8 Strategies for a Successful Large-Scale Corporate Volunteering Event with Ben Sampson, Founder of WeHero

Successful Large-Scale Corporate Volunteering


For 5 months each year, Millie’s Changemaker Collective gathers around to inspire and connect with other like-minded social impact leaders. One of the highlights of the program is learning from industry experts on important topics such as impact leadership, engaging your team, and one of our favorites…volunteering opportunities. 

And who better to present on this topic than one of the experts (and a good friend of ours!), Ben Sampson. Ben holds a certificate of completion for Sustainability Studies from Harvard Business Schools, is Co-Founder of WeHero, and continues to write about new and interesting ways companies can maximize social change. We are so fortunate to have him as a guest speaker for our cohort!

Check out what we discussed:

What are some good tips and tricks for planning large scale volunteer experiences?

Ben: One of the biggest challenges we see when companies that we work with get into trouble is that they don’t have a long enough timeline for a hundreds or thousands plus person volunteer experience and they’re trying to get that done in 45 days or less. And one of the things that you’ll hear me talk about is not just only your timeline but the timeline for the nonprofit organization that we’re partnering with. So to make sure that those organic partnerships with these nonprofits are successful, we need to have decent timelines to set that up and do that in a really successful way.

The other thing with large scale volunteering is we want to think about the kind of impact that we’re creating and what the nonprofit is capable of delivering when we have a lot of people that are giving back and volunteering there. There are two things to keep in mind:

  1. We want to make sure that our employees are having a good experience. That’s a lot of people volunteering and we don’t want anyone sitting around. If an employee has a bad volunteering experience, it’s so hard to reengage them. 
  2. We want to be mindful of the impact for the nonprofit. Can you as a company provide resources in regards to a team of people that could help facilitate the volunteer experience? Nonprofits don’t always have enough people to support a large group. We want to make sure that we are providing impact for nonprofits who are typically strapped for resources and who usually only have volunteer programs designed for small groups.

Creating an experience for not just the employees, but for the nonprofit as well will set you up for a lot of success.

What are some different volunteer formats that companies should think about?

Ben: From the standpoint of larger groups and broadling speaking, you have the following:  

  1. Hands on volunteering: Volunteering done physically and typically in person, like what a lot of us think of when we think of volunteering and giving back.
  2. Skills based volunteering: Offering expertise services to the nonprofit to fulfill their needs such as new website/donation platform. This is very budget effective and budget friendly, and also creates some of the greatest amounts of impact.
  3. Micro volunteering: Tracking events such as “acts of kindness,” which are low lift opportunities to engage with an employee who has never volunteered before.
  4. Remote volunteering: Ship volunteer experiences to do together via zoom with their team like building a water filter. This style takes the weight off of the employee to go out and find the volunteer opportunity.

We have been hearing a lot about these office experiences. Can you give us some examples of what some of those would be?

Ben: Yes, a really great example is a Boston based company who is a huge advocate for education. They partnered with local schools and The Kids in Need Foundation to get a list of items in need in the area. A CSR team member was hanging out in the office lobby and every time an employee would walk by, they would ask if they wanted to make a backpack really quick and write a letter to a student? They scanned a QR code to track their engagement and could easily make a couple backpacks in a matter of minutes. It was a great opportunity to educate employees on the CSR efforts as well.

What should folks consider when they’re selecting a nonprofit organization to volunteer with?

Ben: The biggest asset to creating a successful volunteer event is a successful partnership with the nonprofit. I always tell people to build a funnel when you’re thinking of volunteering. Let’s identify 4 or 5 nonprofits that would be a great fit, hop on a call with each one, and ask lots of questions. Ask yourselves, how good of a relationship can we build with this organization not only for this event, but for a long term partnership? 

Also really understand the capacity and capabilities of the nonprofit. Oftentimes they are understaffed and don’t have a lot of people that can help run and facilitate these volunteer experiences. Alleviate their worries by getting ahead by offering ways to help.

One other thing to keep in mind that not everyone knows is that 50% of nonprofits expect some kind of a financial donation for the volunteer experience. So something to keep in mind with budget. 

Rachel: Good idea to find a nonprofit whose size is a good fit for your company. I use the rule of thumb that a nonprofit size (employee count) should be 1/10th to 1/15th smaller than your company size (employee count). 

Ben: And the last piece is the nonprofit contact. It’s very important to have more than one for backup.

How do you get leadership buy-in and promotion leading up to the event?

Ben: Yes, there are typically two camps of leadership, ones that are involved and ones that are not. Oftentimes a CSR team will try to work contacts as high up as they are able. If they can’t get a hold of the CEO, maybe they’re trying for the CTO or CMO. Oftentimes, these individual teams have a budget. We saw one CTO pull from their development budget to support the volunteer experience because they had a budget for happy hours, team bonding, etc. 

Second is to be very mindful of the hot button issue currently for leaders of the company. Is it employee turnover? Reducing costs for the organization? Thinking about metrics and the numbers that are important to them right now is really meaningful because it’s a great way to pitch your program to the leader with solutions. I.e. our programming reduces employee turnover, increases retention, improves cost, etc.

How does volunteering relate to corporate giving?

Ben: We measure a lot of that data. We have hundreds of thousands of people that volunteer every year through WeHero. The data is amazing. It shows that if an employee volunteers at the company they’re 2.2x more likely to donate money. On average, they’re donating 10x as much money. 

We see consumer giving dropping to about 1% to 0.5% but what’s promising is that we’re seeing the opposite in the corporate world and I think it’s because we’re seeing these companies do a good job creating education and activation opportunities. 

What are some other requirements that nonprofits typically have?

Ben: They are going to request a time window. And they are going to have limitation in regards to the amount of employees that can participate in volunteer programs as well. Nonprofits are kind of set in their head that volunteering happens at their nonprofit location with a certain number of people, but we know there’s so many other formats that can be successful. We can do a volunteer program at the office. We can ship a volunteer program to employee’s homes. There are a lot of ways to break barriers for skills based volunteering. And then, donation requirements.

What’s the best approach to skills based volunteering?

Ben: There’s two approaches. One is putting the action on the employees to reach out and offering volunteer time off. You’re putting the action on the employee and you’re going to find very few employees who go out and do that. Option two is much more successful. 

  1. Send out a survey asking for interest in volunteering for nonprofit support as well as what skills you have that can support a nonprofit
  2. Build a database of this information
  3. Reach out to nonprofits offering support as needed with this directory of employees and their skill sets

Shifting from employees reaching out to nonprofits to nonprofits reaching out to employees is really, really helpful. And to even offer teams that do skills based volunteering is very powerful and includes project management and a whole team of experts. Also for employees, they felt a comfort and willingness to engage if they were confident that that was their area of expertise. 

Again, we are so grateful for Ben’s expertise and knowledge. For more information about follow up volunteering formats, as well as a deeper dive into large scale corporate volunteering events, check out WeHero.