Finding that perfect match, that special someone has been digital for over two decades. And while some scoff at this medium for finding true love, one of many reasons for its popularity is convenience. Additionally, these websites double as a screening mechanism for potential future partners, saving time and money that would otherwise be spent meeting the wrong person at a social event. While not everyone finds a person meeting their criteria for a partner, for those that do, it’s only the beginning. Next is the first date, hopefully a second, and maybe even years of happiness. It sounds so easy, yet the pursuit for that perfect union is challenging. But when this idea of dating is applied to volunteerism it becomes even more dicey. Perhaps there’s something to be learned from the very relationships we’ve created in our personal lives by expanding them to volunteer engagement.
Whether you’re charged with managing a for-profit company’s employee volunteer program or a volunteer manager at a non-profit seeking support from outside your organization, establishing these relationships is like dating. And regardless of which side you’re on, there’s something to be gained by understanding the others perspective. Either way, it means being able to broadcast what you’re looking for in terms of dating, and convincing others that you’re dating material.
Proving to other that you’re dateable.
Thinking in terms of a digitized 21st Century, there are many dating websites. Some of the most popular include the likes of Match, OKCupid and eHarmony. Each of these sites enable users to demonstrate who they are to potential partners up front, reaching their mobile devices. Some of the fields available to do this include inherent diversity like gender, ethnicity and age. But it doesn’t stop there as most have a section for socio-economic background which includes what they do professionally, a person’s education level and on some sites even income. Most of these also allow for fun tidbits like hobbies, skills, and everything else someone might want to know about a person before meeting.
There’s a catch though, and it’s that you first need an online profile. If you’re not online then you might as well not exist. For non-profits and for-profits alike, it means first having a website that potential partners can visit. Without it you can’t even begin to communicate who you are to others.
Your non-profit dating profile. When you think about communicating dateability from the non-profit perspective it means accurately communicating your impact and how volunteers have a great experience while supporting the mission. You can use your website to demonstrate your impact and showcase why you’re dateable for that for-profit company or individual volunteer. It’s important that you include simple things like number of people or communities served, how they were served and the qualitative data that shows true social change. Another item to share could include the opportunities that exist and how they funnel into the organization’s theory of change.
Your for-profit dating profile. For a company this means showcasing how you’re going to integrate employees, their skills and know-how into the organization being served. Just understand that it goes beyond placing a body in a specific position and must translate into impact for the community. This is most certainly the case when getting involved in skills-based or episodic volunteering. Show that you’re dateable by telling others you have something special to offer. There’s no better place to do that than your company website on a corporate social responsibility page. Some items to consider include the number of employees that are engaged, monetary donations made, and the result of what was accomplished. Just remember that this also goes beyond numbers, so provide qualitative data that proves the positive social change. You should also be transparent about the tactical level details of the services you offer in way of volunteer work.
Once you get beyond the superficial communication of why you’re dateable then it’s time to meet in person on a first date.
First date jitters.
Everything might look good on paper or a website, however, the result of that should only be to establish a first date. Like any first date though, it requires some initial chemistry between those involved. It’s here that those involved have an ability to communicate their greater intentions of creating a shared strategic vision. Just remember at first it may be very topical with a shorter-term goal of getting to know one another. What you’re not going to do on this first date is ask for a large commitment. You’d never go on a first date and then ask them to marry you… So, don’t attempt this here.
That same first date principle should be adhered to while chasing that ever-elusive perfect union between a for-profit and non-profit. You can’t be a representative from a for-profit company and expect that those at a non-profit will immediately be open to wedlock. Nor can you be from a non-profit and expect a for-profit company to take your words at face value when you tell them that you have a positive impact on the community you serve. There must be trust that’s established over time.
Building trust beyond the first date.
It must be acknowledged that there’s wariness on both sides. Non-profit organizations are often skeptical of the intentions of for-profit companies. While green-washing is something to consider, skepticism more often exists around not immediately knowing the impact of what the company plans to offer through volunteer service. Some may also see volunteer service as a waste of time because the anticipated outcomes aren’t made clear or well established.
