9 Tips for Virtual Engagement Success: Learnings from our education and nonprofit partners

In this blog, our first of the new year, we provide a foundation for effective and impactful community engagement in a virtual environment. Whether you are a program coordinator for a nonprofit, a faculty member for service-learning courses, or a director in community engagement or philanthropy, we hope you will be able to use these tips as you plan programming for 2021! 

For Devon, a guest speaker representing the volunteer perspective in our recent virtual engagement webinar, the COVID-19 crisis coincided with changes in her personal life. She started as a first year medical student while facing several of the most intense challenges COVID-19 can offer: family members became sick, and her family was unable to grieve after the untimely passing of her grandmother from the virus. 

Although these challenges made it more difficult, Devon knew she wanted to remain fully engaged in her community. “My desire to volunteer is still very much there,” she said, adding that because of her own experience with COVID-19, finding virtual opportunities is of the utmost importance.

This story is indicative of broader challenges facing communities: in our recent partner survey, 94% reported that participants had shared COVID-specific struggles with their organization. Communities are being impacted by this public health crisis, with consequences for productivity, sense of safety, mental health, and more. Perhaps due to these factors, 75% of survey respondents reported that participants were much less engaged than they had been before COVID. Yet participants like Devon want to engage, and to make an impact, despite these setbacks.  

On December 10, GivePulse brought together a few of our community partners to form a panel, discussing shared virtual engagement challenges and successes during COVID-19. In this post, we have gathered our nine tips for virtual engagement success to help you approach these challenges with an empathetic mindset while continuing impactful work for your organization or community.

1. Pivot and Rebuild

The first hurdle to virtual engagement is to develop engaging opportunities for your organization or partners. Many of these opportunities may meet a new need stemming from staff or organizational changes, such as fundraising, grant writing, and social media. Others incorporate interactive elements into virtual activities; for example, Devon, now volunteering with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, set up a crafting session with her little sister. She delivered supplies for a project to her little sister’s home, and the two were able to work on the project “together” over Zoom. Our full community safety guide includes detailed information about how to develop virtual and remote opportunities that, like Devon’s project, are interactive and flexible.

2. Learn From and Activate Your Network  

As we all work to pivot our engagement efforts in a virtual world, lean on your existing network to learn what others have done to maintain community involvement. Lindsey Payne, the Volunteer Coordinator at San Antonio’s The Doseum, recalls reaching out widely in March and April: “We were talking to everybody — what’s working best for you? What’s not working for you?” Your network might include similar nonprofits, peer institutions, local businesses, or even community members such as volunteers, students, or employees. Open virtual feedback sessions or surveys can facilitate communication for new ideas and activities. In addition, attend webinars and virtual conferences, or even form your own online community with peer organizations and institutions. Check in regularly to see what has worked for others, and come together to develop guides that can be shared with others. If you are partnering with organizations in your community, particularly as an institution of higher education, use this network to come up with flexible opportunities, bearing in mind that capacities may have changed due to COVID-19. As we all learn how to work in the new normal, having a strong community to learn alongside is invaluable. 

3. Provide Consistent, Relevant, Everyday Opportunities

Realizing that consistent, everyday opportunities were more appealing to his students, Dustin Perry, a teacher and service coordinator at Christian Brothers High School, Memphis,  “pivoted”  to opportunities such as making and delivering packed lunches, creating homeless care packages that students can keep in their cars to hand out, and other similar activities. To accompany these everyday opportunities, learning focuses on the social issues behind these small actions in order to connect the dots between small actions and larger social issues, informing a lifelong understanding of how to stay involved. Your organization, business, or school can set up similar consistent, everyday opportunities, offering increased trainings on the social justice issue behind your mission and finding ways to make engagement a lifelong element even beyond your programs. 

4. Compassionate Communication 

All participants will benefit from clear and compassionate communication. GivePulse has found that regular communication, check ins, and reminders right before events increases engagement and participation. When possible, augment these reminders with personal conversations. Individual check-ins can help you get a sense of the challenges facing each volunteer or student and adjust as necessary, as well as making the individual feel more connected to your cause and mission. Open space for your participants to be honest about their concerns, and address them when possible. If you are not hearing back, make sure to follow up — inboxes are more full than ever, and an extra check-in can make all the difference, so don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call!

5. Short and Sweet

We’re in a new reality where we often rely on Zoom calls and virtual presentations to share information. You may have found yourself wondering, “What’s the best length for my presentation? How can I keep everyone interested and make sure that they remember what I said?” Luckily, the team at TED studied this exact question. Backed up by cognitive neuroscience, TED Talks are required to be under 18 minutes long. With this in mind, figure out how you can make sure that any presented portions of your engagement opportunities are under 18 minutes. Once you hit the 18 minute mark, think about  how you can change up the content. For example, if you’re running an hour-long training or class, break it up into multiple 15-minute sessions, using breakout rooms for small group discussions in between. These same rules can apply to your opportunities for virtual or remote engagement: when possible, offer engagement that can be done in short chunks at any given time, and make very clear the availability for engagement (for example, is it weekends only? Afternoons? Mornings?). The clearer you are, the more likely you are to reach those who are willing and able to engage at those times.

