Remaining impactful while volunteering outdoors with your team

I’m the first to admit that England is not a tropical paradise. However, the British people are famously resilient. The slightest glimpse of a ray of sunshine and we’re sprawled on the grass, Pimm’s in hand. For those of us lucky enough to work for a company that gives us time off to volunteer, it’s obviously very tempting to make the most of the weather by volunteering outdoors. There’s certainly no problem with that in theory, but it’s important to keep in mind that outdoorsy, group-style volunteering activities are really in demand with employers and employees alike. Often, they are resource- and time-intensive for the charity to organise, and, sometimes, they don’t really have a huge impact. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it though. Just make sure you keep a few things in mind when picking your opportunity:

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1. It might come with a cost

Hosting a large group of volunteers takes a lot of time to organise and requires a lot of supervision on the day. Charity workers are extremely stretched as it is, and staff time obviously has a cost that needs to be considered. Furthermore, outdoorsy activities are often quite resource-heavy – gardening tools, equipment, paint, seeds, etc. This obviously also has a cost that needs to be covered. You can ask your company to help, pay it out of your own pocket, or raise the money with a bake sale or other fundraising activity.

2. Be upfront about whether you or your company might be able to support them with other things as well

If there isn’t a cost, it might be because the charity is hoping to engage you, your colleagues, or your company longer-term. Be honest about whether this is a possibility or not – it doesn’t have to be a guarantee! There are plenty of ways this could work. Is your company looking for a new partner? Might your colleagues want to do a sponsored run for them? Do they need skills that your company could provide pro bono? Would you be interested in volunteering with them in your free time? If not, be up front about it – they’ll probably still appreciate the one-off help.

3. Make sure they actually need this help

Check that the activity you’ll be doing is actually going to make a difference to the charity. Sometimes charities will allow volunteers to take part in ‘fun’ activities so they’re enthusiastic and more likely to encourage their colleagues or companies to work with them in the future. If you’re not sure that will happen, make sure the activity is actually going to be useful for the charity.

4. Use your skills

If you’re known for killing every houseplant you’ve ever had, then perhaps helping out at a community garden isn’t the best use of your time. Think about what you’re good at and try to find an activity that suits you – you’ll enjoy it more and it will have more of an impact.

5. Enjoy yourself but take it seriously

Volunteering outdoors in the summer with a group of colleagues is a really fun, but make sure you actually got the job done. Also, make the most of being there – take the time to talk to staff from the charity and find out about their work, get to know beneficiaries if they’re there as well, and engage with the issue they’re trying to solve.


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There are plenty of great charities in genuine need of groups of volunteers for outdoors activities. Here are a few that we’ve come across recently:

The Wimbledon Guild

Groups of up to 10 people are welcome in The Wimbledon Guild‘s community garden in Wimbledon. There are plenty of tasks to get stuck into, including building raised beds, weeding, composting, and generally keeping the garden looking neat and pretty.

SweetTree Farming for All

Team-building days can be spent at SweetTree Farming for All‘s farm in Mill Hill. Tasks include building a shed together, clearing brambles from woodland areas, digging out a pond area, or planting new plants in growth beds.

Deen City Farm

Groups of up to 20 can head down to Wimbledon to help Deen City Farm and Stables continue with their activities. There are tasks all year round, including fencing, building, painting, gardening, woodwork, and mending.

Friends of Bradford’s Becks

In the springtime, your group would be able to help the Friends of Bradford’s Becks with keeping the waterways of the area clean and free from litter.

Sedbergh Youth and Community Centre

Sedbergh Youth and Community Centre are struggling with an overgrown, untidy outdoor cycle track and woodland walk. They need clearing so the centre can carry on with their summer activity schemes. Their outdoor activity equipment also needs painting and staining.


If you would like any help with finding suitable volunteering opportunities for your team, please get in touch on info@thirdbridge.co.uk.

