Why Transformative Volunteering Is Good Citizenship
A coworker recently invited me to a group session at a non-profit organization that helps people impacted by poverty gain and keep employment. During these gatherings, attendees wear business attire -- dressing for the jobs they want. Participants, volunteers, and staff share their experiences and affirm one another. The ritual is part of the participants’ daily routine of showing up, ready to work, learn, and find a path to providing for themselves and their families.
Attending the session wasn’t just about seeing a group of people in professional dress intent on realizing their goals. The experience was not only transformative for participants, but also perspective changing for volunteers. At one point during the morning, an attendee stood up and showed us his apartment key. He said he got to kiss his wife goodbye before he left for work that morning – something he hadn’t been able to do in shelters, where families are typically separated by gender. I shared that story with no fewer than 15 people I work with. And I look forward to doing what I can to join my coworkers again as volunteers, helping men and women who are perhaps faced with challenges around them that has made the road tough, but who want the exact same thing that we all want and deserve – a life with purpose and lasting success.
Frequently, volunteer experiences are episodic events that provide vital support to organizations, while offering volunteers valuable exposure to nonprofits. But what if more of our resources and those volunteering moments could also be used to boost the impact we can have as volunteers, and forge sustainable relationships between employee volunteers, the companies they represent, and the community-based organizations they support?
That’s the thinking behind transformative volunteering, and why we continue to try to work meaningful connections between our volunteers and the impact they are having into our volunteer experiences. Chris Jarvis, who works with many corporate volunteering programs and studies the science behind them, believes transformative experiences provide greater capacity for empathy and opportunities to reflect on volunteer experiences, in ways that can ultimately change behaviors.
Research also shows that volunteering has a positive impact on job performance. And we know that many workers are demanding these types of opportunities from their employers: In Deloitte’s global 2018 Millennial Survey, 39 percent of respondents said employers should be trying to improve society, though only 25 percent of respondents said those ambitions actually reflect what’s happening at their companies. The survey also revealed that organizations and senior leaders who are most aligned with millennials in terms of purpose are likely to draw and retain the best talent.
Interest and participation in volunteering is high. According to a 2016 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 62 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once in the previous year. A greater percentage of employed people volunteered compared with their unemployed counterparts (27 percent versus 23 percent), and volunteers spent a median of 52 hours over the course of the year, according to the report.
Transformative moments like that morning at Motivations have changed me, and they can change anyone. I am fortunate to work in the corporate citizenship side of Deloitte, so inspiring our people to volunteer is part of my “day job.” I am also lucky that thousands of our professionals annually and throughout the year raise their hand to volunteer through Impact Day, our annual day of service, as well as other activities such as mentoring students who are navigating the college application process and looking for another adult role model to help them realize their aspirations.
It’s my job not only to help our volunteers have the right opportunities to connect, but to ensure they understand the need to experience the impact they can collectively have as well. Here are a few suggestions for companies that want to build transformative volunteering programs in their work with non-profits:
- Identify volunteers who are authentically and personally motivated to get involved. Employees who have relationships with community-based organizations may be more inclined to volunteer and lead and willing to ask their coworkers to join them.
- Think more intentionally about the ways you recruit, train, and engage volunteers. Include training for volunteer leaders who manage volunteering programs and collaboration with non-profit organizations to help articulate their missions to your volunteers as well.
- Finally, encourage volunteers to share stories about their experiences so they may inspire others to get involved.
Volunteering has been about applying skills, experience, and interest for social good. I look forward to continuing to have my own experiences as we work together to have a positive and sustainable impact on this world and each other.
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