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Good causes are good business.

Supporting a cause can boost sales, win customers and attract employees. More and more companies are incorporating volunteer programs as part of their overall business strategy.

Morale of employees was up to three times higher at companies with a commitment to community service.

97% of companies surveyed say volunteer programs improve teamwork. (Source: Corporate Volunteer programs - A Strategic Resource: The Link Grows Stronger, Points of Light Foundation in partnership with the Allstate Foundation, 1999)

87% of employees feel a strong sense of loyalty to companies that support a cause. (Source: The 1999 Cone Roper Cause-Related Marketing Trends Report)

83% of consumers say they have a more favorable opinion of companies that support good causes. (Source: Cone Roper)

65% say they would likely switch to a retail store associated with a good cause.

61% of consumers say they would likely switch to a retail store associated with a good cause. (Source: Cone Roper)

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The workplace doubles as one of the nation's most effective message boards for volunteer opportunities. It's where one volunteer in four learns about specific chances to help others. On Make A Difference Day, multinational corporations and mom-and-pop businesses alike use skills and resources to contribute where the need exists. Projects often pull in employee families and community non-profits to address a range of social concerns, strengthening ties between your company and community. The Points of Light Foundation, USA WEEKEND's partner in sponsoring Make A Difference Day, counts many corporations among its Connect America partners.

Consider the benefits of a Make A Difference Day project:

Company Benefits

  • Improve your community.
  • Enhance your company's image.
  • Distinguish your company by associating with a local or national cause.
  • Boost customer loyalty by giving customers a new reason to support you.
  • Improve employee retention and attract new workers.
  • Garner positive media attention.
  • Increase store traffic and sales by making retail locations the center for Make A Difference Day activity (drop-off locations for food or clothing drives, sign-up/meeting sites for volunteers, points of purchase for supplies).
  • Attract positive media attention. Participating in public service events makes good sense.
  • Increase retail activity. Make retail locations the center for Make A Difference Day activity to build store traffic and sales. (Drop-off locations for food or clothing drives, sign-up/meeting sites for volunteers, points of purchase for supplies.)

Employee Benefits

  • Increase teamwork, morale and trust among your employees. Boost retention.
  • Enhance communication, organization, time management skills and accountability.
  • Develop leadership skills among your staff.
  • Increase employees' understanding of co-workers and respect for diversity and other cultures.

Planning your company's project

It's a lot easier than you think. Past corporate participants have told us that once the concept is embraced, the excitement spreads quickly. Employees are eager to contribute ideas and energy, and take responsibility for making sure the project is a success. Your company's particular resources also may naturally lend themselves to a Make A Difference Day project. By donating either your goods and services, or the skills, talent and caring of your employees, you help others and promote your company by investing in the community. (And, of course, in-kind donations are tax deductible.)

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Seven Steps to a Successful Project

1. Start a Make A Difference Day committee
Ask the president or CEO of your company to designate a committee leader. This person should then select a diverse group of people from different departments.They then can help recruit volunteers from all parts of the organization.

2. Choose a project
To focus your discussion, consider:
A. Your employees:

  • What social issues are employees concerned about? The environment, the homeless?
  • To what charities and causes do employees already give time and money?
  • Do employees have skills that might make them effective for a particular cause?

B. Your company:

  • Do your company's products or services have a natural affiliation with a social issue or local need? If so, do they lend themselves to a Make A Difference Day project? For example:
    • LensCrafters offered free eye exams and glasses to the underprivileged.
    • Home Depot employees repaired homes for the elderly.
    • Many dry cleaners accepted clothing donations for the homeless, then cleaned the clothing at no charge.
  • Consider your current community service projects. Could you expand any project for this day of service?
  • Use Make A Difference Day as an opportunity to build relationships with customers, suppliers, vendors.

C. Your community:

  • What are the most pressing social issues?
  • Who needs the most help?
  • Could you link up with a nonprofit such as your local volunteer center?

3. Call for ideas
If you need advice on choosing a Make A Difference Day project, these groups can tell you about volunteer needs in your area.

  • Local volunteer centers. To locate a volunteer center near you, call 1-800-VOLUNTEER.
  • Local volunteer organizations such as the United Way, Red Cross or Salvation Army. Look in the business pages under "Volunteer" or "Social Services."
  • National service programs such as AmeriCorps and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) organize projects in more than 1,000 communities around the country. Find your local contact through the Web site at www.nationalservice.gov .
  • The mayor's office or Chamber of Commerce. Call and ask whether there is a volunteer referral service to match volunteers with local organizations.
  • The Make A Difference Day Hot Line: 1-800-416-3824.
  • Volunteers of America opportunities in your area: 1-800-899-0089.
  • AARP Create the Good, http://www.createthegood.org, where you can "Find Good Things To Do" or check out the "DIY Toolkits."