6. Make Things Fun! 

Many of us are spending more time in front of screens than we’re used to. Make your presentations and opportunities stand out by adding fun, new content. Including short videos, like TikToks, can create a more visually appealing and engaging presentation, helping participants better retain knowledge and keep their energy up. Music can set the tone and catch the attention of those who may be drifting off. Know and work with your audience — if you are engaging older populations, you may need to offer more assistance with using technology in advance of the meeting to ensure participation; if you’re working with younger populations, you are more likely to need to focus on making your presentation fun using clips and interactive elements. 

7. Mix Things Up with Interactive Activities, Polls, and More 

During any presentation or activity, maintaining participant attention is key. Interactive activities, such as Devon’s virtual crafting session with her Little Sister, are one example of how to maintain engagement. Other opportunities for engagement include using virtual features like polls and breakout rooms to encourage communication between participants. Allow participants to meet each other by setting up breakout rooms in pairs or fours, and then come back together for large-group discussion after the breakout room portion. Encourage participants to continue communication and engagement beyond your organizations organized activities by creating Facebook groups or Slack channels. And if needed, provide restroom breaks or brief breaks to stretch, meditate or do breathing exercises.  

8. Establish Groups for Clear Accountability

To track progress, evaluate outcomes, and ensure engagement, establish consistent groups of students, volunteers, and employees who can keep one another enthusiastic and accountable. In addition, use the project-based event feature to establish clear deadlines and milestones, encouraging participants to be accountable to one another and to particular deadlines throughout the semester. This can also be an easy way to ensure some sort of evaluation metrics for outcomes. For example, students may be required to complete both a self evaluation and an evaluation of each group member at the end of the semester to provide feedback on the level of engagement. Accountability is crucial to effective and impactful virtual engagement! 

9. Recognize New Possibilities 

Above all, recognize and welcome the new possibilities introduced over the past year. Payne says that the most important suggestion she has is for organizations to “set goals and recognize — things are possible. Have expectations for yourself and your programs, but don’t make them unimaginable where you’re never going to reach those goals. We are all in this together.” And remember: in order to take care of your community, you need to take care of yourself. Lean on support systems, turn off notifications during off-hours, and decrease screen time when possible. Find opportunities to be active and don’t forget the importance of your mental and physical health. We’re all in this together!

This has been an overview of our December 10, 2020 webinar “Increasing Engagement During a Pandemic: Overcoming Virtual and In-Person Challenges.” For the full recording, see here

Genentech: Investing in Local Mentoring Change, From a Distance

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!

More than 40 years ago, Genentech founded the biotechnology industry with the invention of genetic engineering. Today, they remain a leader in the field, pursuing groundbreaking science to tackle some of the world’s most serious medical conditions. Equally as important is Genentech’s recognition that science must go hand-in-hand with the greater good, whether that is in the scientific community, patient care, or corporate giving. 

While they have won awards for everything from their cutting-edge science to their workplace culture, Genentech’s dedication to making a positive impact in their community remains one of their most defining qualities. Genentech has been on People’s 50 Companies that Care list since 2017, its inaugural year, and has been one of the Top Bay Area Corporate Philanthropists for fifteen years running. 

Genentech’s emphasis on community good is particularly evident in their K-12 programs in partnership with the South San Francisco Unified School District. Since 2010, the Gene Academy mentorship program has brought Genentech’s innovative scientific approach to local elementary schools. In 2015, they expanded this program to Futurelab, which offers mentorship for middle and high school students as well. These mentoring programs are widely recognized for paving the way in community engagement, winning the prestigious STEM Mentoring and Making award for Excellence in Public-Private Partnership in 2016 as well as recognition for Impactful Philanthropy from the National Mentoring Partnership in 2019.

Futurelab is an intrinsic part of Genentech’s company culture. Because of Genentech’s investment in their community, 89% of Futurelab volunteers report feeling more connected to the company and to each other through their participation in these programs, and 66% of Genentech employees say that Futurelab contributes to their retention. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Genentech began to scale the impact made by Futurelab through their partnership with GivePulse to streamline the scheduling, communication and tracking of its various programs. 

In this post, we will share how Futurelab has been able to continue strengthening their mentoring programs as they transition from in-person to virtual in the wake of COVID-19. We will first outline each of the three mentoring programs, sharing both how they looked in the past and how they will look in their new virtual format. We will then reflect on how these transitions relied upon Genentech’s close ties with their community. Finally, we will share Genentech’s plans to continue innovating and scaling with GivePulse, offering a new, hopeful lens through which to understand the transitions necessitated by the COVID-19 public health crisis. 

