Volunteerism a Win-Win in a Downturn

I attended the Volunteer Fairfax Service Awards last week, and it was clear there are many amazing people still out there volunteering their time, and worthy of significant recognition.  But trends show that volunteerism is down across the country.  Perhaps as we all work harder to try to sustain our jobs and support our families, we feel we have no room left for volunteerism.  

With a lot of organizations and individuals needing more support than ever right now, consider thinking of volunteerism as an opportunity.  Here are a few ways to do just that: 

Free Training - if you're an employer and cutting costs across your company, employee volunteerism can serve as an excellent supplement or substitute for expensive training sessions.  A good fitting volunteerism placement for your staff can give them new skills or help them refine their existing ones by exercising them in a different environment.  You can even work it into your training programs or performance metrics to encourage it more.  If you yourself are looking to grow your skills, volunteerism is a great place to do that, from food banks to nonprofit boards, each offers an opportunity to bring your skills to bear and to acquire new ones.

Great Free PR - Not only is volunteerism a great chance to build skills for your workforce, it can also be fantastic public relations for your organization.  Many consumers and clients hope to do work with organizations with value systems that connect with their own, and in a down economy, volunteerism is a great story.  You may inspire other companies or individuals to follow your lead, as well.
Job Hunting - if you're one of the many individuals that has lost your job in this tough economy, consider adding volunteerism to your repetoire while you search for you next opportunity.  Pair your volunteer efforts with your passions, and you'll find opportunities to demonstrate your skills to the organization, as well as to other volunteers and sponsors. Nonprofit organizations are often looking for people with business skills to support them, and could be a place where you can shine, network and land leads for your next job!  Volunteerism is also a great way to fill a gap in your resume with meaningful contributions.

Think about how you can integrate volunteerism into your plans or your business!

Boost Morale To Do More With Less

In this crazy economy, the need to downsize, streamline and find efficiencies left and right is leaving companies tired and remaining employees worried.  This has quite an effect on productivity and creativity. Whether your organization has undergone layoffs or not, tension and concerns about the economy and how it will personally affect your employees is front and center in their minds.  This distraction is keeping your business from being productive at a point where you need your staff to do more, not less. So, how to overcome it?  Here are a few concepts that may boost morale and work for your organization:

1.  Look to add free benefits - find ways to add flexibility for your employees, in their work schedule, in how they can dress, in what they can bring to the office.  Creating a flexible work environment reassures that your actions to streamline the business aren't tied to not caring about your staff.  

2.  Communicate Everything - Be clear and transparent.  The more employees know about what's happening in the organization (good or bad), the more at ease and prepared they can be for what's happening, and the easier it will be to make changes when necessary.  Leadership should be constantly speaking out and sharing results with employees, so they remember their role in your company!

3.  Look for the Silver Linings  - Some companies are choosing to focus on, and communicate where things are going right...see this article for how one company is looking at reduced turnover and lower hiring costs as a result of the recession.  What's going right for your company?

4.  Ask for ideas - Consider starting an idea-sharing program, or if you already have one, run a new campaign through it, looking to your staff (all of them) for new approaches to solving efficiency issues.  You may find those folks you won't want to let go and you'll engage your workforce.  Just be smart about communicating why you're doing this, so as to not create additional concerns about why you're reaching out.

Check Out the Feds Leading the Way...

Three cheers for the Obama administration's open campaign and new approach to transparent, technology savvy outreach and now governance.  With the ease of social networks and the accessibility and low cost of emerging communication tools, businesses would be smart to follow suit, especially given the current economic climate.  This promise of transparency in government is no longer just a promise, but a reality.  We literally get emails direct to our in-boxes from the President now (if you don't, sign up!).  Messaging from the top - a practice we've advised businesses of for quite some time, gets attention and action.  We saw it with Obama's campaign outreach not only through email but through Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, text messaging and a whole host of other channels.  If government can make this kind of hyperleap into the digital age (surely you saw the boss is keeping his super secure blackberry), what are you and your organization waiting for?  Even if it's a baby step, consider increasing your organization's transparency and easing your messaging at the same time.  Creating a limited-audience blog to which your employees can subscribe is one easy way to get started.  Check out Blogger or Wordpress for ideas.