It’s been three years since I joined Stepping Stone House (SSH) as CEO, transitioning to not-for-profit leadership from a commercial directing background. In that time, we’ve accomplished a lot, from securing new sponsors, to expanding our volunteer base, to building an excellent team and developing an outdoor adventure program that teaches our at-risk young people life skills and emotional resilience.
We’re also in the third consecutive year of our biggest fundraising event, Sleep Under the Stars, which took place on Friday 27 October at Sydney Harbour. This event is a great example of the value of skills-based volunteers who have been strategically recruited to suit particular roles.
It’s fun and rewarding to see volunteers come together to drive a positive social impact and help to build a brighter future for vulnerable young people. In fact, without the commitment, dedication and passion of our 162+ volunteers at SSH, events like Sleep Under the Stars, our annual sailing regatta fundraiser and our various adventure activities wouldn’t be possible.
Many leaders think that creating a volunteering culture in your business is simple and straightforward. In reality, it’s a challenge to get both your employees and the volunteers themselves aligned with the vision and mission of your organisation in ways that continually inspire them and entice them to stay.
Here are my five top tips on how to create a volunteering culture in your business:
Connect people to your vision and mission
When seeking out volunteers, present them with the vision and mission of your organisation in a clear and concise way so they have a clear view of the outcomes you plan to achieve. This will help you to create a set plan and model for your volunteer base. It will also ensure that volunteers are emotionally engaged and understand the journey ahead.
For example, at SSH we organise regular Open Days where potential volunteers come along and hear a presentation about the goals and outcomes of the charity. They are also given the opportunity to meet some of the young people we support over a shared meal. This personal touch works wonders in getting people engaged with the cause and developing their purpose in supporting SSH.
Define the roles, then recruit skills-based volunteers
Skills-based volunteering is a strategic way to leverage specialised knowledge and expertise for your organisation. It’s important to define the volunteer roles needed first, and then identify people with the particular strengths and skills suited to the role.
Mapping out volunteer roles will not only benefit you from a business strategy angle, but will also create a more meaningful volunteer experience for the individual. When a volunteer role is aligned with a person’s expertise and interests, they will know they are making a real impact and delivering greater value to the cause.
Seeking out individuals directly is a very effective way of recruiting volunteers. When you make the time to personally connect with people, you can build stronger relationships – so networking and meeting people in person is the most effective strategy. However, LinkedIn and seek.com.au ads also work well.
Remember to treat potential volunteers like job candidates. Be sure to interview people to ensure they have the right values and beliefs to work with your organisation and fit into the team culture.
Ensure your employees are on board
It’s fundamental to ensure that your employees understand the value of volunteers. When your internal team are on board, they will be better equipped to support and welcome new volunteers.
Ensuring your team are inclusive of volunteers is an education process. It’s about taking employees through the strategic volunteer plan and selling it internally as well as externally, coaching people to be open to volunteers’ specialist input.
Recognise and reward volunteers
Volunteers want to feel connected to the long-term vision of your organisation, so they can get something out of it on a personal level and fulfil individual goals. To help people achieve this sense of purpose, leaders need to recognise and reward the hard work of their volunteer team.
Appreciation and acknowledgement of individual contributions will go a long way in encouraging people to continue working with you. Some good strategies are hosting an annual volunteer awards night, giving out certificates of appreciation and organising complimentary (donated) fun events like movie nights or group dinners.