This image, taken before COVID-19, shows Futurelab mentors helping students with hands-on activities that excite them about science. Now, they will be doing so virtually.

Futurelab: Excite, Engage, and Equip — Virtually

Futurelab is comprised of three distinct K-12 STEM mentoring programs, each with its own unique goal. Gene Academy excites elementary students about science. The Helix Cup engages middle school students through a hands-on competition. Science Garage equips high school students for future careers, in and beyond biotechnology. Cherilyn Cabral, Senior Manager of Corporate & Employee Giving, says, “What we’re aiming for is that the kids who graduate from our program are science literate and know the importance of science… [and] hopefully some of them will become scientists too.”

This fall, Futurelab has had to change their programs in a way they never anticipated. Their in-person, hands-on programs are transitioning to entirely virtual opportunities in response to COVID-19. However, their goals to excite, engage, and equip students remain the central facets of each program. “The way we are approaching this is to keep the goal of each program intact,” Cabral says. “The delivery is what changes.” Volunteers will continue to schedule and sign up for opportunities through Genentech’s partnership with GivePulse — only now, the experience will be remote and virtual. 

This transition will not alter the emphasis on long-term and hyper-local impact. Cabral says, “South San Francisco is rich in underrepresented groups we hope will one day work at a place like Genentech.” In order to achieve this goal in the changed landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, Futurelab has had to be adaptive and responsive, without losing sight of the most important elements of the programs.  

“The kids who graduate from our program are science literate and know the importance of science.” 

Gene Academy: Excite

To that end, each of the programs has responded differently to the pandemic. Gene Academy, an after-school mentoring program for third through fifth graders, seeks to excite students about science. Previously, students came to Genentech once a week to participate in activities that use their natural curiosity to get them excited about science. 

“We have kept intact the consistency and continuity of interaction.” 

Now, Gene Academy will support this same natural curiosity through virtual mentoring. Students will be paired with volunteers; these pairs will then read a high-quality science article and send digital letters back and forth responding to the article. This digital pen-pal program will allow for thoughtful discussion, natural curiosity, and individualized connection. “We have kept intact the consistency and continuity of interaction,” says Cabral. 

To foster excitement among the students, the science articles are divided into units that culminate in a related project. Through this consistent interaction and tiered, engaging content, Gene Academy will continue to build on students’ natural curiosity to excite them about science. 

Helix Cup: Engage

Helix Cup offers a chance to engage this excitement through a competition to counteract the falloff in science interest in eighth grade. This same competition will take place this year — only now, teams will work together virtually. “They will be building something as a team, so they need to make sure they are communicating with each other.” says Cabral. “That’s another challenge for the students, who are currently isolated at home.” 

Luckily, they won’t be in this alone; the students will have help from Genentech volunteers, who will offer design consultations and provide data analysis guidance to decide on the best materials and model for the projects. There will also be a new element to the Helix Cup: oral presentations. Cabral is excited about this addition to the evaluation process. “In science, you always have to communicate,” she says. “Why did you make that mistake? Why did you choose that material? What did you learn from this? We do that at Genentech, and it’s important to get that started early.”  

The Helix Cup engages students to tap into scientific creativity. Previously, the Helix Cup featured in-person competition; now, teams will build together from a distance. 

“They will be building something together as a team, so they need to make sure they are communicating. That’s an additional challenge.” 

Science Garage: Equip 

Science Garage equips students with the tools they’ll need in college, no matter what degree path they take. In this four-year program, students previously got access to state-of-the-art equipment at the Science Garage biotech lab and classroom and learned lab techniques from pipetting, media prep, and chromatography to other skills like data analysis useful in and beyond Genentech. 

Realizing that Science Garage could not possibly include all of its usual features, Futurelab sought to emphasize the most impactful elements and put their energy into creating virtual versions of these.

This led to the creation of two main events: a biotech field trip and a poster session. The poster session involves input from Genentech volunteers during the poster creation and research, student presentations to practice their scientific communication skills, and feedback from volunteers on the presentation. During the virtual biotech field trip, students will hear from Genentech employees about their career journeys across the different functions they work on — research, development, manufacturing, and commercialization. 

In addition to learning about these four stages that lead from the creation of the medicine to its delivery to patients, students will have opportunities for career conversations online via the GivePulse Zoom Integration, where they can learn about career journeys and gain a stronger understanding of what an employee does. 

Responding to community needs 

Over the course of transitioning to virtual programs, Futurelab needed to consider several elements. The first, and most critical, was how to respond to the changing needs and challenges within their own community. “We can move fast,” Cabral says, “but there are bigger challenges at the [South San Francisco Unified School District] than what we are trying to do… At the end of the day, the school district and Genentech agree — the students need us now more than ever.”

