Time Vs. Money

Members of corporate volunteer councils (CVCs), groups of businesses that come together to discuss and share best practices on employee volunteer programs, need to have a shared vision and open lines of communication between the various entities or risk ineffectuality, according to members of HandsOn Network’s Corporate Volunteer Council Advisory Council (CVCAC).

Representatives from the CVCAC outlined the some of the biggest challenges for CVCs during the 2012 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Chicago. HandsOn Network is a program of the Atlanta, Ga.-based Points of Light Institute.

“Companies have to be willing to set aside a bit of their own branding to have the greatest impact,” said Alan Witchey, volunteer center director for the United Way of Central Indiana (Witchey is not a member of the CVCAC). One challenge facing CVCs is varying impact strategies of the organizational members.

Witchey’s United Way went from 100 tutors to 1,000 with the help of a CVC. He said having a “backbone” of committed, related companies helped the CVC succeed. Try to find similar companies willing to work together, he said. Some will be unwilling to conflate their own brand. And, that’s ok. “Not all members could get into it, but those that did were really the driving force,” he said.

Participation from some of the companies on the CVC will either drop off or not be present in the first place. To engage a greater number of members, develop a collective impact strategy. “It’s easier to get people engaged when they know what they signed on for,” said Barbara Waters, community relations manager of Placon Corporation in Madison, Wis. Waters said a LinkedIn group for her CVC has been helpful in increasing member engagement. Another tip she had was to rotate meeting sites between members. “It gives businesses an introduction to each other and lets them work with the host,” she said.

In the current economy, CVC member companies often face high staff turnover due to downsizing. The corporate responsibility office often is the first to be cut, and there are also position turnover and budget cuts with which to contend. Therefore, showing return on investment is crucial to keeping member companies on the council. They have to be shown that the dollars they’re spending are being put to good use.

If a member organization’s budget has been slashed, suggest they supplement their involvement with “sweat equity,” said Dara Ambriz, human relations and community relations, Cardinal Health, headquartered in Dublin, Ohio. A company could donate gifts in kind, serve on a committee or host a meeting, she said.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a for-profit or a nonprofit, more and more people want to know what impact and ROI we’re able to give,” said Witchey. Bosses of committee members will want to know why that employee is out of work for committee meetings and why CVC membership dues are the best use of company resources. It’s important to be able to show measurable impact on the community.

Membership in HandsOn Network’s Cor­porate Volunteer Council Network provides access to measurement and reporting tools CVC members can use to illustrate the community impact of their programs.

Because corporate resources might be scarce and turnover high, CVCs need a leadership succession plan. Waters said her CVC recently extended the term length of its leadership because many members complained that they had just enough time to figure out the job before they had to step down. “Make the roles clear,” said Waters. “When you only get together four times a year, you only get a little face time.” NPT