Engaging remote employees: how to take corporate volunteering virtual

Stéphanie Grawehr October 05, 2021

In this post:

What is virtual volunteering? What are the benefits of virtual volunteering? 5 things to consider when implementing virtual volunteering Wrapping up virtual volunteering

It’s clear by now that businesses are adapting processes and work cultures to a virtual office space, that includes taking corporate volunteering virtual. Some struggled, others were already there, but all are now reasonably well-practised. Businesses are now looking to optimise the major strategies that took a backseat during this transition to working from home life. 

It means more and more companies are looking at how to optimise CSR strategies to fit the new normal. A large part of these strategies is corporate volunteering programs. Retirement home visits, soup kitchens for the homeless, teaching specific skills to job searchers, all of these typically face-to-face volunteering opportunities are often trickier to organise with ever-changing health & safety measures. 

Yet, people still want to volunteer. In fact, over 750,000 people in the UK alone signed up to help governmental causes tackle the pandemic in 2020.  

The pandemic has made our world more empathetic and aware of other peoples’ struggles. It’s also made our world more comfortable online. How can we implement corporate volunteering schemes that continue to fulfil businesses’ and volunteers’ quests for purpose without traditional settings? Cue: virtual volunteering programs

“One of the great benefits we’ve seen from team-building orientated virtual volunteering initiatives is that you can connect teams across borders. I think that’s been a really significant step to building an enjoyable and meaningful team experience. It’s been a real positive for us.”

Kerry McNally, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Fitch Group.

This article will explore what virtual volunteering programs can look like, the benefits of virtual volunteering for businesses, and things you need to consider when setting up a virtual volunteer program for your CSR strategy. 

What is virtual volunteering?

Virtual volunteering, also known as remote volunteering, is volunteering that happens online. Corporate virtual volunteering means employees can successfully volunteer their skills, services, and time from the comfort of their own homes—using their computer. 

“For me, virtual volunteering—or remote volunteering—is a range of things. It ranges from small acts of kindness to pro-bono or long term virtual placements with organisations. We’ve seen a lot of companies providing employees with home volunteering kits; these are packages an employee can put together themselves to positively contribute to a nonprofit.”

Chris Jarvis, Executive Director, RW Institute, Chief Strategy Officer, Realized Worth.

It can be hard to think of different virtual volunteering initiatives for your business; here are a few of our favourites.

1. Virtual brainstorming sessions

virtual-brainstorming-sessions
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Brainstorming sessions are a sprint-like event where a group of talented individuals combine their skill-sets to solve specific issues a nonprofit organisation is facing. These sessions are much like the hackathons of the design world but are usually with a larger net of talent. 

For example, PwC Switzerland shifted their usually in-person teambuilding Intern Day to a virtual brainstorming session. Across the span of an afternoon, the interns combined their skill-sets and knowledge to help solve problems for causes from medical research to the environment, from Laos to Switzerland.

PwC virtual employee teambuilding
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“A great one for this idea is an initiative called Missing Maps. It’s an organisation that enables volunteers to use satellite images to trace outbuildings or identify villages that aren’t on anybody’s radar. So there’s no aid or support, and they’re not yet accounted for.”

Chris Jarvis, Executive Director, RW Institute, Chief Strategy Officer, Realized Worth.

2. DIY online workshops

DIY workshops typically consist of hosting workshops in your home or office, encouraging people to rally together, build and distribute something for a good cause. Your DIY workshop can be with a close-knit circle of people or in a digital space, whatever is available to you. 

For example, Clean The World allows you to build ‘soap saves lives’ boxes. Employees can now order their DIY kits to their home and switch the box building session to online calls. This way, everyone can still participate, teams are no longer restricted by geography, and multiple organisations in need can benefit from a team’s efforts.

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3. Support for the elderly or isolated

A big fear of virtual volunteering is that it always needs to be skill-orientated. It doesn’t! There are plenty of volunteering opportunities out there that require time and a kind heart. Supporting the elderly or those that are isolated is exactly one of these cases. 