“We rely on the support of our teachers. We cannot move forward with these programs on our own.” 

The Futurelab programs are not just about academics — they are also about social and emotional factors. During these times, this aspect has become even more critical. In a period of significant disconnection and isolation for these students, “another adult that really cares about you is important,” particularly when some students may not have parents at home who have the time or capacity to check in on schoolwork. “Focus on the connection,” says Cabral. “They don’t have to learn all of these science concepts by the end of the program — it’s making sure the students feel like they’re cared for, and they’re connected to someone else.”  

Security, too, has become of the utmost importance. “We have to protect the children,” Cabral says. All mentoring interactions will be monitored by a teacher; for the younger students, there will be no video interactions, and the digital pen-pal letters will be moderated by a Futurelab team. Maintaining compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is critical, as is ensuring that students are safe in these online interactions.  

“The way we are approaching this is to keep the goal of each program intact. The delivery is what changes.” 

Meeting the needs of the students is critical; equally important is meeting the needs of the teachers. “We rely on the partnership with our teachers,” says Cabral. “We could never move forward with these programs on our own.” With teachers potentially overwhelmed by changing expectations for distanced or hybrid learning, recognizing the elements that can remain the same is important. For example, rather than creating a new competition for the Helix Cup, Futurelab will be using the same egg drop challenge that teachers are familiar with from previous competitions. Maintaining familiarity where possible, while adapting where necessary, helps all stakeholders to be involved in the implementation and success of the programs. 

Making an impact through innovation

Genentech, as a biotech company, sees challenges and uncertainty as the jumping-off points for learning and growth. In line with this way of thinking, Futurelab recognizes that the challenges of these times encourage innovation and growth. “I think we are able to really focus on more impactful events and do them more efficiently,” says Cabral. 

Futurelab volunteers are learning crucial skills for engaging audiences virtually — skills that can carry over beyond mentorship. The volunteers have to be “very dynamic” in their online interactions, Cabral says; “You have to double your engagement factor when you’re doing it online. That’s a skill you can apply to work — how to interact virtually.” Volunteers understand the relevance of their work in Futurelab — 87% of volunteers reported feeling that their skills are strengthened through Futurelab. 

To teach these new skills for a virtual environment, Futurelab has had to alter its trainings. Rather than the one-time training offered in previous years, Futurelab will now feature multiple bite-sized trainings, with tips and tricks throughout the year. 

Training volunteers effectively for this new reality is of the utmost importance to the students: Cabral notes that during the virtual sessions, “You can’t step out; you’re in it. You have that one and a half hours to engage that student. If you don’t engage that student, you’ve lost that opportunity.” 

“The students need us now more than ever.”  

Because of this, Futurelab volunteers will need to make sure they can schedule and commit to consistent engagement. For example, all Gene Academy volunteers will need to write their digital pen-pal response letters every week. “If there’s no letter uploaded, it’s very hard to explain why your mentor didn’t write you a letter,” Cabral says. With the GivePulse Google Calendar Integration, volunteer schedules are synchronized with their office/work calendar to simplify management and coordination efforts.  

Looking ahead: Opportunities for scaling 

With the help of their community and platform partners, as well as the innovations and learnings from this new period of volunteer engagement, Futurelab is looking ahead at the possibility of scaling to include more school districts in their virtual efforts. There are several different ways this scaling could look in the near future. One is expanding beyond the South San Francisco Unified School District to offer an online version to students across California. Another is scaling the virtual opportunities to other Genentech sites across the United States. 

“These could very well be our next generation of scientists and innovators.”  

All of these programs, whether in-person or virtual, aim to change some staggering statistics: only 6% of United States high school students pursue a STEM degree in college. Additionally, underrepresented minorities make up 27% of the country’s population, but 11% of the STEM workforce. One-third of students lose interest in STEM by fourth grade. By eighth grade, that number jumps to fifty percent. Genentech hopes their efforts will help increase the diversity of the STEM workforce, particularly given that 90% of the students in the South San Francisco Unified School District are people of color. 

Genentech’s work is clearly of the utmost importance. And with all that they’re learning from the challenges of COVID-19, they may be able to expand their programs throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. For Futurelab, the story of their COVID-19 response is one of hope — hope that will strengthen communities and lay the foundation for the future. As Cabral says, “These could very well be our next generation of scientists and innovators.”

United We Stand (6ft+ Apart): Best Practices for a Safe Reopening

As of May 20, all fifty states have begun the process of reopening. Your institution, organization, or office might be considering what this means for the upcoming months. While some will opt to continue working, learning, and engaging remotely, others will decide to return to in-person activity in some capacity. For those who choose to reopen common spaces or return to some form of in-person engagement, it is crucial to implement thorough safety measures. 

