THE BLOG
09/17/2014 11:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

There's a New Sheriff in Town: Your Employees

If you're involved in any activity related to managing employee volunteer programs, you need to know Chris Jarvis. As the co-founder of Realized Worth, Chris and his intuitive team have carved out a unique space in the realm of employee volunteering, working closely with companies to creatively engage their employees in corporate philanthropy.

Chris is an inspiring leader and thinker in this field who makes it his business to understand all the components of employee volunteering program success -- factoring in not just how companies need to operate, but how people actually operate.

The realistic approach that Realized Worth encourages is a refreshing tonic in a business filled with dreamers who sometimes don't acknowledge the typical human behaviors and needs that must be fully understood, targeted and planned for in any program approach.

One of the many helpful lessons that Realized Worth espouses is about the importance of deputizing employees who are already somehow engaged in volunteering. I wrote about this recently in a discussion on how to increase participation in your volunteer program. If you want employees who are engaged in your volunteering program, find employees who are passionate about volunteering in their own lives and get them to help ignite excitement around what you're doing in your corporate program.

If you're wondering why, despite all of your careful planning and grand volunteer and giving activities, your participation numbers are flat, you need to take a look at how you're hooking your employees into your program in the first place. Are you making general, one-size-fits-all announcements from on high and expecting the masses to just eagerly pour in? Is everything about your program top-down in nature, with an "If we build it they will come" mentality?

If so, grab a chair and have a seat. You'll be waiting a long time for your participation rates to tick up.

Not interested in spending an eternity to see your engagement levels improve? Then get employees who "get it" to lasso in the laggards and steer them along an easy path to involvement.

These local volunteering "sheriffs" that you deputize are key to your success. But how do you find them?

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Chris recently put together some helpful ideas for how to identify the best leaders to manage employee volunteer teams (yes, you need segmented teams; if you leave everyone in one giant volunteering soup, it'll work out about as well as any soup that contains every ingredient in your kitchen). Team leads need to be assigned to engage fellow employees in company sponsored or supported volunteering activities, ensure that activities are well planned, and provide on site leadership to check that everything goes smoothly and employees have a friendly liaison to hold their hands.

Don't make the mistake of underestimating the critical management role these team leads possess and the importance of finding the right people for these positions.

So how do you know you have the best employees for this particular job?

Jarvis and his team have offered some insights on this topic, which are too valuable not to share. So here are your marching orders on how to find the right employees to lead your volunteering teams.

Look for employees who:

  • Already volunteer somewhere, or have in the past for significant periods of time.
  • Think everyone who gets into volunteering will love it. Volunteering is a way of life.
  • Have strong personal reasons for wanting to volunteer. It's not about doing something for others as much as it's about doing something for themselves.
  • Regularly invite other people to join their volunteer activities.
  • Understand the issues for which they volunteer and are eager, but are not pushy to share their knowledge with others.
  • Have strong opinions about the issue for which they volunteer - particularly regarding the use of resources and the types of activities.

Once you have these team leads in place, you'll need to ensure that they're well trained and consistently supported over time. Jarvis suggests that your program includes these elements of success:

  1. Provide a formal orientation and assessment process for new team leads.
  2. Conduct a review process including references, a brief interview, orientation, and an assessment of previous experience as a volunteer.
  3. Provide practical tools for project development and execution, such as email templates (to invite other employees), scripts, guidelines, and planning forms.
  4. Offer training and other activities that provide insight on the social and/or environmental issues the volunteer team is addressing.
  5. Develop a mentoring process that clearly communicates the purpose, values, goals, and expectations of the company's employee volunteering program. Experienced team leads may be paired up with new team leads for an effective transfer of knowledge.
  6. Ensure visible support at volunteer projects from senior leadership (remember: everyone is wondering how this "really" affects their career).

Strong volunteer programs don't just run on automatic pilot; they're continuously nurtured and maintained. With your own program, make sure that you're selecting and grooming the right company sheriffs to help lead your employees to a place of enthusiasm and engagement.