hungry for volunteers
Whether it’s on-site or virtual, nonprofits are in dire need of volunteers. Without them, many nonprofits would struggle.
A good example of this is the San Francisco Food Bank. They impact thousands of lives every day. But without volunteers, they wouldn’t be able to do nearly as much.
I look forward to the day when corporate philanthropy is a norm and not seen as an afterthought.
It’ll take some time, but with companies like Salesforce, TUNE, and Datanyze setting a great example, I’m confident we’ll get there.