For example, your team can create holiday greeting cards or thank you cards for people who are isolated or away from their loved ones, such as people in retirement homes. Many nonprofits are looking for volunteers to pick up the phone and simply have a conversation with the person on the other end. It doesn’t take much to do and can dramatically improve someone’s day.

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4. Virtual cleanups

Possibly one of the most satisfying volunteering projects for instant results. These cleanups can also shift to online and socially distanced or household efforts. This doesn’t mean they need to be a lonely affair.

For example, Drains to Ocean provides clean up kits you can have sent to your employees to focus on their micro-communities. Barrel Bag hosted a digital event, educating people on plastic pollution and how people can become environmental advocates in their daily lives at home. Cleanups will not stop, they’ll adapt.

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Another great example of virtual cleanups is pick-up trash bingo. It’s a way to gamify your teams’ efforts while uniting people if they cannot do the clean-up side by side, or participate in breakout groups rather than full teams. The bingo challenge acts like real-life bingo but with certain items of trash instead of numbers, take a look at the example below. BINGO!

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“We’ve done everything from mentoring schemes by Zoom or telephone, long-term leadership development programs, speed mentoring, mock interviews, and career talks. We’ve done everything I hoped we would do, and in some regards, we’ve done more than I could have hoped in our shift to remote volunteering.”

Kerry McNally, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Fitch Group.

5. Online coaching

Coaching is a relatively simple volunteering opportunity that you can shift online. Especially if it’s a one-to-one coaching experience. Online coaching can utilise popular video platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype. Or, as a mentoring service, you can use email and phone calls. 

Coaching the unemployed

For example, the employment delegation of the social cohesion department in the city of Vernier is looking for business professionals to help simulate interviews for job seekers. Or, simply lend advice on a job seekers CV and professional growth plan. Your employees don’t need to be experts; they’ll surprise themselves by how much they know from personal experience.

Career coaching teens
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Source: Alaya

This nonprofit allows you to coach young people that are looking to start their careers. They will present their ideas and visions based on their strengths, upon which you’ll provide feedback and suggestions for their best growth path. 

Career coaching aspiring professionals

Nonprofits like Mary’s Place are  on the hunt for people from all walks of life and in all types of careers. They hope to guide and provide insight to other individuals seeking a career in similar industries. 

You can record a video about your professional experience and how you prepared for your first few interviews. Then, submit them to the nonprofit. It’s a great option if you’re struggling with lining your calendar up with a particular incentive, as it’s something you can do in your own time.

A day in the life

Other nonprofits, like Tower Hamlets in the UK, are determined to give young people valuable insights from those who have walked the path before them. The coaching volunteer opportunity allows you to inspire and tell your story to primary or secondary children. It also aims to broaden knowledge and horizons by sharing stories from different cultures with children that have not been exposed to them previously. 

Charity trustees & digital board members

There are a lot of charities and nonprofits out there that would greatly benefit from business and leadership advice from people in different roles. For example, let’s say a nonprofit thinks they need cash donations to pay for an operations consultant, however, perhaps your operations specialist is exactly the type of guidance they need and didn’t know was available to them.

“Some traditional face-to-face volunteering opportunities actually lend themselves very well to the virtual environment. For example, pro-bono support for charities has been an ongoing need during the pandemic and can easily be done from home – so our pro bono support has increased as a result.

We also saw a big increase in hours volunteered by our network of charity trustees and school governors—as schools and charities needed additionalsupport and colleagues were able to deliver this from home. So we actually saw an increase in projects, hours and volunteers in certain specific programs according to both need and ease of remote delivery.”

Anya Todd, Corporate Responsibility Senior Manager, KPMG UK.

6. Raise awareness and funds virtually

There are plenty of ways you can raise funds or awareness for your Purpose campaigns. What’s more, these efforts don’t always need to be in real life. Virtual events are continually thriving, and with the right promotion and message behind them, they can do a great job of helping you hit your goals. 

“We held a virtual around the world fundraiser for the NSPCC, asking colleagues to clock up kilometres for Childline. We had over 1,000 employees get involved, participating in various things from paddleboarding to horse riding—which was great! Colleagues fed back that this also greatly enhanced their sense of health and wellbeing as well as boosting morale.”

