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Ready to Develop an Employee Volunteer Program? Here’s How

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Ready to Develop an Employee Volunteer Program? Here’s How

by Kate Vandeveld

Today, employees are intent on finding meaning at work. In fact, a recent study showed 55% of millennials (currently the largest generation in the workforce) were influenced to accept a job based on that company’s involvement with causes.  

As a result, an increasing number of businesses are contemplating corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs at their workplaces. If you’re currently evaluating options, volunteer programs are an impactful and relatively straightforward way for your team to make a big difference. Whether you work at a large corporation, a small business, or a collective of freelance consultants, you can develop a volunteer program that is both impactful and works for your team.

Ready to get started? Here’s how:

Define Your Goals

As with any new initiative, you want to begin by clearly defining what it is you’re working to achieve and how you’re going to measure it. Do you want to address an issue in your local community? Improve employee morale? Attract new hires? Build a stronger relationship with your customer? Don’t shy away from applying business goals to your philanthropic endeavors. By simultaneously creating wins for the community AND your business, you’re much more likely to build a sustainable and scalable program.

Consider Your Industry & Values 

When you’re starting a volunteer program, you want to first consider how you can connect it to your industry and values. Without that connection, the relationship will likely feel less authentic to everyone you touch – partners, employees, and consumers.

As an example, if you’re a sporting goods company, it may make more sense for your team to volunteer time at an inner city summer camp than it would to volunteer at a food pantry. The stronger the tie between your industry, values, and volunteer efforts, the more your program will thrive.

Ask Your Team

When you’re looking to make a real impact on your community, the best thing to do is to tap into your team’s interests and passions. If you choose a cause relevant to your industry, but your team doesn't find it engaging, your commitment will likely be perfunctory and short-lived. Schedule a team meeting or send out a survey to find out:

  • Their level of interest in giving back
  • The specific social, economic, or environmental issues they care about
  • The type of volunteer activities they’re interested in (e.g. physical, skills-based, mentoring)
  • Their preference for team-based or individual activities

Choose the Right Model & Partner

Once you know the type of work you and your team want to do, you will next need to figure out the who and how.

In terms of structure, there are a number of options, but here are a few to get you started:

  • Company-wide paid volunteer days: Choose a certain number of days each year during which your team will come together to volunteer with a specified nonprofit partner.
  • Company-wide drives or fundraisers: Commit to supporting a nonprofit’s annual needs through collective employee fundraising and community advocacy.
  • Skills-based projects: Explore structures where individual company departments use their particular skills to solve a specific problem (i.e. The marketing team can help boost a nonprofit’s fundraising revenues, while accounting can search for ways to make the nonprofit’s budget more efficient).  
  • Individual volunteer hours: Encourage your team to commit to a certain number of personal volunteer hours each quarter, to be carried out with the nonprofit partner of their choice. You can incentivize these by allowing employees to do their hours during regular work hours, or by offering paid volunteer hours outside of work.

If you’re choosing to align your volunteer activities with one nonprofit organization (as opposed to letting employees choose their own), you also want to be sure you’re starting off with the right partner. Here are some preliminary questions to ask as you’re researching potential nonprofit partners: 

  • What do the organization’s programs and services look like, and where do they need the most help? It can be helpful to list out each of the nonprofit’s needs and see how they match up to your employees’ skillsets.
  • How long has the organization been around, and what is their experience with corporate partnerships? If the organization has been around for a long time or seems to be substantial in size, they may have good ideas and case studies for effectively engaging your team. On the other hand, a newer organization might have a greater need for corporate partners or volunteer support. Chat openly with prospective partners to figure out which of the two situations feels like a better fit for your team.
  • How do they measure the impact of their efforts? Find out if the organization publishes reports on their website, or if they have data available upon request. This will give you a better idea of what your impact will be, and also help to further engage your employees. 
  • What is their staffing structure? Find out whether their staff is made up of volunteers or full-time employees, as well as their general workload and time commitments. Though it’s common to find nonprofits are understaffed, you still want to be sure you’re investing your team’s time in an organization that has the infrastructure in place to be responsive and properly leverage your contributions. A word of advice: At the beginning of the relationship, you’ll also want to ensure you have a key contact with whom you can coordinate your team’s volunteer efforts – it’ll be a game changer.