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Post by Rose Delfino, Community Development & Marketing Manager at thirdbridge

Timewasters need not apply

Collaboration is rarely easy, and working cross-sector is even more complicated. Traditionally, partnerships between companies and charities have been characterised by the private sector organisation as the dominant party. Often these are not relationships of equals, in which both party’s needs, boundaries, and aspirations are taken into consideration. A healthy relationship would be one where both sides give and take, teach and learn, and grow together.

We want to make sure that no charity feels like they’ll lose out on support by being assertive, so here’s a few things we think that companies should keep in mind when asking charities for volunteering opportunities.

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The charity you’re working with probably doesn’t revolve around you

While you may be a significant part of their day-to-day or their strategy going forward, they definitely have lots of other things going on too. That’s why it’s not going to do them any favours if you get in touch with a week’s notice asking to have 25 volunteers accommodated. Remember that it takes a lot of work for a charity to set up volunteering activities and they need enough notice so that their other workstreams aren’t compromised.

Charities are always evolving and their needs may not always be the same

Just because they needed some physical labour in their garden last year, it doesn’t mean that will still be a helpful thing for them now. Of course, it’s important that your employees are undertaking a type of volunteering that is engaging for them, but it’s also important that it’s something useful for the charity. Most volunteers can tell if they are there as part of a tick-box exercise anyway and would prefer to do something a bit different but feel like they are making a real impact. Speak to your contacts at the charity and speak to your employees – I can almost guarantee there will be some cross-over in their wants and needs.

Volunteering sometimes has a cost and it’s usually justifiable

Certain volunteering activities are expensive for charities – particularly hosting large groups, providing activities that require a lot of resources, or facilitating participation in sports-based fundraising events. It’s hard enough for most charities to make ends meet as it is without covering these costs as well. Sometimes they will ask you for a small financial contribution to cover the costs. This doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of a company donation – individual employees can cover their part, or they can fundraise to make the money. They’re putting a lot of work in for you and the engagement you’ll get from your employees as a result is more than worth it.

Charities also have a lot to give

It’s seems to be very easy to forget that charities are full of passionate, committed, educated, experienced people. Yes, charities often need your expertise to make sure their operations are as efficient as possible. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t experts as well. They have a deep understanding of the demographics and communities that they work with every day – communities and people that could be your customers or future employees. They’re often extremely adept at engaging their stakeholders. They also certainly know how to make a big impact on a tiny budget – I’m sure all of us could benefit from that skill! You don’t just have a cause to support, you have a partner who can make you better as a person and as a business.

The onus is on both sides to make the relationship as productive as possible

There are so many fabulous and innovative ways for companies and charities to work together. Here are some of our favourite examples:

PetRescue Australia & Pedigree

Macmillan Cancer Support & Boots

Save the Children & GSK

Great relationships like these don’t just spring up naturally, and they are rarely driven by one side only. Collaboration usually breeds the most exciting ideas. Work together as colleagues. Not as a benefactor and recipient, but as two equals who are passionate about social and environmental change and have complimentary experiences that can be combined to make a real difference. Think about skilled volunteering projects where staff from each side have teaching or mentoring roles, developing a product to sell together, an unusual cause marketing campaign, running an event together – the world is your oyster.

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From conversations we’ve had with parties from both sides of the coin, it looks like things are already starting to move in this direction. Charities are becoming more confident about what they have to offer, and companies are learning to treat charities as valuable partners rather than grateful recipients of their philanthropy. We’re looking forward to hearing more and more examples of relationships that are genuine partnerships working towards solving the most important social and environmental issues we all face.


If you would like any more information about how thirdbridge can help you find new charity or company partners, please contact Rose on rose@thirdbridge.co.uk.rosedelfino_bw

 

Post by Rose Delfino, Community Development & Marketing Manager

How to get your employees excited about volunteering

Is your strategy around volunteering in place? Is your policy perfectly formulated? If so, congratulations – you’re ready to get your employees involved! No matter how brilliant your plans are, if nobody knows about them then your engagement levels aren’t going to be where you want them. In our experience, ~10% of your staff will be ready and raring to go without any encouragement, another ~10% will never get involved unless forced, so your efforts here are to get that middle ~80% to take part and to love it.