Our COVID-19 taskforce is dedicated to supporting safe reopenings for our partner organizations, institutions, and corporations. In this guide, we will delve deeply into what the Phase 1 and 2 reopening advice might mean for you, including:

  1. How to prepare for a safe reopening 
  2. Day-to-day steps to maintain a safe work environment
  3. Specific risk mitigation strategies

We also offer suggestions for volunteer opportunities that might be safely offered as organizations start to reopen; if you feel ready to start planning these opportunities, you can skip past the preparation guide to read these ideas. 

We hope that this guide will help you to implement and adhere to crucial safety practices, particularly in contexts in which you might engage with your community and vulnerable populations. 

Note: All of the information contained within this article is based on the CDC’s recommendations and is not intended as business advice. As always, please follow state and local regulations, and remember that reopening plans are not mandatory: your organization decides for itself when and how it feels ready to reopen. 

Preparing to Reopen  

If you are considering reopening, you must consider whether you are equipped to do so safely. From gathering supplies to cleaning common spaces, you will need to ensure that every possible precaution has been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Use donation drives to gather supplies

In order to effectively prepare, you will need to make sure that you have the materials you need to protect against the spread of COVID-19. This includes sufficient hand sanitizer and soap for everyone in the workspace to use multiple times throughout their days, sanitizing wipes to wipe down all shared spaces both before and after use, and in some cases PPE for all who will be in the space. If you are not sure whether your organization will be able to personally procure sufficient materials, you can organize a donation drive and rally your community to help. If you are a business with the capacity to support your community partners, reach out to them to help fill their gaps! 

Check for potential allergens 

Allergens may mimic several symptoms of COVID-19, which can lead those suffering from allergies to ignore concerning symptoms, or can lead to widespread fear within your environment. Symptoms of allergies such as sneezing or coughing can also lead to the spread of COVID-19, as droplets may spread even from those who do not yet know that they are infected. In order to alleviate the spread of coronavirus, check all buildings and workspaces for potential allergens such as mold or dust. In residential universities, for example, all dormitories must be thoroughly cleaned and inspected in advance of allowing any students to return. 

Set up physical barriers and diversify office time shifts to avoid person-to-person contact 

In situations where you may need face-to-face communication, such as reception desks, seminar classrooms, or check-in tables, set up physical barriers wherever possible. A plastic screen, partnered with masks for those on either side, can limit the potential for spread of coronavirus. Wherever possible, close common areas (such as shared kitchens) to prevent spread from their use. In general, make and implement a clear plan for limiting in-person presence. In the case that some or most folks want to be at the office, continue to provide flexibility to work remotely, and identify diverse time shifts to decrease traffic and office concentration. 

Day-to-Day Realities

In the below infographics, our Best Ever Volunteer, Bev, details what day-to-day life might look like during Phases 1 and 2 of reopening. From sanitizing frequently to offering virtual and remote opportunities, Phase 1 allows you to begin opening to small numbers of people; Phase 2 offers additional safety guidelines for larger gatherings. Again, it is crucial that you follow any local or state regulations as well as proceeding with an abundance of caution. We do not recommend that you allow for gatherings of more than 10 individuals if you can avoid doing so, and we encourage you to take every opportunity to decrease your density of individuals in any space. 

Phase 1

Phase 2

Risk Mitigation

As Bev shows us in the infographics above, preventing the spread of COVID-19 may involve extensive risk mitigation measures. Such measures include the following: 

HIPAA-compliant symptom monitoring

HIPAA protects patients’ privacy and personal information. Symptom monitoring, such as temperature checks, must be compliant with HIPAA while simultaneously preventing unnecessary risks for uncomfortable or inappropriate situations in the office or workspace. The most effective way to ensure that privacy, HIPAA, and personal comfort are not violated is to request that anyone considering coming to a shared space self-monitor symptoms, particularly temperature. You might even consider providing thermometers to anyone who will be coming in on a regular basis. Check with local health officials to determine whether your system for symptom monitoring is HIPAA compliant, and make sure to bear in mind ways to mitigate risk of uncomfortable or inappropriate interactions if you make the decision to monitor temperature in person. 

Contact tracing 

Contact tracing is becoming an increasingly prevalent method for rapidly diagnosing and treating new cases of COVID-19. This method identifies all of the contacts with which a newly infected patient has interacted over the past few weeks. These contacts are then warned that they may be ill, asked to isolate, and, if need be, tested for COVID. We will be posting a more detailed guide to contact tracing, including how your volunteer base might be able to help with this method, in the upcoming weeks. 

Isolation of cases

For cases in which reopening means also opening communal living spaces, you may need to isolate cases should they arise. Universities, for example, may find that residence halls quickly spread COVID-19. If a student or resident is suspected to have or is diagnosed with COVID-19, there must be measures in place to immediately isolate this case, including an available living space that minimizes exposure risk (for example, public restrooms, kitchens, etc.), options for food delivery in the case that they are unable to procure food for themselves, and how or when the individual will be moved to an alternative location. 