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4. Spread the word

  • Contact the media in advance and distribute press releases detailing your project and its impact on the community.
  • Publicize your company's Make A Difference Day participation. Use the logos in this kit to make fliers and signs to post in the workplace.
  • Distribute a memo from your chief executive encouraging employees at every level to get involved and volunteer.
  • Get the support of informal leaders within the company: executive secretaries, union leaders, office managers.
  • Have Make A Difference Day committee members rally employees from their respective departments.
  • Advertise your company's Make A Difference Day project on tent cards in the cafeteria and on posters in appropriate areas

5. Recruit volunteers

  • Call an open Make A Difference Day meeting for all employees. Assign people to specific tasks. Pass around a sign-up sheet.
  • Recruit senior level management by offering employee team-building activities built around Make A Difference Day projects.
  • Create projects that encourage family participation, such as park cleanups, walk-a-thons, or planting trees and plants.

6. Nail down the details

  • Define specific tasks to be completed, time requirements and deadlines (see timetable).
  • Determine the logistics: locations, supplies needed, transportation.
  • Match skills of employees to particular aspects of the project.
  • Develop a short orientation or information session for volunteers.
  • Be sure to express appreciation to everyone involved as the project wraps up.

7. Remember the basics
Once the logistics have been worked out, you're almost ready. But don't forget a few essentials:

  • Be sure the supplies you need are available before you begin.
  • Make sure you have enough work for all of your volunteers.
  • Give volunteers clear instructions.
  • Alert local media and public officials to what your employees are planning for Make A Difference Day.
  • Plan a recognition event for your employee volunteers. Highlight volunteers in your annual report, internal newsletter, or plan a special luncheon. Distribute certificates of appreciation.
  • Evaluate your Make A Difference Day project. Does the project's success warrant a formal employee volunteer program and/or a larger project next year?

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Have Fun!
Reaching out toward the community makes everyone feel good, and provides the satisfaction of working with others toward a shared goal. As your company's project develops, be creative and open to all ideas. Some of the best projects have originated from seemingly casual remarks and observations. Give everyone a chance to brainstorm.

Make A Difference Day Project Timetable

Early August
Start a Make A Difference Day committee. Ask the president or CEO to designate a committee leader, who should then select members from different departments. A diverse committee can recruit volunteers from all parts of the organization.

Late August: Choose a project.
Consider employee interests and skills, community needs, your company's products and services and any existing community service commitments that could be expanded for Make A Difference Day.

September: Spread the word.
Week 1: Start posting fliers, posters and tent cards announcing Make A Difference Day and asking for employee volunteers. Use the logos available from USA WEEKEND Magazine.
Week 2: Distribute memo from president, CEO or other top manager encouraging participation. Get informal leaders - executive secretaries, union leaders, office managers and your committee members - to recruit volunteers.
Week 3: Schedule a meeting to describe the project for employees and sign up helpers for specific tasks.
Week 4: Contact the media and distribute press releases detailing your project and its impact on the community.

Mid-September: Recruit volunteers.
- Hold an all-hands meeting to explain the project and the skills needed.
- Sign up volunteers for specific tasks.
- Recruit senior level management by offering employee team-building activities built around the project.
- Consider projects that encourage family participation and include tasks for all skill levels.
- Approach employees one-on-one. People who are asked are four times as likely to volunteer as those who aren't, and nine out of 10 people who are asked to volunteer say yes. (Source: Giving and Volunteering in the United States, 1999, Independent Sector)

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Early October: Nail down the details.
- Define specific tasks to be completed, time requirements and deadlines.
- Determine logistics: locations, supplies, transportation.
- Match employee skills to particular aspects of the project.
- Develop brief orientation or information session for volunteers.
- Express appreciation to everyone involved as the project wraps up.

Final checklist
- Verify that needed supplies are available.
- Make sure you have enough work for all volunteers.
- Give volunteers clear instructions.
- Have a bad-weather alternative plan, if appropriate.
- Plan a recognition event. Highlight volunteers in your annual report, internal newsletter or at a special luncheon. Distribute certificates of appreciation.
Evaluate the project. Should you start a formal employee volunteer program or plan a larger project next year?

The fourth Saturday of October is Make A Difference Day.

November deadline
Check back on this website to check the date of this year's entry deadline. Make sure your project entry form has been postmarked by this date so you are eligible for recognition and national awards.

More In Make A Difference Day

Make A Difference Day, the largest national day of helping others, is sponsored annually by USA WEEKEND Magazine and its 800 carrier newspapers. Make A Difference Day takes place on the 4th Saturday in October each year.