Formalize the Commitment 

Draw up a company statement that spells out the goals and specifics of the partnership. This should be available on your website, so all involved and any external parties who are interested in learning about your work can access it. This will ensure that your team honors the commitment you’ve made to your community and that nonprofit partners stay within the boundaries of your agreement. Making the commitment public may also help you recruit new millennial talent who are searching for employers that are making an impact.

Engage Your Team 

Whichever model you settle on, recruit ambassadors from each of your company’s departments. This will help with participation and enthusiasm, as well as reduce the overall work involved with organizing and coordinating the activities. If your company is large, you can also use this as an opportunity for testing your volunteer program: Start with one of your departments, and closely track the program’s success.  

 

Once your program is developed and formalized, choose the communication channel you’ll use to keep your employees informed. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Bulletin boards in common areas
  • Email newsletters
  • Internal company messenger systems or groups (e.g. Slack, Facebook Groups),
  • SMS alerts

 

Know of a company that has implemented a particularly interesting or impactful volunteer program? We want to know all about them – here’s how you can tell us:

If your company is ready to launch a volunteer program, but needs some help getting it off the ground, get in touch with us – we will help you make it happen.

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The Power of “No”

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The Power of “No”

by Kate Vandeveld

For many, saying “no” can be a difficult exercise, both personally and professionally.

When you’re starting your own business, it can be especially difficult for fear of missing an opportunity or an important connection.

The Power of "No" -- via WhyWhisper

But we’ve learned that saying no selectively can do wonders for your productivity, mental health, and work-life balance. As in many situations, saying no for the first time is the hardest step. But when your response is met with understanding, as it often is, or you start to see positive effects, saying no becomes empowering rather than debilitating. We’re not saying that you should say no to everything, of course, but that it’s okay (and healthy) to be discerning with your time.

Here are some of the positive effects that we’ve seen in our own experience:

It Increases Productivity

When you’re moving in too many directions or have too much on your plate, it gets hard to focus. Being stretched too thin usually shows in your work, and almost always in your demeanor. It’s not good for anyone – yourself or those you’re working with and for. Saying no to certain projects or requests when you don’t have the capacity or just aren’t truly interested will free you up to be more productive and effective on the projects that you care about. And, on the flip side, it will allow your client or employer to find someone who is able to fully commit to the project or task at hand.

It Allows You to Prioritize

Similarly, when you start to say no to things, the tricky task of prioritizing becomes much easier. It will become clear relatively quickly which projects and people you truly want to be involved with, and which you need to turn down or set aside in a particular moment. You’ll learn that this doesn’t mean that the things you’re saying no to are unimportant, just that you can’t do it all.  And when you prioritize things that are important and meaningful to you, you’ll feel better about the effort that you put into those tasks and relationships.

It Frees Up Your Time for Self-Care & Connection

 For many of us, self-care is the first thing that goes when we’re extremely busy. Who has time to make a healthy lunch in the morning or spend time outside when we have deadlines and meetings and events and obligations – right? It can be difficult to say no to opportunities to just…take care of yourself. But really, self-care is even more important when you’re busy. Block off time for yourself, and say no when a conflicting request arises. Make that time a priority. The same goes for spending meaningful time with the important people in your life. When you make plans with them, do your best to stick to them, even if you feel like you should be doing something else. You shouldn’t – those connections matter (a lot!), and you need to nurture them.

 

It Shows That You Value Your Time

Professionally, you may think that saying no to meetings or potential clients or projects looks bad for you or your brand. But, really, if you take the time to evaluate the situation and tactfully decline, it can have the opposite effect. Your time is valuable, and when you’re selective and focused with it, people will generally respect that. It’s not always easy to value your own time and talents – but when you do, others will too.

 

We’re certainly not experts on saying no, but we practice! And we think you should too. Sometimes, changing a seemingly small habit can have a powerful effect on all facets of your lives.

What’s a habit that you’ve changed that has made a significant difference? Share with us – we want to talk about it! Here’s how:

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The Unusual Suspects: 5 Big Companies That Are Doing Good

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The Unusual Suspects: 5 Big Companies That Are Doing Good

by Kate Vandeveld

We talk a lot about businesses and organizations that are focused on doing well by doing good. These are social enterprises that have built their business models around social impact: doing good is part of their brand DNA.

