06/27/2012 08:49 am ET Updated Aug 27, 2012

The Cynic's Guide to Company Volunteering

There's one in every crowd and at least one at every workplace: the cynic. He might be highly motivated and intensely career-minded, but your garden variety cynic tends to be skeptical of corporate volunteer programs. And yet, with a bit of attention, cynics can be transformed into your most passionate volunteers.

Don't try winning him over with the typical spiel about the benefits of corporate volunteering. This is too direct and does little but reinforce his resistance to the whole idea. You're going to have to lure the cynic in with a softer sell. Like adding sugar to medicine, there's some sleight of hand involved.

So what's the secret to curing incurable volunteer cynics?

Employee recognition.

Forget about the amazing benefits of the cause. Instead, appeal to the cynic's self interest, the part of him that must be a leader in all areas of the workplace. This is where gamification is your best friend. Fire up your cynic's competitive juices and you'll have him completely forgetting that his volunteer activities are a part of a program he initially scoffed at.

So how can you create an initiative that makes your cynic think he's gunning for glory on (fill in your reality show of choice here.) Best of breed corporate volunteer management systems offer amazing options that are widely appealing to your employees, including social media capabilities that enable peer involvement and customizable campaigns such as competitive fundraisers.

How does a competitive fundraiser work? With the right online tools, it's a piece of cake -- and you don't even need to leave the office. Just select a few charities that your employees can support around a specific cause you want to champion, set a time-frame (maybe a couple of weeks), throw in some fun prizes for the winners (a day off of work or drinks with the CEO are always popular options), add matching gifts features to give participants a financial and emotional boost, and you'll be amazed at how quickly your staff is off to the races in a feisty showdown to see who can raise the most dough for a good cause. If you'd prefer that the competition is centered around volunteer hours, set up a dollars for doers program to see who translates their manpower into the most moola.

How you get the cynic on board isn't as important as getting him on board. The inner-city school you just bought computers for won't much care that the cynic donated $200 only because he wanted to win a prize or craved status as the guy who made the biggest donation; they're just glad to have new equipment.

Ask a cynic why he pooh-poohs volunteerism and philanthropy and you're likely to get a myriad of answers. One common response is that the cynic believes corporate volunteerism and giving are done for cynical reasons. Sometimes he may be right, but often he's merely projecting.

In either case, the cynic is missing the point, just as you might be if you're concerned about using self-interest and status to lure the cynic in. Remember: doing good feels good. The cynic might want nothing to do with volunteering at first, but once he gets a little taste of making the world a brighter place, it's quite likely that he -- sheepishly and in spite of himself -- becomes one of your leading workplace philanthropists.

Corporate volunteerism isn't just for the already convinced hardcore believers. A truly effective volunteer program must be interesting enough to win over the most hardened cynic in the workplace. If self-interest is the initial motivation, so be it. It likely won't be for long.