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Volunteers from the Business World

by Susan J. Ellis of Energize, Inc.

There are two different types of volunteers "from the business world." The first group have been around forever: people who volunteer for you and happen to be employed in business somewhere. In fact, that might describe the majority of current volunteers. Their outside employment status is ancillary to their identity with your organization.

The second group comes through a "corporate employee volunteer program." How is a "corporate employee volunteer" different from any other volunteer? The answer ought to be that here the company itself adds something substantive to the situation. This can be anything from providing a contact person for you within the company to notify when you need volunteers, allowing employees to hold planning meetings during the work day, giving flex or release time to do the community service, or giving tangible support such as supplying transportation, work clothes, or other needed items.

So the first tip is to clarify the role, if any, of the company itself. Is the employee coming to you independently and just happens to work for a local business? Or is this employee sitting at your desk with the full knowledge and approval of the company? What difference will this make for you in what you can expect from the volunteer?

Having established the framework of the relationship, here are a few ideas for making the most of the volunteer's contribution - for your organization, for the volunteer, and for the employer.

Don't assume ...

  • That the volunteer will want to use his or her professional skills in an assignment for you, nor that the volunteer will want to do something totally different as a change of pace. Ask. And have options available.
  • That business people lack understanding of social issues.
  • That every business person has skills that are applicable. Interview all candidates and assess their actual skill level.
  • That the volunteer can automatically apply business skills to a nonprofit or government setting.
  • That the volunteer has access to the company's money or goods.

Be prepared to explain ...

  • What makes a nonprofit different from a for-profit.
  • Your client base and their problems and assets.
  • The history of the concern or need that led to the business volunteer's recruitment.
  • Current resources available to the agency for handling this concern or need.
  • A profile of the paid and volunteer staff (including their education) and something about their workload.

Pay attention to timetables and reporting plans, especially if the volunteer is providing technical assistance:

  • Set up goals and objectives with estimated deadlines.
  • Discuss the form and frequency of communications and reports.
  • Who calls meetings and how often?

Assure that the volunteer gains some career benefits:

  • An opportunity to apply skills to new situations.
  • The chance to learn about prospective new markets or clients.
  • A way to prove leadership talents to impress the employer.
  • The halo effect of good PR and visibility for the company.

If the volunteer is indeed part of a formal corporate volunteer program, be sure to thank the company afterward, as well as the volunteer. Report on the value to your organization of the contribution. Make the coordinator at the place of business want to work with you again.


About the Author: Susan J. Ellis is President of Energize, Inc., a training, consulting, and publishing firm that specializes in volunteerism. She founded the Philadelphia-based company in 1977 and since that time has assisted clients throughout North America (48 states and 5 provinces), Europe (8 countries), Asia (3 countries), Latin America and Australia to create or strengthen their volunteer corps. The year 2002 marked Energize's 25th anniversary.

Susan is the author or co-author of eleven books, including From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program Success and The Volunteer Recruitment Book - several of which have been translated into Japanese, Taiwanese, French and Italian. All her books can be found in the online bookstore. From 1981 to 1987 she was Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Volunteer Administration. She has written more than 90 articles on volunteer management for dozens of publications and writes the national bi-monthly column, "On Volunteers," for The NonProfit Times.

Please visit Energize web site, a cornucopia of over 1000 pages of information especially for leaders of volunteers. Call for a FREE catalog of Energize materials: (800)395-9800 [in Philadelphia (215) 438-8342], or fax (215) 428-0434. Or write to Energize at: 5450 Wissahickon Ave, Box C-13, Philadelphia, PA 19144.

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