Equally as important are the existing companies that may not have set out originally to contribute to social good, but have implemented programs and initiatives aimed at doing good as they’ve developed. Though social impact was not built into their business models, the work that some of these large-scale companies are doing is incredibly impactful as a result of their scale and global influence.

The Unusual Suspects: 5 Big Companies That Are Doing Good -- via WhyWhisper

What’s more, employees are an important part of the equation.  In a 2014 report, 55% of millennials surveyed said that a company’s involvement in cause-based work influences their decision to accept a job. So integrating social impact into a corporation’s strategy isn’t just good for the world, it’s actually becoming necessary for attracting and retaining talent.

Here are five of the many large corporations that are focusing on social impact, as well as how they’re doing it:

American Express

When you think of American Express, one of the world’s largest credit card companies, social impact may not be top of mind. But the company has actually developed a number of socially conscious programs in recent years. Their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs include a Leadership Academy, a historic preservation initiative, and incentivized community service.

In 2010, American Express even launched Small Business Saturday, which falls the day after Black Friday, a day that is well known for catering to large corporations. In contrast to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday supports small, local businesses by helping them spread the word about their own products and services, and encouraging consumers to shop there instead of going big. And shopping small business is important: small businesses are better for the economy, human rights, and the environment. As a whole, American Express’s efforts to have a positive impact both internally and on a global level have been huge.

Cisco

Cisco is a multinational technology company that designs, manufactures, and sells various types of networking equipment. Though its offering is not built around impact, its focus on social responsibility is one of its core values. As it states on its website, at Cisco, "any success that is not achieved ethically is no success at all."

Cisco’s CSR programs are numerous. The company leverages its tech focus to make an impact across the following areas: access to education, healthcare, economic empowerment, critical human needs and disaster relief, environmental sustainability, governance and ethics, and supply chain standards. Its Global Impact Map shows at-a-glance the incredible work that it’s doing globally, and its 2014 CSR Report details the impact that these programs are having. Cisco also has a strong focus on work-life balance internally, and works hard to foster a strong culture of empowerment, engagement and innovation among its employees.  As with American Express, Cisco has used its tech assets and scale to do immeasurable good, though social impact was not a goal of the company at its outset.

Patagonia

Patagonia, a high-end outdoor apparel company, has been making headlines for its social impact efforts over the past several years, specifically around sustainability. Patagonia has worked to increase transparency around its supply chain, giving consumers a glimpse into the environmental and social impact of developing and distributing its clothing through The Footprint Chronicles.  It’s made remarkable efforts to ensure that everything that goes into their products is traceable and responsibly sourced, as well as fair trade certified. Patagonia also gives 1% of sales to environmental organizations all over the world.

Beyond its efforts around sustainability, Patagonia has developed CSR initiatives to increase employee happiness and promote fair labor practices. As the company’s CEO Rose Marcario recently stated at the White House-hosted Working Families: Champions of Change event, Patagonia has seen a notable increase in employee retention as a result of its efforts to offer fair benefits and showing employees that the company cares about them. We’ve discussed the importance of fairness and compassion in business, and its results are made very apparent in this case.

Gap Inc.

Gap Inc. is a large-scale clothing retailer, with over 3,000 stores employing over 150,000 people globally. But producing and distributing clothing isn’t all the Gap is about. In fact, the company’s “Do More” programs are centered around its focus on positive social impact, including providing equal pay for employees of all genders, a focus on sustainability, and a commitment to maintaining safe and fair labor conditions in their 800+ global factories.

Gap Inc. also launched its P.A.C.E. program in 2007 to provide work and life advancement opportunities to the women who make their clothes. Using company resources and leveraging partnerships with local community organizations, the P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement Career Enhancement) Program provides skills, education and technical training to the women who make up 70% of the company’s team of garment makers. To date, more than 30,000 women have participated in the program.

Microsoft

As most of us know, Microsoft is a multinational technology company that primarily develops and distributes computers and computer software. We may not be as familiar with the company’s noteworthy commitment to social responsibility. The company’s social impact efforts are both internally and externally-focused, ranging from developing a diverse, inclusive, and respectful work environment for employees to consistently working towards more sustainable operations.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of Microsoft’s social responsibility efforts is its expansion beyond Microsoft itself. Earlier this year, Microsoft issued a new mandate to its contractors: If they want to work with the leading tech provider, they’ll have to offer their own employees paid time off. This concept is somewhat revolutionary, and one that only a company with as much clout and power as Microsoft would be able to pull off without losing an egregious amount business. Right now, only 12% of private sector employees are given paid sick days, which is problematic in a myriad of ways. Efforts like this will go a long way to change that in the absence of federal policy change.