Liability waivers

Your liability waivers will need to be updated to reflect the new risks that will be present for those who are entering shared spaces. In your updated waivers, you should make clear what the new risks are, describe any safety precautions that the individual is responsible for (such as providing their own protective equipment, staying home in the case of illness, etc.), and detail the mutual choices that must be made in order to prevent spread in either direction. 

COVID-19 task force 

Especially if you are unable to avoid larger groups (for example, more than ten people), having a dedicated medical response team or COVID-19 task force ready to respond to medical emergencies is key. This might be a group of individuals who each know a specific role to play in the case that it becomes clear that an individual is ill (for example, where cleaning supplies are, how to clean, etc.), or, in the case of an event, it might be made up of medical professionals. In either case, being prepared for an individual case or an outbreak is crucial. 

Safe In-Person Volunteering

Over the past months, we have supported partner organizations as they implemented thoughtful and creative options for their volunteer base to engage with their community while sheltering in place to flatten the curve. Even as the country reopens, many volunteers will continue to prefer virtual options. We hope that our guide to virtual and remote volunteering can help you to plan effective and safe options, and that we can help you to evaluate your organization’s readiness to support virtual and remote opportunities. 

In addition to these virtual options, organizations may cautiously begin offering in-person options in order to best support the populations they work with. With the above plans and procedures in place, you can work within your organization or partner organizations to come up with some ideas for safe, in-person volunteering. We hope the below ideas will help to get you started: 

Creating virtual tours

While you may not yet be ready to reopen with large groups of people, even the most rudimentary reopening will give you the chance to let individual or smaller groups of volunteers create virtual tours. For universities, parks, museums, and science centers, this option can showcase attractions and features that would normally be open to many people at once. This can also be accomplished through asking that visitors and volunteers share their photos; our partners at the Austin Parks Foundation encourage visitors to share pictures through their collaboration with El Arroyo, placing signs with clever safety reminders across their parks and asking visitors to share the images.  

Clean-up crews

Similarly, individual or smaller groups of volunteers can enter spaces to help with important clean-up operations. For example, local schools, parks, and cities/municipalities such as our partners at the city of Austin can organize limited and targeted groups of volunteers to safely remove litter that may have accumulated while volunteers were unable to engage in person. 

Food preparation and delivery 

Food justice is increasingly critical at a time with so much financial instability. For organizations that help to combat food insecurity, such as our food bank partners and campus kitchens from institutions like UGA, the opportunity to reopen may also mean the opportunity to begin operating kitchens and delivery services. With the right safety precautions and options such as curbside pick-up or contactless delivery, the fight against food insecurity can continue with help from the in-person volunteers who make it possible. 

Animal care

For our partners at humane centers and animal shelters, reopening can offer the opportunity to bring volunteers back to interact with the animals who most need their care. Dog walking, cleaning pens/cages, and washing dogs are all activities that can be done in smaller numbers and that make a huge difference to the lives of the animals in these shelters. Of course, continuing to promote foster care as an option for those who are working from home will help just as much — our friends at Austin Pets Alive have seen incredible community support for their foster program! 

Delivering goods 

Our partners at Inspiring Minds had a great idea early into the pandemic: they delivered books and craft materials to the students they normally would be able to tutor and mentor in person. This type of volunteering can continue during reopenings! Volunteers can help organize and deliver packages with important materials to members of their community who can benefit from the help. Whether it’s children’s books and packages with the materials needed for interactive activities, food, or hard-to-find items such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper, there is no doubt that these deliveries will make a world of difference. 

Contingency Plans

Perhaps the most important part of planning to reopen is recognizing that your plans may change. Information is shifting regularly; experts have warned that states’ reopening may lead to new surges, which will alter regulations and guidance. Remember to include contingency plans as you look forward to reopening. If you will be moving individuals into shared residential areas, make plans for how to efficiently and safely move out large groups of people in a short amount of time; if you will be opening in-person engagement options, consider how these can be continued online or remotely. Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best — and take every step you can to make sure the best-case scenario is truly safe. 

Did we miss anything? Let us know by contacting covid@givepulse.com. We want to make sure that we are supporting all of our partners through these challenging and transformative times. We know that our communities are strong, and have seen first-hand how all of our partners have rallied to make necessary changes while still finding ways to better their communities. We are humbled and proud to work with all of you, and look forward to helping in any way we can, now and moving forward. 

Virtual Conferences: Highlevel takeaways on #ACCP2020

Even as states begin to reopen, group gatherings will continue to be limited as a crucial safety precaution. But this does not mean that important events need to be postponed or cancelled — conferences, for example, can be just as meaningful and productive as ever!

Virtual conferences offer the chance to consider important questions and work together to come up with answers, without taking any unnecessary risks with people’s health. This is a screenshot of Hildy Gottlieb, co-founder of Creating the Future, encouraging us to broaden our way of thinking to change the world.