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Here are our top tips on how to engage your employees in volunteering:

1. Make best use of internal comms

First things first, people need to actually know that your programme exists and the basic facts about how they can get involved.

There are three main points to get across:

  • the existence of the programme and the reasons why you’re running it
  • the benefits of volunteering in general
  • which specific projects and initiatives are available to them and how they can get involved.

Make best use of all channels available to you:

  • Email

Send an introductory email around with the basics, then every month or so send a little reminder with some interesting stats or info about a new project you’re running.

  • Intranet pages

Make sure all the necessary links are readily available, as well as signposts to the key info points. You can also put up the odd ad about a particularly exciting initiative.

  • Communal spaces

Think beyond the humble noticeboard and get posters up advertising specific volunteering opportunities in places where people can’t help but see it – we favour next to the kettle and on the inside of toilet doors!

  • Meetings

Ask department heads or team leaders to remind their teams about the importance of getting involved when they have catch ups.

  • Newsletters

Use internal newsletters to show off case studies of people who’ve really enjoyed their volunteering experience, or to advertise any events you might be hosting.

  • Blogs

Get your enthusiastic employees to write blogs about how much they love volunteering. You can also ask external partners to write guest blogs about their work or about relevant topics they’re experts in.

  • Social media

Get some pretty pics of your employees looking happy while volunteering on your social media – you’ll kill two birds with one stone by making the rest of your staff jealous and also showcasing your efforts to the wider world.

  • Brown bag lunches

Organise short lunchtime or breakfast events on relevant topics – this could be volunteer case studies, talks from external speakers about the psychology of volunteering, presentations from local charities who do interesting work, etc.

On average, people need to hear a piece of information seven times in seven different ways in order to properly retain it, so you’d better get creative!

2. Recruit internal champions

Tap into that ~10% of super enthusiastic ambassadors that you have at your fingertips and establish a group of employees who really care about volunteering to help you spread the word. Their natural enthusiasm will make it easy for them to help you promote it across the organisation. Make sure they’re right across the company so their reach is significant.

You can make this as formal or as informal as you like. Will this be an official role where they have actual accountability? Will they be required to take someone who has never volunteered before with them at least once? Will they host talks to let people know about their experiences and the benefits they’ve felt? Will they be incentivised?

3. Get some competition going

Everyone loves winning! Capitalise on that by creating volunteering leaderboards within teams and between teams. These could simply be based on hours volunteered or you could make it more complex depending on your specific aims and objectives. Make use of your volunteering champions to stoke the fire and get people into the competitive spirit!

4. Incentivise!

Obviously the rewards of volunteering are a gift in themselves, but sometimes a little something extra helps people get into things! You could give a prize once a quarter for the best volunteer, or perhaps consider a more democratic prize draw for everyone who has volunteered that quarter.

5. Charity donations

As people start to get passionate about the causes they’ve chosen, some additional support from their employer is very motivating. There are several ways to approach this:

  • matched donations for employees who have done some fundraising for their charity of choice
  • grants that employees who have volunteered can apply for on behalf of their chosen charity
  • a quarterly prize draw for a fixed donation to the charity of choice of the employee that wins.

6. Focus on development opportunities

This is more of a long-term goal but definitely worth keeping in mind from the start. Volunteering, particularly when skills-based, is a more effective way of developing an employee’s professional skills than traditional class based training. With HR’s support, it’s possible to map volunteering activity to employee performance and learning & development objectives that are discussed in reviews. This could include credit for saving the company money by promoting environmental initiatives, increasing sales by improving the company’s reputation through stellar local community engagement, improving their own productivity by practicing their skills in a new environment, etc.


 

Hopefully that’s plenty to get you started! We’d love to hear about any other methods you might be trying internally, success stories, or learning curves you might have experienced. Let’s share ideas and get more and more people out there making a difference. Good luck!

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If you have any questions about engaging your employees in volunteering, would like to discuss how thirdbridge could help you with this, or would like to share any of your experiences, then we’d love to hear from you! Just drop Rose a line on rose@thirdbridge.co.uk!