These are just a few of the increasing number of powerful large corporations that are working to build out their CSR efforts and have a positive impact on their employees and our world. Do you know of others? Tell us about them! We want to talk about them. Here’s how you can do it:

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Why Shopping Small Business Matters

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Why Shopping Small Business Matters

by Kate Vandeveld

Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about how you can make a difference during the holiday season – from making more sustainable choices, to purchasing gifts that give back, to shopping small business. And while most of us know that shopping at small businesses is a good thing, we may not entirely know why.

shopsmall

Here are a few of the key reasons why shopping small business is so important:

 

Boosts Your Local Economy

Buying from small, local businesses boosts the economy in smaller towns, and creates job opportunities in places that need it. In fact, small business job growth is huge: Over the past decade, small businesses have generated over 63 percent of the net new jobs available in the United States, and currently employ almost half of the nation’s workforce. Because small businesses are more likely to purchase their products from domestic manufacturers, by shopping local, you are supporting jobs not just in your own community, but in small towns across the country.

Economy

In addition, when you shop at small businesses, you are investing in your local community. When you shop at small businesses, around 68 percent of what you spend will stay in your local economy, versus the 43 percent that stays local when you shop elsewhere. If residents of an “average” American city shifted 10 percent of their spending to local businesses, it would mean an influx of over $235 million into that community’s local economy. Imagine what a difference that would make!

 

Takes a Stand for Human Rights

When you buy locally, you can take steps to make sure that the products you are buying are not being made by exploited or abused workers. You can ask questions about whether or not small business products were made locally, and where exactly they were made. In addition, 85 percent of small business owners pay all of their employees more than the minimum wage, so it is more likely that you will be supporting fair wages when you shop local. In a recent poll, two out of three small business owners supported increasing the federal minimum wage, as well as readjusting it yearly to keep up with increased cost of living.

humanrights

On the flipside, shopping small means you won’t be supporting large corporations like Walmart. When you shop at these large corporations, it’s very possible that you will be purchasing products that were made in inhumane conditions, where workers are overworked and underpaid, and sometimes forced to work in unsafe conditions. Walmart employees themselves are overworked and underpaid, so much so that this year, workers protested against the corporation on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. The union-backed labor campaign OUR Walmart launched a nationwide strike against the corporation, asserting that they aren’t paid enough to make ends meet. Their demands are simple and fair: they want the option of consistent, full-time work and a wage of $15/hour. These negative working conditions aren’t exclusive to Walmart; large corporations are more likely to pay their workers less than small businesses. 

 

Has a Positive Environmental Impact

Environment

Small businesses have “a deep connection to their communities’ and environments’ needs, and therefore often have an incentive to be good stewards of their surrounding environment.” Because locally-owned businesses generally make their own purchases locally (or at least domestically) as well, they have less of a negative environmental impact when transporting their goods. On the other hand, large corporations almost always get their goods from further away. This means that they frequently rely on aircraft transport, which has greater fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions per mile than any other mode of transport.

Large food corporations also commonly use a great deal more (non-recyclable!) packaging than small farms and grocery stores. Every single day, the average American produces over four pounds of waste, much of which comes from food packaging. By buying food from your local grocery store, you can opt for foods with less packaging and therefore, create less waste. 

 

Builds Your Local Community

Local business owners are often more invested in your community’s future. So when you support them, you’re investing in the prosperity of your city.  Throughout the United States, only about 34 percent of the revenue from national chains is reinvested into the community, versus 65 percent from local businesses. This means that almost double the amount of the money that you spend at small, local businesses goes directly back into your community. Small businesses are also much more likely to give back, donating 250 percent more to local non-profit organizations and community causes than large corporations.

community

Beyond their economic contributions, small businesses also support and foster a sense of community that large corporations simply cannot. Small business owners connect and work with one another, and are much more likely to actually care about their customers and the products that they are selling them. Because of this, customer service is often stronger at small businesses. For us, and many others, shopping small business tends to be a much friendlier and higher quality experience. 