Anya Todd, Corporate Responsibility Senior Manager, KPMG UK.

For example, the team from reinsurance company SCOR hosted a virtual sleepout to raise awareness and funds for Covenant House International: supporting young people overcoming homelessness. For a night, the entire team ‘slept out’ of their bedrooms. Some slept in other areas of their homes, while others took it to their gardens. The team managed to raise $23,000 for their cause.   

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“Every year since the SCOR team has participated in the Reinsurance Sleep Out for Covenant House, I always come away feeling that I receive as much as I give. I feel fortunate to be able to contribute to Covenant House’s efforts.”

—Jean Paul Conoscente, SCOR Global P&C CEO.

What are the benefits of virtual volunteering?

Virtual volunteering benefits are largely the same as traditional volunteering benefits, as long as you’re delivering a successful volunteering scheme. You should begin to see a lift in: 

Aside from the traditional CSR benefits corporate volunteering can bring, there are a few benefits unique to virtual efforts.

Employee and contractor inclusivity

Your business will be able to include more contractors and remote employees than you were before. People are no longer limited to their geographical location—which often meant that exceptionally ‘remote’ employees missed out on these team-building opportunities. In turn, this will build stronger links and bonds between teams that live across different locations.

Health & safety

Given the world’s ever-changing situation, virtual events are much more safety-conscious as they are all done in the comfort of someone’s home.

Flexibility

One of the biggest issues with in-person volunteering events was logistics; timings, travel, time-zones, seasonality, calendar availability. It was a lot to coordinate, and the slightest thing could throw out the timings and success of an entire group. 

Virtual events are that much more flexible, some volunteering efforts are not time-specific, and there certainly won’t be any chance of traffic!

Nonprofit reach

Taking your volunteering efforts online means you suddenly cast your CSR net globally. You’re no longer limited to fieldwork for those nonprofits within a 3-5 mile radius of your office. Now you can take your pick of global nonprofits that resonate best with your employees and your company mission and find online ways to support them.

Nonprofits benefit more

Skills-based volunteering is more beneficial for non-profits. Hands-on volunteering has been valued at an estimated 25$ per hour, whereas skills-based volunteering is estimated at 195$ per hour. That’s a 680% increase in dollar-value—hinting at the overall value for nonprofits. Simply put, your employees have a massive chance to make even more impact.

Requires less volunteer time off (VTO)

89% of companies offer paid volunteer time off for volunteer programs or at least flexible scheduling. However, usually, VTO takes into account travel time, lunch breaks, and other factors. An employee could be losing an entire working day for volunteering efforts that only take three hours. 

Digital volunteering eradicates buffer hours, allowing employees to be as efficient as possible with their VTO. 

6 things to consider when implementing virtual volunteering

Virtual volunteering needs due consideration when you’re setting up processes. There’s a lot that will be different compared to your hands-on volunteering opportunities.

It’s important to keep in mind it’s not always about sharing skills. Whether someone doesn’t feel like they have the skills to volunteer online or simply wants something less mentally taxing, there are plenty of other opportunities out there. 

Feel free to use this part of the article as your checklist for setting up a virtual volunteering strategy.

1. Technology & tools

First thing’s first, do you have the tech and tools to get your work done? Doing this manually can be time-consuming, hard to roll out, and may not provide you with valuable data insights. 

Ensure you have the necessary tools, like Alaya, to facilitate employee volunteering activities easily. Enable people to find and register for virtual volunteering opportunities that resonate with them. Your tool also needs to track and report on the impact of your program and your volunteers. 

“I’m a firm believer that, for corporate volunteering in particular, the process has to be seamless and as easy as possible. If somebody has to click more than two or three times then you’ve lost them.

Everything needs to be very clear in front of employees, and they need to know exactly how they can contribute and potential impact so they can say yes!”

Kerry McNally, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Fitch Group.

2. Communication & employee reach methods

Communication and reaching employees is essential if you want your program to be a success. It’s important to meet employees where they are, on the platforms they’re currently using or via those they’re regularly talking to.

