Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Corporate Volunteerism P.1

Is it just a reason to get out of the office? Or do corporate volunteers really want to make a difference in the community?

The other week we organized a group volunteer project in our school. We set up a project where employees could take a half-day, come to the school, and spend time with our younger students.

The preparation for this day was going well. We had a schedule, we had supplies, and we even worked through some issues to accommodate a smaller-than-planned corporate volunteer group. However, a communications challenge arose when we tried to confirm the group’s participation. This company always had one main contact for it’s volunteer projects. She, however, was not the contact in this particular instance. Perhaps we should’ve seen the red flag.

The day of the project began bright and early with the preparations for the group’s arrival. Everything was set, and the kids were ready to go, and then we waited. And waited. Fifteen minutes after the allotted start time, two volunteers from the group arrived and assured us that, though the rest were in a meeting, they would be along shortly. Cut to thirty minutes later whereupon I welcomed two more volunteers. Then thirty minutes later when two more came. The arrivals continued in thirty-minute increments until all ten volunteers finally made it, the last two arriving after the project was finished.

Despite the disruption from the regimented – and highly irregular – arrival procession, our students managed to enjoy the time they had with the volunteers. After the project they (the students) went merrily on their way to lunch while the volunteers proceeded to the lobby of our organization.

They sat chatting for the next twenty minutes until I could coerce them into another activity at the organization. I imagine they simply tired of me asking if they wanted to do anything more productive with their remaining time, and were placating me by following along. The entire time I felt that I was infringing on company sponsored Social Time. Worse, I was the one left feeling guilty because the students were promised a morning of reading, and instead were given disruption and disappointment.

This made me wonder what expectations the volunteer group had for the day. Did they truly sign up for the project in order to share their love of reading with young students? Did they want to spend time interacting with kids in the classroom? Or was this simply a means to get off company property for the morning?

The corporate group’s actions left me in a bit of a conundrum, to say the least. We’ve had volunteers from this company before, and they are always polite, on time, and excited to participate in the activity. So what went wrong?

Before I can answer that question, I will need to understand the motivation behind the group signing up for the project in the first place. I must also review our communications, and look for ways to improve the information-sharing process before our next event.

Instinct tells me it was just a one-time flub. I believe there was a breakdown in the communications regarding the expectations for the project. There are many resources that discuss Corporate Volunteerism and many of them specifically list the benefits for companies and employees through such a program. However, very few talk about the benefits to the community organization, and even fewer are written from the perspective of the nonprofit.

I feel that some volunteers view their service as a blessing that the recipient should be thankful for, regardless of any extra work it causes on the part of the nonprofit. I feel that the needs of the volunteer are sometimes put before the needs of the program, which is a contradiction to the idea of volunteerism.

But that's just one girl's opinion.

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