Giving Thoughts


Surges in Volunteering in Times of Distress: How Companies Can Address the Interests of Employees

By Alice Korngold

Volunteer matching organizations and nonprofits report a surge in volunteering since the November election. New York Cares indicates that they haven’t seen the level of interest since 9/11 and Super Storm Sandy. Nonprofit donations are also at peak levels. In one weekend following the controversial executive order halting the entry of people from seven Muslim countries, the American Civil Liberties Union received $24 million in online donations, more than six times the organization’s entire annual budget. Companies can foster goodwill among their employees and communities by helping employees find organizations that address the most pressing issues, locally and internationally.

The passion to serve during times of upheaval and distress is profound. Yet the challenge for many people is determining how they can be most useful and where to engage. Additionally, nonprofits are often challenged by sudden surges in interest; involving volunteers productively and meaningfully takes the care and attention of qualified staff.

Companies can play a vital role in helping to channel their employees’ enthusiasm, as shown in Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits by Engaging Businesses. The benefits companies that rise to the call at the most pressing times can provide and receive include:

  • Helping ensure that employee volunteers are adding value and having positive experiences
  • Helping nonprofits to maximize the potential of involving volunteers, particularly on short notice in times of distress
  • Building closer ties to the community, including gaining deeper insight into critical needs and ways to be most effective in helping to solve problems
  • Fostering leadership development among employees who take particular responsibility in organizing volunteers.

Companies can benefit their employees, nonprofits, the community, and themselves by taking these steps when volunteer interest surges:

  • Reach out to nonprofits where the company has already established a good relationship and has confidence in the quality of the organization
  • Offer assistance to nonprofits in organizing volunteers from your company
  • Offer to provide supplies that might be needed by volunteers
  • Provide funding to the nonprofit, with an understanding that volunteer management requires staff time, and that the nonprofit is probably stretched very thin during a crisis
  • Provide clear information to your employees about the volunteer opportunities, expectations, and relevant details such as times, locations, and the supplies they’ll need on hand
  • Provide clear information to the nonprofit about who is coming and how they might be useful
  • Have discussions with managers about ways in which the company might accommodate volunteer interests while also ensuring that the company’s work gets done
  • Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! Keep in touch with your employee volunteers and the nonprofit(s) on a regular basis. Good communication can preclude many problems and ensure that the experience is productive and meaningful for everyone.

Companies can prepare for surges in volunteer interest by establishing strong year-round relationships with the most impactful and effective nonprofits. Companies can also foster good rapport with nonprofits and help them advance by recommending well-qualified board members and pro bono volunteers as needed, and providing funding. The choice of nonprofits should be strategic in terms of the company’s goals, as described in Leveraging Good Will and A Better World Inc.

Another opportunity is global pro bono. PYXERA Global, a D.C.-based nonprofit, organizes teams of employees from international corporations to solve problems in distressed regions. Such experiences promote leadership development and innovation, as well as improving communications to advance diversity and inclusion. Join us for the Servant Leadership Forum which I will be moderating at PYXERA Global Engagement Forum on April 4 and 5. You’ll learn from leading companies about the most innovative and high-impact approaches to global pro bono.

Finally, for employee giving, companies can be supportive of employees by matching contributions, particularly to nonprofits where employees volunteer. GlobalGiving also provides an outstanding portal with hundreds of excellent nonprofits worldwide that have been carefully vetted. Support your employees in their interests to serve and you will help improve the communities where your employees live and work, while fostering good will in the company and beyond.

About the author:

Alice Korngold

Alice Korngold
A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot

Alice Korngold is co-editor of Giving Thoughts and the author of A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits by Engaging Businesses (Jossey Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2005). For over 20 years, she has been training and placing business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards and consulting to corporations, foundations, and NGOs/nonprofits on board governance, CSR, and sustainability.

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