 

If you want to take a step further, you can shop at small businesses that are focused on social impact – we provide some great examples in our holiday gift guide.

So when you’re finishing up your gift shopping this holiday season, keep this in mind: shopping small business is worth it, for the environment, the economy, and your local community.

What are some of your favorite small businesses? We want to make sure the world knows about them! Share with us in the comments below, or get in touch on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

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How You Can Make a Difference This Holiday Season

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How You Can Make a Difference This Holiday Season

by Kate Vandeveld

The holiday season is here! And with it comes an opportunity to reflect on the things that we’re most grateful for, and the ways we can make a difference in the lives of others.

According to Network for Good, more than 30% of charitable giving happens in December, with average gifts rising to $142 versus $91 during the rest of the year. While donations are extremely important, there are many other ways to give back. Here are a few to start, but we would love to hear your ideas as well! 

SmallBizSat

Support Local Businesses

For many, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday shopping adventure, kicking off on the infamous Black Friday. Last year, consumers spent $12.3 billion at brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday – largely at large corporations like Walmart and Best Buy.  This year, some stores are even opening on Thanksgiving Day to further increase their profits, even at the expense of employees’ family time. Instead of standing in long lines and fighting your way through the Black Friday crowds, we have an alternate option for you: Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday encourages consumers to forego making purchases from large corporations on Black Friday in favor of supporting small local businesses the following day. Small businesses have created 63 percent of new jobs over the past decade and employ half the nation’s workforce. Spending $100 at a local business means that roughly $68 stays in your local economy, versus the $43 that will stay in your local economy if you spend the same at a large business. Started by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday helps local businesses bolster business by spreading the word about their own discounts and sales, and provides consumers with an opportunity to make better holiday purchasing decisions.

You can find participating small businesses here, or promote your own business’s participation here.

GivingTuesday

Give Back

Have your own idea for giving back and want to spread the word? Enter #GivingTuesday.  With three days around Thanksgiving dedicated to deals and purchases, the #GivingTuesday team decided it was time for a day dedicated to giving. #GivingTuesday is a movement that encourages individuals, organizations, and companies all over the world to develop their own initiatives centered around giving back, to be launched on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving.

Last year, thousands of companies all over the world joined the #GivingTuesday movement. For example, Microsoft YouthSpark launched an initiative to raise $500K for their Give for Youth campaign that creates education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities for young people. On #GivingTuesday, they matched 100% of donations dollar for dollar up to $250,000. eBay Deals also teamed up with eBay Giving Works for one week to donate 10 percent of sales to benefit a variety of non-profits.

Find out who is participating in #GivingTuesday this year and how you can get involved here, and follow the movement on Twitter to stay in the loop.

volunteer

Commit to Volunteering Throughout the Year

For many who want to give back during the holiday season, the first thing that comes to mind is volunteering at their local soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. While this is a wonderful idea, soup kitchens and shelters are often totally overwhelmed by volunteers on Thanksgiving, only to struggle to find resources and volunteers during the rest of the year.

Rather than volunteering your time on one or two major holidays, think about making a commitment to volunteer regularly throughout the year. Sites like Volunteer Match and Idealist can help you find volunteer work that works well for your interests and location. 

Gifts

Purchase Sustainable Paper Goods

A lot of paper is wasted during the holiday season - from cards to wrapping paper, we use a lot of it without thinking about environmental impact. Half of the paper America consumes is used to wrap and decorate consumer products, and from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, household waste increases by more than 25%.

But there are ways to be more eco-friendly during the holiday season without giving up cards and wrapped presents. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials -- newspaper, magazine, or old maps, for example -- it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. Or if you want to stick to traditional wrapping paper, try out these sustainable options. And when it comes to holiday cards, you can choose to go digital, or check out these eco-friendly cards made from 100% recycled paper.


As you prepare for the holiday season, take some time to think about the best way for you to make an impact. Whether it’s volunteering your time or simply making smarter and more sustainable consumer choices, now is the perfect time for you to make a difference.

What’s your favorite way to make an impact during the holiday season? Let us know in the comments below, or get in touch on Facebook and Twitter. And be sure to follow us Instagram, too!


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