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October 12, 2021

How to Leverage Volunteering to Improve Your Brand & Strengthen Your Team

Post By:
Abigail Axelrod-Wunderman
In-House Contributor
Philanthropic Director
Fiduciary Trust International
Guest Contributor:

Community outreach and volunteering can be vital to connecting your business to the local community. In doing so, you increase awareness of your products and services, and strengthen your team and community recognition. By interacting with your community, your business gets a chance to build a genuine connection with its consumers instead of simply marketing to them. Being a volunteer means you are offering a service to someone, but it is neither required nor an obligation; it is merely an act of generosity. This generosity is something that can extend into your team's culture and brand recognition.

Develop Your Community Outreach Plan

It is crucial to align your activities around your business brand and target markets when planning outreach initiatives. Look for relevant opportunities to spread your services outside of simply being a sponsor (which is still a very valid strategy). One idea is to develop a multi-channel approach to volunteering. When planning this approach, it is essential to think about all the channels and audiences to which you want to market. Think about how you can share your message across multiple platforms to amplify your influence, impact, and exposure.

For example, participating in a mentorship program or partnering with an educational institution can help you connect with parents, teachers, and students: a very diverse consumer base, indeed. Programs where there is more than one audience to interact with get your name and business in front of the broader community. While you think about the type of charity work your business should support and volunteer with, keep in mind the various ways you can still market your brand while also working with these nonprofits.

Support Local Nonprofit Events

With a little research you can find many different local events to support, sponsor, or even host. Often, cities have local websites where you can get an idea of upcoming charity events. Here are a few in the South Florida area: Palm Beach Society, Nonprofits First, and United Way Palm Beach County. Sponsoring an event offers your brand a chance to get in front of many people who share your values if you align your outreach strategy correctly.

Share Promotional Swag

A great way to brand your business is to create promotional products alongside your nonprofit partner. Promotional products can consist of things ranging from office supplies to clothing items to various accessories, and more. See if your business logo and the nonprofit's logo can fit on the same product and have them displayed in your store, as well as utilized by your employees. When you and your team volunteer at a charity, have matching t-shirts with dual logos to help with brand building. Likewise, bring some "Thank you" swag bags full of valuable promotional items as well as other items for the nonprofit hosting your business. The key here is to align with the charity's work in a practical and visual manner, so the public starts to associate your company with community giving and charitable values. This leads me to the last item.

Promote with Media Channels

Providing information or content to local bloggers, journalists, IG influencers, and other people who are well-networked in a media medium can help spread your brand recognition even further. By leveraging other people's followers and viewers, you can get more eyes on your brand and ignite new conversations about your business. The key is to match your influencer with your brand and share an engaging story that will be memorable. Take a volunteer initiative your business is doing already and circulate that message of compassion to the community.

Now you have an Outreach Strategy, but how do you engage your team and build a strong volunteer program? One that will ensure your business reaps all the many rewards of volunteering?

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Find Something Meaningful for Your Employees

Many nonprofits rely on volunteers to fulfill their missions. Whether packing food boxes, or mentoring youth, or assisting with general admin work, volunteers contribute valuable time and energy to help organizations succeed. Offering your employees opportunities to volunteer on a meaningful level with a nonprofit will build your team morale and your brand recognition in the community. Your business can help a nonprofit save on overhead costs, increase community support, and develop its capacity to operate efficiently and sustainably by effectively engaging volunteers. It is a win-win!

Engaged employees feel connected to the business and are more easily retained. Studies have also shown that employee morale and workplace productivity across all demographics will improve when a clear commitment to philanthropy is demonstrated. Research suggests that employers can increase productivity by 13% and reduce employee turnover by half.

Significant improvements to the overall well-being of company employees can also be achieved. When the well-being of your workforce is improved, this positively impacts employee attendance, commitment, and services. According to the Mental Health Foundation, engaging in altruism can:

  • Bring a sense of belonging
  • Reduce social isolation
  • Reduce stress
  • Decrease negative feelings
  • Stabilize our overall health

Why not consider allowing employees to engage in community projects or support global issues as part of their working day? The skills and time of your workforce can be utilized to benefit the wider community. Plus, this provides an affordable alternative for local and family businesses to engage in philanthropy.

Build Your Volunteers

There are many ways in which your business can structure and run volunteer programs. Let's discuss some of the best and worst practices.

Worst Practices for Volunteering Programs:

Copying others

When designing your outreach structure or your volunteer program, business leaders are often tempted to take the easy way out and copy what they see successful companies in their industry doing. The thinking is, "it looks to be working," but what if it isn't? Likewise, just as your business is not identical to the other companies in your industries, no strategy you pursue should be the same either. Do not limit your company's value by making the straightforward copy/paste approach.

Making volunteering mandatory

Sometimes, businesses may feel the need to engage as many employees as possible in a volunteer program. If the company is smaller, you are even more at risk of looking like you require your employees to volunteer. It is a fine line to create a volunteer program and then push involvement throughout the firm. In short, if people think there is a reward for participating in volunteering or, worse, a punishment for not, then their core motivation and satisfaction with the activity are skewed. Plus, this mentality could disrupt your team culture. People may think that the only way to get promoted is to volunteer or that those that volunteer are trying to kiss up to the leadership team. Either way, the culture clash happens. People may also volunteer but not value the charity's work. What happens if people in the community start to notice how fake an employee's commitment is to its volunteer or business work? It starts to paint a diminished brand appearance.

Best Practices for Volunteering Programs:

Prioritize relevancy, meaning, and value

Studies have shown volunteer experiences must be seen as meaningful to create a natural draw for employees. Likewise, when employees value the work in the community, employee loyalty also increases. It makes sense to develop a volunteer program that includes a significant community focus that impacts your employees. The goal is to have your employees feel connected to the cause to the point they feel a sense of pride with being involved in helping the charity. One example could be volunteering for teenage mental health programs. The rise of mental health cases began with COVID-19, and it continues to increase due to the pandemic's impact on families, drug use, and job loss.

Aim to create leaders

One of the best things about starting a volunteer program within your business is that all employees are on an equal footing regardless of corporate status. It is in this landscape you can cultivate your competent, skilled employees into leaders. Engage the volunteer committee to vote on co-chair committee leaders every year – two people are tasked with guiding meetings, introductions to nonprofits, and leading the volunteer activities. Hopefully, this is an opportunity for you to see who your staff values as leaders and how others respond in different roles. I have been amazed several times at the skill sets I see in some of my colleagues when we transition out of our day-to-day work roles and into a more creative, volunteer mindset. Who knows? It may very well help you pinpoint your next staff promotion too!  

Improve the Public Image of Your Brand

Volunteers who lead, advocate, or financially contribute to a nonprofit feel involved and invested in the organization's work and your business. This intrinsic connection to something more significant than the office helps produce a sense of value and belonging for your employees, which creates a more substantial team culture.

By prioritizing how your company interacts with your community, your business has a chance to build a genuine connection with its consumers. Remember, being a volunteer means you are offering a service to someone, but it is not an obligation; it is merely an act of generosity. When volunteer programs and initiatives are implemented thoughtfully, this generosity is something that will extend into your team's culture and brand recognition.