The One-Word Secret to Increasing Volunteer Participation Right Now


CSR managers are always bemoaning the challenges of elevating participation in their volunteer and giving programs, and for good reason. Average participation rates for these programs are low, and that has a lot to do with the limited resources and attention that’s dedicated to most corporate volunteer and giving programs. Getting your busy employees away from their desks and focused on something other than work can be more daunting than you think, even though most employees express an avid desire to give back at work.

There are many different angles to consider when it comes to increasing volunteer participation, but one of them simply involves getting more creative. Your employees can sense when you’re going through the motions of creating volunteer opportunities and just checking the box to get this task off of your plate.

Apply a little more imagination to your volunteer dynamic at work. Put yourself in the mindset of your employees and think about what’s going on in their lives that would make volunteering irresistible at this exact moment in their lives.

And what’s going on right now that can offer a gateway to new ideas? One word: summer.

It’s a time when employers find there’s a 20 percent drop in workplace productivity, according to a Captivate Network study. Projects take 13 percent longer to complete and workers become 45 percent more distracted. So how can you turn these engagement lemons into lemonade tasty enough to sell at a stand?

  1. Get outside.  Your employees are itching to escape from their cubicles and catch some rays. Whatever you’ve got on the CSR agenda for the next few months, move it outdoors, if at all possible. Volunteer opportunities, fundraisers, discussions about your CSR strategy, prep talks and debriefs around volunteering events….whatever it is, try to mix it up and get out of the office. Opportunities to clean up or garden in a public park are often a good idea to get desk-bound employees to enjoy the sunshine - and build teamwork. Plus, ice cream cones never hurt. Just saying.

  2. Make it a family affair. Capitalize on summer downtime by inviting families to participate in some of your volunteer opportunities. Including families in your social impact efforts is an outstanding way to bolster company pride, help employees feel a greater sense of work-life balance, and get them motivated to participate.  

  3. Blue sky it. Put down your pencils and take a step back to look at community impact through a different lens. Organize a day of big-picture thinking - yes, ideally outside - where employees break up into teams to strategize on how your company’s unique value proposition or the distinct talents of employees could be leveraged for good. For tech companies, hackathons have become popular ways to develop sustainable solutions to societal issues. What is your company’s core competency? Identify your organization’s secret sauce and host a day where your employees use what they know best to solve a real-world problem. Make a picnic out of it, and you’ve got all the ingredients for your employees to feel valued, heard and engaged.

  4. Voluntourism for vacationers.  The field of voluntourism is exploding, but your interested employees don’t need to volunteer through voluntourism agencies that target the masses. They can do so through your corporate volunteering program, so long as you have geographically diverse nonprofit partners that offer far-flung opportunities, whether domestic or abroad. Let your employees know that if they want to make their vacations more meaningful and mix in some good works along the way, you’ll do your best to source opportunities that make sense for them and your company. Then later they can report back about “What I Did Over the Summer,” complete with photos, on your online volunteering platform.

  5. Let the games begin. A summer-long donation drive can be just what your company needs to rally around one cause. And making it a crowdfunding competition can be a gateway to do-gooder good times. For example, you can raise funds for a local school and then wrap it all into an end of summer event, like a trip to an amusement park where your employees spend the day with the kids they helped. That way they see the benefit of their efforts and can keep their morale as high as the summer temperatures all season long. Just make sure that there’s also a special prize attached to the winner of the crowdfunder - like the opportunity to push the CEO into a pool at a wrap party BBQ. Nothing keeps the competitive juices flowing like a tantalizing prize that’s priceless in value and abundant in bragging rights.

  6. Love your Mother. Earth, that is. With everyone enjoying the outdoors more, increased appreciation for nature is in the air. There’s many ways that organizations can help the environment, but creating a sustainability activity with a clear goal in mind can be the best way to encourage action and unite your team. Starting a drive to recycle old electronics, for example, adds an end goal while focusing attention around one cause. Take that a step further by creating incentives for carpooling or biking to work, with a company-wide prize for reaching agreed-upon goals, and your employees will be clamoring to work together so they can win together.

Summertime casts a new light (literally) on outdoors volunteering activities that can get your employees enthusiastic, recharged, and plugged into your program in ways that can last far after the summer sun has set.

Ryan Scott