GivePulse teammates attended the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP) conference on April 30 and May 1 (the second half of the conference will happen in June with a virtual networking opportunity for attendees during mid Month), where, in addition to engaging in important conversations regarding corporate social responsibility in these unprecedented circumstances, we also had the chance to think through the Dos and Don’ts of virtual conferences. As with virtual volunteering, it is important to be guided by best practices to make sure that everyone stays connected to and invested in these conversations. 

Below are our main takeaways for those hoping to set up a virtual conference: 

Find creative ways to make sure the conference engages participants

Staring at a screen and listening to speakers may offer less stimulus than most conferences entail. Because of this, it’s important to be creative! Use polls and break-out rooms to encourage participation, and consider shortening speaking times to allow for more breaks. Remind keynote speakers that the format difference may lead to changes in their presentation. Encourage them to avoid lengthy speaking segments in favor of interactive elements. 

Polls encourage audience participation and start important conversations. This screenshot shows the important benefits of encouraging employees to lead through nonprofit board service. 

Conversations, follow up chitchats, downtime, etc. are crucial

One of the most important parts of conferences is the opportunity to chat with others in your area of expertise or interest. This is an opportunity to learn, network, and grow, and needs to be maintained in the virtual environment. Break-out rooms, as suggested above, are a great way to organically recreate this environment; set up some break-out sessions specifically targeted at meeting, greeting or even downtime (either before, between or after panels, just like they exist in “normal” conferences). Create a virtual hub as well, where participants, vendors, and sponsors can display, engage, and promote their organizations and can reach out to like-minded groups. Ideally, offering an opportunity to explore and be engaged with the conference without the need to participate in a panel is important!

Virtual conferences can increase accessibility: 

The ACCP scheduled portions of the conference over different dates across six weeks, and recorded the content sessions for those unable to make these times. They also offered built-in breaks between sessions. All of these reveal the benefit of virtual conferencing: extreme flexibility. Highlight this value, and use it as an opportunity to increase those who engage with the conference. 

By offering recorded conferences, you allow for more members and interested parties to access your conference. This can both increase membership and encourage broader growth. The screenshot shows Stacy Cline from GoDaddy sharing an innovative program model that scales to make long term outcomes and impact.  

Beyond these takeaways, the conference reaffirmed the importance of collaborative and compassionate business models in this time. Compassionate businesses are the ones that survive and thrive. We are grateful to partner with so many compassionate businesses; learn more in our J.B. Hunt blog spotlight and a recent webinar on the impact of what businesses are doing in Austin, Texas through Austin Gives

JB Hunt Spotlight: Empowerment Through Company Giving

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!


JB Hunt employees engage with their community through Make-A-Wish  

The right reasons

JB Hunt has a long history of giving back to their community. As a Fortune 500 transportation company, their culture of giving thrives in part because of their trucking roots. Amy Bain, Executive Assistant to the Chairman and Manager of Company Giving and Volunteering with JB Hunt, believes this attitude permeates the company all the way to the individual truck drivers. “If something bad happened to you,” she says, “you wanted one of our trucks to stop, because they’d always get out and change a tire. That’s the culture we started with — we did things for the right reasons.”


“We wanted to be like those drivers changing tires. We wanted to get our hands dirty.”

It was that desire to make a direct impact with their community that led the company to reevaluate their model of giving. In the past, “No one ever got to get their hands dirty,” remarked Bain. “I think we wanted to be like those drivers changing tires. We wanted to get our hands dirty.”

JB Hunt also wants to make sure that they are giving for the right reasons: for the good of the community rather than for public approval. She finds that often, “people will say, ‘I didn’t know you did that,’ and that’s because we really want to keep our roots of doing it for the right reasons. And if we do it for the right reasons, people will come to us as their authentic selves.” 

Company giving 

Part of giving for the right reasons involves working with employees to find the best way to make an impact. That’s why JB Hunt has shifted from the term “corporate giving” in favor of the more employee-oriented “company giving.” “The company may be giving money,” says Bain, “but the employees are giving the impacts and the culture back to us.” 


JB Hunt employees donate $25,000 dollars to the American Heart Association 


“The company may be giving money, but the employees are giving the impacts and the culture back to us.”


This shift in focus from company to employees has altered the entire culture of JB Hunt. Employees “reinvest in their community,” says Bain, “but when they come in our doors, we’re a community. So whatever they do outside these walls, it affects the people we are inside these walls. We’ve just seen such a change.” 

“The biggest change that I’ve seen,” Bain adds, “is how people interact. When you’re in a Salvation Army line, serving food to someone who can’t afford a Thanksgiving dinner with a fellow employee, the next Monday at work when you guys are having a problem… it’s a lot easier to communicate when you know that person is a good person at heart, rather than just being mad over a dropped load.”


