Storytelling is a hot marketing buzzword these days, and for good reason; in the business world, it’s the newest form of smart corporate communications. Telling your story is imperative for many aspects of business, and a particularly important practice when it comes to strategic philanthropy.
Administrators of successful volunteer and giving programs understand that storytelling makes a big difference in how their corporate philanthropy efforts impact their chosen causes as well as their employees and business community. How, what and to whom you communicate information about your volunteer and giving program all play a critical role in whether your volunteer program soars or flops.
Let’s start with the WHAT:
- What is your program all about?
- What, if any, single major issue is your company championing as a part of its volunteering efforts? Or is your company supporting a menu of many different causes?
- What activities is your program engaged in to support its dedicated causes?
- What, if any, corporate giving initiatives are tied to your program?
- What about matching gifts, in kind donations, dollars for doers, competitive crowdfunding and other such initiatives?
- What are you doing to customize your program to suit the particulars of your corporate culture? For example, are you creating an approach where employees vote on a different cause focus each year? If not, what other fresh angles are you bringing to the table to keep your program engaging?
- What - if anything - is the special sauce of your volunteer and giving program that makes it unique or worth talking about?
Next, the WHO:
You want engagement from your employees, and participation - or at least awareness - from your greater community. Assuming you have a good story and you tell it well, the more people who know your story, the more likely you’ll find people who want to get involved with your program and your company. So ask yourself this; are you communicating your story to:
- Your company’s staff?
- Your board?
- Your strategic partners?
- Other corporate stakeholders?
- Existing customers?
- Potential customers?
Finally, the HOW:
It’s important to make storytelling easy for everyone involved in your program. That’s why some volunteer platforms arm employees with built-in social media tools to tell their company’s story for them, which is the most authentic and credible way to shine a light on an organization’s good works. Other marketing vehicles - from the lowly email to full-fledged marketing programs - also come into play as you plot the best way to engage your community in your cause vision. So consider these two questions:
- How are you getting your story out into the world?
- How are you engaging your employees to participate in your efforts and what sort of initiatives are you including in these efforts?
Steering Your Story
While I happen to think that the best kind of storytelling is grassroots in nature, corporate communication around volunteer and giving efforts needs to be handled, and handled well. So when companies are in the driver’s seat of their stories, how do the best of them transport their employees, stakeholders and communities?
Factors like the size of your company - and the breadth of resources at your disposal - will help inform the steps you should consider taking to engage others in your story, from the most basic to the most sophisticated. For example:
- Email. Following big events, it’s common to send out detailed emails summarizing a company’s cause efforts, highlighting individual contributions and team victories. Ideally, this is accompanied by a survey which captures employee feedback.
- Newsletters. Another familiar tactic: a monthly, quarterly or annual newsletter - packed with photos - that reports your activities and impact. Companies like Warner Bros. don’t just keep this newsletter to themselves - they distribute it to nearby residents so that neighbors are informed about the company’s efforts to improve the community.
- Websites. Whether you have a company intranet or a platform like Causecast’s, creating a destination site for volunteering news helps keep employees on the pulse of your (and their) cause efforts. Gap Inc. has created its own website just for its cause work, 75% of which is available to the public as well, with the opportunity for involvement even if you’re not an employee. PwC feels that its employees look at these sorts of news roundups as evidence of the company’s commitment to employee engagement around cause, which gets chalked up as an employee perk.
- RFPs. PwC notes that in the past five years it has seen an increase in questions around volunteering posed in RFPs. These days, many industries want to know if potential vendors have shared values. That sense of shared values comes from understanding questions such as what vendors a company works with, the diversity of a company’s staff, and whether the company rewards and recognizes how its employees give back. That’s why PwC’s employee volunteering efforts are not only being relayed to potential customers during the RFP process, but freely shared with clients during the course of their work together. This isn’t in the form of any kind of planned marketing, just informal communication that lends further validation to the client about the kind of firm its working with.
- Social media. Some company leaders are not only not scared of employee-led social media, they’re leveraging it to the hilt to engage their employees and community. For example, Gap Inc. offers multiple Facebook pages (for each of their brands) that it cross-pollinates with its Instagram and Pinterest pages to keep the company’s social media presence very active.
- Business model. At the more extreme level are companies like VeryNice, a design firm that donates half of its time to nonprofits. When cause work is built into your very mission statement, your story tells itself.
When it comes to companies and storytelling, we see program administrators often failing to create the right breeding ground for authentic storytelling, missing out on the opportunity to capture these stories, and neglecting to properly distribute these stories to their employees and wider community.
If you prioritize storytelling - and if you have the right tools to collect stories so that you can leverage them wisely - then you’re giving your company an excellent resource to broaden the engagement and impact of your volunteer program.
For more on how to use storytelling to strengthen your corporate philanthropy, download our free report, “Storytelling: The New Secret Sauce of Corporate Philanthropy.”
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