How NOT to do corporate social responsiblity

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Image Credit: zaveqna

I got an email today from a company looking to support nonprofit organizations.

Their first question of me:

Do you have suggestions about how I could go about finding non-profit groups in British Columbia that are looking for new funding sources?

Uh, toss a rock and you’re likely to hit one.

Their (not-so-mindblowing) plan is for nonprofit organizations to promote this companies members, and when the nonprofit’s supporters frequent these businesses, the nonprofit gets 3% of the value of the transaction. However, in order to get the 3%, the supporter would have had to print off and bring in a special form or make a booking with the companies through a special website.

Here was my response to their inquiry. Was it even worth a response?

Hi <name>,

I would say all nonprofit organizations in the province are looking for new funding sources. If there is a nonprofit in your community that you think is worthwhile, ask them.

However, having reviewed your site, I would not recommend this program to nonprofit organizations, as efforts directed to promoting the <member businesses> (which only give a return of $15 per person per year as per your estimates) would not be as valuable as efforts directed to promoting the organization itself, resulting in donations directly to the organization.

While supporting the nonprofit sector could be commended, requiring specific actions like printing a form from the website or booking through a unique website will likely result in people bypassing the fundraising requirements – resulting in business for your members, but not money for the nonprofit. If you want to truly support community organizations, don’t add strings. When you do [add strings], it’s a very thinly disguised effort to just make money for your own company.


$50,000 in creative services on offer for Vancouver/Calgary nonprofits

Near the end of my time at YWCA Vancouver, the organization was undergoing rebranding. A very expensive and time intensive endeavour. YW had most of the services donated, but it was still not cheap. And it was a bit of a pain (and I wasn’t even in the thick of it), but the results seemed pretty nice in the end.

One of the things I learned from the process is that it is VERY important for your creative company to “get” you. While they have experience and knowledge with marketing/branding, etc., your organization has experience with and knowledge of your organization, its clients and supporters. Don’t forget that.

So, if you organization could help further its mission through some donated creative services, read more below. I touched base with the previous two Vancouver recipients and they each seemed incredibly pleased with the process, though each year the recipients obviously go through some media training by Karo and stick to key messages (yawn).

Deadline: November 30, 2009 5pm

Forwarded message:

Karo Group, a branding agency with offices in Vancouver and Calgary, is giving away $100,000 in creative services to two non-profit organizations  – one based in Vancouver and another in Calgary ($50,000 each). This is the third consecutive year that the company has donated the services as part of its initiative, Karo Kaus.

Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) won Vancouver’s 2009 Karo Kaus grant. The rebranding transformed the company’s logo, website and communications materials while creating a unified brand that previously had not existed. Without the $50,000 grant, TUTS could not have afforded to do such a makeover. The 2008 Vancouver Karo Kaus recipient was Potluck Café and Catering.

For full details, visit

James Cronk, TUTS ED was so excited about the experience he used all capitals.


Granting timeline

  • Deadline: November 30, 2009, 5pm
  • Shortlist made by Karo employee committee: Early December, 2009
  • Shortlisted candidates present to the Karo committee: January 12, 2010
  • Winning recipients notified: January 21, 2010
  • Creative work complete: End of 2010

The rush to create group volunteering opportunities

Group volunteering is high in popularity thanks to both corporate volunteerism, stemming from trends in corporate social responsibility; and the Millennial generation’s propensity for group activities, stemming from their history of group work and cooperation in the K-12 school system.

I remember the volunteer coordinator at the last nonprofit I worked for asking if I had anything I needed doing suitable for a corporate group of professionals. The call would go out to various programs once in a while, and I always found filling this role to be awkward. On one hand, corporate volunteerism might lead to corporate donations, so nonprofits often jump to sort something out for these potential donors. However, precious resources may get used up, taken away from working with clients, running programs, etc., just for a group of corporate volunteers to spend a day doing a ‘meaningful’ task.

Nonprofits may also start jumping to create team opportunities for Millennial volunteers, though this trend might take a bit longer. It may be hard to change the way volunteers are engaged if the current model has been working for so long. However, if your organization is only offering individual opportunities, the current model is not going to work forever. Secondly, nonprofits will soon (and many already have) start to realize that their aging donor base isn’t going to sustain them forever and new donors are going to have to be cultivated from this Millennial generation.

Some of these group volunteer opportunities may last a day. Others a year. Here are some ideas for creating group volunteer opportunities that may be suitable for either corporate or Millennial volunteers.

  1. Stock up. Doesn’t it always seem that when you need people you don’t have them and when you have them you don’t need them? Even though the timing may not be ideal, save your donation sorting, activity room painting, or garden planting for when you get that call. Better yet, initiate contact with prospective group volunteers or donors and offer the opportunity. Ahead of time.
  2. Create a group of mini-skilled positions. Maybe you want your website or brochures translated into other languages. Maybe you need a bunch of documents realigned with your new branding. Corporate and Millennial volunteers can be a skilled bunch, so set aside some small skilled tasks, have a potluck, and get a work-party on!
  3. Re-brand individual activities as group activities. I don’t mean calling a duck a swan–some legitimate changes need to happen. For example, if your organization holds multiple events per year that requires volunteers, create a “Crew” opportunity. Give them chances to meet and greet each other outside of event times, offer some value-added training, and provide them with some unique chances to be engaged in other ways, and be sure to communicate with them as a “Crew” throughout the year. The SFU Student Development department is great at this branding. The orientation volunteers are the “O Crew”. The Week of Welcome volunteers are the “WOW Crew”. The volunteers are a team.
  4. Get Professional Development. Both corporate volunteers and Millennials may have backgrounds that could be beneficial for your staff or clients to learn from. Corporate volunteers from an audit company may be able to deliver a workshop to program managers about demonstrating a program’s return on investment. Millennial volunteers in a university HR program may be interested in leading a workshop for community centre clients on resume building. For example, SFU Career Peer Educators have work as a team before to deliver just such a workshop. It was valuable for the participants, and a highlight of the year for many Peers.
  5. Bring together individuals or small groups of volunteer together for special opportunities. I am currently working with two fantastic segments of student volunteers at SFU Volunteer Services. Two students scout and write stories for our ENGAGE blog; another team of volunteers is helping plan a Volunteer and Civic Engagement Week on campus this fall. Both groups are working in teams already, but bringing them together for special development or social opportunities could a) reinforce how each group contributes to our mission, and b) build social connections and a larger sense of team.

How have you engaged groups of volunteers at your organizations? How have you been engaged as a group volunteer?