“It’s easier to communicate when you know that person is a good person at heart.”

Employee driven 

Bain recalls that before shifting their model from corporate to company giving, JB Hunt’s donations were based on what was most important to the executives rather than on what was most important to the majority of individuals working with the company. “We thought writing a check and getting a plaque would matter to people,” she says. Now, however, JB Hunt recognizes that “what matters to people is nailing a nail into a roof alongside a fellow coworker with Habitat for Humanity. It matters that they’re working with the kind of people who want to make the world a better place.”


“It matters [to our employees] that they’re working with the kind of people who want to make the world a better place.”

With this in mind, JB Hunt has developed a giving plan that incorporates employee ideas and values, allowing employees to vote on where the company gives money. Not only has this provided employees a stronger say in the company’s actions, enhancing a culture in which employee contributions to the community are fully valued, but this has also increased the scope of JB Hunt’s giving. “By letting the employees vote and go back to their organizations, we got so many different organizations that we had never heard of, and we were able to give them a donation that was employee-driven,” Bain says.

Individual impact, company culture

Rather than keeping giving separate from the daily working environments of employees, JB Hunt now ensures that giving is an intrinsic aspect of the culture. Bain notes that this allows for a new degree of authenticity. Employees “can come to work and be themselves, and know that there’s a group around them that will also help them overcome their obstacles and life-changing events. It makes such a difference. It helps us be more diverse; it helps us to build community. This year, we spent time educating our employees and treating them more like a nonprofit, to give them empowerment to get on GivePulse and go out [into their community].” 

Bain believes that “GivePulse helped us move corporate giving to company giving.” She says, “GivePulse has allowed employees who may not previously have volunteered to “get to an area where they feel safest, dip their toe in and get involved. And once they know, ‘I can do this, I can make a difference with just one hour’ — I just keep going back to the word ‘empowerment.’ I mean, it’s been really empowering. It’s giving. It’s empowering.”


“It’s giving. It’s empowering.”

This empowerment of employees has ramifications beyond their work with nonprofits. “When people feel good about themselves,” Bain says, “they plan for the future, they want to get ahead, they want to be in leadership.”

National giving

JB Hunt further empowers employees by calling upon the diverse skill and knowledge sets that they bring with them, as seen in JB Hunt’s participation in Wreaths Across America. JB Hunt works with many veterans, who “can step up and they can show their knowledge. They teach us how to lay a wreath at a ceremony; they teach us what it means to honor our veterans. I now know what a gold star family is. I know what someone in New York did for Wreaths Across America. It pulls us all together in a community, even if we are across a nation.”


A JB Hunt Truck mobilizes for Wreaths Across America

This sense of community across the country has also changed how JB Hunt responds to natural disasters. Previously, Bain says, if there was a natural disaster, “You were on your own.” Now, however, she says, “We as a company, we can get together, we can help each other, we can get help to those communities. We can use our trailers to haul products donated by our customers. I don’t know any disaster area that doesn’t need a trailerload of fresh water. It’s not just about the nonprofits; it’s also allowed us to mobilize and engage for real life disasters that hit our employees.”

Continuing to evolve 

JB Hunt is continuing to increase efforts that will bring the company together across the country to give back. Last year, they tested their first “field event” in Chicago; Bain says, “it worked out so well, so we are going to do from California to Pennsylvania.” 

Simultaneous giving spread across the country allows employees to feel united in a common cause. “Employees from five different field offices, thousands of employees, are going to be able to participate in events together. We can do that because of GivePulse. I can’t wait. We really want to spread it. We want to throw money where our mouth is.”

Growth like this relies upon a robust volunteer management platform: “We are able to do it because we can coordinate it and get everybody on the same page through GivePulse.”

Benefiting everyone

Bain also notes that GivePulse’s ability to build capacity for company giving is evident in WalmartGivesNWA. “Walmart came up with the NWA giving where they match — and we’re even able to tap in to that.” JB Hunt has been able to engage their employees through WalmartGivesNWA to increase their impact on the community. “It’s crazy that GivePulse can bring us even more attached to our communities. Different people, maybe they don’t work at JB Hunt, but we can still be attached to the good they’re doing in the community. Who would’ve thought that another company could benefit from a company’s giving? It just intertwines us so much.”


“GivePulse can bring us even more attached to our communities… It just intertwines us so much.”

At the end of the day, this feeling of connection stands out to Bain: “It pulls us all together in a community, even if we are across a nation. I just feel so much more connected. I’m respectful of more people. I’ve been able to learn by working with them and volunteering with them, their stories. Sometimes the grumpiest person is just trying to survive. They have a sick child, or an elderly father they can’t find care for.” 

“I talk about this all day long — I don’t feel like I can talk about it really professionally, because I get so worked up about it personally, because it means so much…I know all the bad, but there’s so much good too.”



“There’s so much good.”