It’ll be crucial that those involved communicate trustworthiness starting off with small events that can be accomplished with relative ease. Over time you can work towards developing those smaller events into larger programs that strengthen the relationship. By achieving these smaller more consistent victories you’ll create good faith and trust. So don’t expect that you’ll roll out big plans and then without hesitation have the other partner jump into this larger partnership. For companies with intentions to deliver more complex services through skills-based volunteering, they should establish this in coordination with organizations that they’ve already built rapport with. Do that instead of establishing a skills-based volunteer program with a non-profit that you’re largely unfamiliar with just for the sake of rolling it out. Doing so is sure to spell disaster.
Start dating someone you already know.
As a for-profit company it’d be wise to start with a non-profit you’ve had some small successes with, those with an established trust and rapport. Alternatively, you may start with organizations that you’ve funded monetarily. If choosing to volunteer at a non-profit already funded, it’ll be a good way to communicate in good faith that you want to increase your investment by offering human capital in way of skilled services over time. Because time is something you can’t get back, nor are promised tomorrow, perhaps gifting time is the most genuine and authentic way to demonstrate trust.
From a non-profit organization’s perspective, I can understand the skepticism in allowing outsiders into your business. This may be out of fear that for-profit companies are disingenuous. It may also be caused by fear of criticism and by letting them in, you’ll get hurt. This is like going on a date without makeup for the first time or being emotionally vulnerable, it’s difficult. Especially if you’ve been burned before.
Showing vulnerability and being secure enough to let others see it.
Being okay with your partner seeing you without makeup is a healthy step in relationship building. At some point, you’ll need to take it off. If you’re a non-profit professional, I’d urge you to acknowledge that at this stage (after many dates) it’s time to get over these insecurities, or risk tarnishing the relationship. This should be the part where as the non-profit professional you allow this for-profit company to get a little closer to you.
Keep in mind though, by doing so both parties must be okay with them seeing those imperfections.
It’s a two-way street. The non-profit must open itself up to their partner (the for-profit company) allowing them to see them without makeup. For those working at a for-profit, you must embrace and acknowledge being okay with the non-profit and their imperfections. Eventually this should result in the next step of communicating that these are all places where both of you have room for growth, and together tackling this as equals.
This is all about building that larger trust. So I urge non-profit organizations to allow for-profit companies to see them without makeup.
It must be acknowledged that there’s room for improvement, whether it’s a for-profit company delivering services to a non-profit, or a non-profit that’s the recipient of those services. This means being okay addressing shortcomings with delivery or flaws with the way it’s being received by the non-profit organization.
Meeting those you're dating where they are.
Lastly, for unions that stand the test of time there must be a consistent evaluation. Just like a personal relationship where you make accommodations for allowing a person into your life, the same must be done here. This means meeting your partner where they need to be met. When dating another person this could mean consoling them emotionally, providing advice or helping them solve a problem. But when talking about a non-profit and for-profit union, this comes in the form of service delivery.
When working at a for-profit, understand the deliverable must go to that non-profit where that non-profit can receive and digest them. There may be skills or services you want to provide that simply don’t satisfy a need. Secondly, what you’ve intended to deliver may be beyond the capacity or competency level for them to understand. Just like you wouldn’t try to administer 12th grade curriculum to an 8th grader, you must understand that while you may be a subject matter expert at whatever it is your company is trying to deliver, that specific non-profit must also receive it in a way they’re going to understand and retain.
For example, it wouldn’t be advisable to have an NFL head coach go to a peewee football team and start talking about the routes and play-calling at the professional level. They’d likely be talking over the experience level of the peewee football team.
When you break down something so complex like dating to the bare basics it becomes manageable. Just remember these dynamics must be considered when making those for-profit and non-profit partnerships. So, if you’re a non-profit professional seeking these services from your for-profit counterpart, it means being honest about your true needs and how you can best receive the offered services. If you’re a for-profit professional seeking volunteer opportunities for your employees, this means being patient and understanding there’s a wariness to overcome. There are many great partnerships that exist worldwide, and while that long-term goal may seem out of reach, just remember they didn’t start over night. They all started with that first date.