Tiia Sammallahti, CEO, whatCharity.com

The law of attraction – Obtaining corporate skills for charity retailing

Guest blog by Tiia Sammallahti, CEO, whatCharity.com

There is huge untapped volunteering potential within the corporate sector. Companies increasingly offer 1-3 paid days a year for their employees to contribute to society – and only a fraction of these days are being used. whatCharity’s key learning from our three year long active study of charity-company partnerships reveals that the secret to uncovering this potential lies in responding to the deepest motives of both charities and companies.

In terms of charities, harnessing corporate skills to commercial development can escalate many processes and add manpower and skills, which can then result in increased profitability.

In terms of the corporate sector, 91% of companies state that their primary motivation for building volunteering programmes is that they like that the process allows staff to engage better with their employers. Modern companies are moving away from manual kinds of voluntary work, because they know their skills could be harnessed into something much more impactful. In fact, an increasing trend is to give employees the say on who they volunteer with as well as what they do with their time.

For companies who do facilitate volunteering opportunities it is a time consuming, expensive process. Because of this companies often wish to offer employees a good selection of responsive and digitally savvy charities, thereby makes the collaboration easier to orchestrate. Platform concepts like whatCharity build for this kind of self-guided matchmaking.

Unfortunately, the image of shop volunteering for companies is often that volunteers will spend their week standing by the till or steaming clothes. Charity shops are often independently run, offering the chance for employees to get creative. The rise in use of digital marketing and social media is also becoming increasingly relevant to shops. The endless opportunities the charity retail sector can offer for corporate professionals needs better communication.

Here are whatCharity’s 5 tips for charities seeking to unlock the potential of the corporate sector:

1) Define the opportunities

  • Carefully define the skills needed, required volunteering hours, and length of commitment.
  • Create task categories for on-going, short-term and one-off/project based opportunities.
  • Cross-reference these based on locations: HQ, shops, warehouses etc. Finding volunteers is a often location based problem. Try to extract the opportunities per geographical area in order to approach local companies with a good offering.
  • Add non-location dependent opportunities e.g. digital volunteering, content creation, data analysis etc.
  • You now have a map of opportunities, which can be further restructured for individual o team opportunities with certain conditions (e.g. for which minimum skills are needed for the project to start). Visualisation of the opportunity chart can be powerful.

2) Information flow: Tapping into the ‘What’, ‘How’ and ‘Why’

  • Define your strategy of communicating the opportunities, what kind of message, platforms and tools do you intend to use? Make sure that your audience is active on the platforms you intend to use. For instance some younger audiences are not active on Facebook, although it might be a very good place to inform other groups.
  • Create a seamless, digital or at least partly digital sign up process for the voluntary opportunities.
  • Create materials (blogs, leaflets, videos, emails) for your partner organisations to use to inform their staff about the opportunities.
  • Your digital presence is essential. We encourage your charity to make use of whatCharity’s online platform, where easily creating a charity profile could be the stepping stone to making your organisation visible to corporations.

3) Scale

  • You will not necessarily see immediate results. So start the process early and do not give up. Once you formulate an official partnership and company employees have (hopefully) positive volunteering experiences, you are likely to have a good flow of new volunteers and perhaps even some people committing to volunteering during their own free time as well.
  • In order to make sure the flow of volunteers is sufficient and serves your needs both in quantity and quality, it would be beneficial to multiply your offering to several companies at the same time.

4) The human touch

  • An information event or a partnership event could be a good way to kick off a partnership. This could be done via web conferencing e.g. Webinar, video call, or a recorded video.
  • Personal greetings and face to face contact are powerful ways to connect with your audience – both when launching the opportunities and when delivering your gratitude of their input. Having a face (or faces) behind the brand creates trust – a crucial element which is often missing for potential donors and volunteers at the moment!

5) Make it come to life

Live stories of your achievements, impact as a charity, and the difference volunteers can and do make will help to pull in your audience. This will foster the motivation needed to make corporate employees want to choose your charity. Your motivation as a charitable organisation is to gain resources from companies. The company stands to benefit from the collaboration in the form of increasing employee engagement. The ultimate motivation for all of us as individuals is to do good; make a difference. And doing good shouldn’t be complicated.


whatCharity is a search site for all registered England & Wales charities and puts all charities, their offices and shops on the map and cross-references them with volunteering opportunities. In addition to skills and volunteer requests, charities can ask for fundraising help, goods and service donations from companies and link all their social media and fundraising and other digital presence to the service.

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