“Taking care of the frequency of your communications is very important. Word-of-mouth, getting other people to communicate for you and their networks to sign up, is by far the most effective way to get people on board.

Be creative with how you communicate initiatives—think about different ways you reach people. I’ve used custom sign-offs, videos, polls & quizzes. Make it interactive, short and sweet.

Plus, use data wherever you can when pushing an initiative to employees; people respond to numbers. Telling a group of 100 employees that 75% of their colleagues are volunteering will make the 25 remaining sit up and take action.”

Kerry McNally, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Fitch Group.

No matter how little or large your workforce is, there’s no underestimating the power of peer-to-peer influence. Especially when it comes to a global launch, by introducing champions you’re not only meeting people where they are, but you’re communicating with them in their language, and with greater empathy toward their culture.

“With 16,000 employees in the UK across 21 offices, communication has always been key. We’ve found having Sponsoring Partners who champion specific programmes and send communications out themselves encouraging colleagues to get involved, to be really successful.

The senior partners for each office also do the same and each office also has a Corporate Responsibility committee made up of programme champions who also share comms and promote opportunities.”

Anya Todd, Corporate Responsibility Senior Manager, KPMG UK.

3. Internet access

This is specifically the case for non-desk employees, who generally have limited or no internet needs for their work. 

If your workforce is in an area with limited internet access, you’ll need to keep this in mind for your virtual volunteering activities. This doesn’t mean to say those employees can’t participate, but you’ll need to create other ways they can participate that don’t rely on high-speed wifi. 

For example, where information can be shared and referred to asynchronously, give people a central place to get the information needed. This way, you include everyone across time zones, shift patterns, and general calendar availability. 

Think of those projects or goals ‘offline’ employees can work on without the internet to contribute towards a larger scheme online. Try to include them as much as possible in a way that facilitates their circumstances. 

4. Volunteering guidelines

As the way we volunteer shifts, our guidelines, processes, and volunteering policies need to shift too. If you’ve got guidelines from your in-person volunteering efforts give them a thorough update. 

These guidelines will include a code of conduct, VTO rules, and new communication processes. Ensure everyone is up-to-date, so we can focus on doing great things, not how we do them. 

“Our volunteering framework is still the same as it was when everything was 100% face-to-face. We still allocate time to volunteers each year, and we still have policies, procedures, and guidelines for causes we’re working with.”

Kerry McNally, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Fitch Group.

Pro Tip: You’ll also need to create unique guidelines for your volunteer ambassadors or champions. Show and empower them to lead the way so that others follow their example.

5. Accessible causes

Depending on your resources will affect how much you can put into finding causes. Look for those causes ready for remote volunteer options. If you have the bandwidth, try to ‘brainstorm’ ways to convert close-to-heart previously hands-on NPOs to digital nonprofits and keep relationships thriving. 

“When it comes down to selecting your partner, you need to be able to identify one that operates in a virtual manner effectively. That doesn’t necessarily mean the technology they’re using, but are they actually operating effectively and impactfully within a community—virtually?”

Kerry McNally, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Fitch Group.

6. KPIs & ROI

Last on your checklist is KPIs and a return of investment. What metrics do you need to track that will determine the success of your virtual volunteering efforts? At the same time, how are you going to track them? 

Identify some clear goals both on the nonprofit side and your business side and your business side which showcases your digital CSR efforts are working. A few KPIs to consider are: 

  • Increase in employee engagement 
  • Increase in employee retention 
  • Increase in NPS survey results (internal and external) 
  • Number of total volunteer hours 

If you’re looking to set up a strong Purpose-driven CSR strategy, this guide can provide some great insights to support your process. 

Wrapping up virtual volunteering

Engaging employees virtually is a tough cookie to crack, but their results are well worth it. Hopefully, this article has highlighted strategic methods you can take to implement virtual volunteering successfully and inspired you with some volunteering examples. 

Virtual volunteering is doable for any business, no matter the type of workforce you have. All you need to do is find those causes and communication strategies that best fit your employees wants and needs. 

Good luck; we’re here to help if you need it!

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