Ask a CSR Friend: 5 Ways to Increase Access through Volunteer Ambassadors

May 8, 2024

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Dear CSR Friend,

Like most companies, we saw a significant decrease in participation in our employee volunteer program during the pandemic. Now that most employees are back in the office three days a week, we’re still not seeing interest and engagement close to our pre-pandemic levels. Our small but mighty team has tried hosting lunch and learns to build awareness for upcoming projects and offering company-branded swag to those who sign-up first but what are we missing?

Searching for Solutions in St. Louis

Dear Searching for Solutions,

Have I got an idea for you! But before I get to it, I encourage you to reframe your interest in increased participation. Sure, it feels great to hit higher participation goals year over year, but (as we like to ask ourselves at Points of Light), “To what end?” Too often corporate social impact leaders get weighed down by the endless pursuit of achieving lofty numbers without realizing that what they’re truly seeking is providing opportunities for every employee, regardless of their role or work setting, to make positive change happen. You’re likely not interested in tracking more volunteer hours from the same employees but, instead, widening your pool of participants.

Now back to the idea. Drumroll, please! Although it will take time, resources and relationship building to get started, I promise the value it will bring to your company, your coworkers and the impact it will make on communities is worth the effort. The idea is simple: introducing people-powered infrastructure to not only scale and manage volunteer activities but truly, to ensure that every employee can realize their potential for creating community impact.

This isn’t a new idea for the sector, but it is one we continuously advocate for. Many companies employ a champion or ambassador model to help them mobilize in markets outside of HQ and connect to local community issues, those that might have impacts on the business and those that employees are most affected by. While companies may call them by different names, local champions can drive an uptick in participation by leading and communicating social impact throughout your company’s footprint, reaching and advocating for those who often aren’t considered easily eligible. It’s a powerful, cost-effective way to develop leaders, strengthen relationships and, ultimately, ensure equitable access.

Let’s unpack the connections between setting up a volunteer ambassador network and accessibility. These local leaders can help social impact teams to:

  1. Better understand and advocate for the functional areas or markets they represent. They’ll be able to tell you what barriers employees face for certain roles and work settings, along with the business priorities for their department or market, important timing and guard rails to keep in mind, which leads to less friction with business processes.
  2. Foster a culture of inclusivity and support. Volunteer champions create an environment where all employees feel empowered to participate, create local connections, rally their colleagues, and offer new perspectives as the voice of employees.
  3. Reinforce the company’s purpose, culture and commitments. Ensuring equitable access to social impact activities demonstrates corporate values and directly ties to fostering a sense of belonging and strengthens relationships across the enterprise. They can gain buy-in and more easily share information and success metrics with middle managers or local leaders who are often the only hurdle to inclusion.
  4. Inspire colleagues to get involved. By sharing their own experiences and passion for volunteering, they raise awareness for the company’s social impact strategy. Because they’re situated in that market or function, they can more easily cascade information to their peers and be the “personal ask” that influences a potential volunteer.
  5. Serve as relatable and approachable points of contact for their peers. They can offer guidance, address concerns, and provide valuable insights to ensure that volunteer opportunities cater to diverse needs and preferences within the workforce.

To help get you started on developing and implementing an ambassador network, check out our learning brief, Advancing Social Impact: Are Employee Volunteer Champions and Councils Still Effective Models in this New Hybrid World of Work. It presents more benefits of implementing people-powered infrastructure along with considerations to think through before finalizing your strategy. You’ll also find a compilation of best practices gathered from leading companies who’ve seen great success with this people-powered model.

We’ve also gathered successful practices for incorporating accessibility into social impact programs for your coworkers in Making Social Impact Accessible for All Employee Roles and Settings.

Both briefs offer guidance, but it’s your leadership that holds the power to ignite more positive change by expanding accessibility to all your colleagues. The world, and your co-workers, will thank you for it.

Until next time,

Your CSR Friend

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