If you’re familiar with Visit.org, you’ll likely notice that we call our offerings “social impact experiences” rather than “volunteering.”
This distinction may feel arbitrary to those new to the Visit.org community. After all, if employees are mobilized to support an important community initiative, does it matter what these opportunities are called?
Here, we sit down with Visit.org’s CEO, Michal Alter, to understand the difference between social impact experiences and volunteering, and why the vocabulary we use to describe these activities is integral to how we deliver purpose to corporations around the globe.
How have companies historically supported nonprofit missions?
Michal Alter: In the relationship between corporations and nonprofits, nonprofits have traditionally been perceived as passive receivers of an employee’s time, money, and skills. It’s an arrangement where volunteers are there to give, nonprofits are there to receive.
How does Visit.org upend this traditional volunteering model?
Visit.org is built on the idea that nonprofits give to corporations just as much as corporate volunteers give to them.
Nonprofits can be both givers and receivers in the volunteer-corporation relationship because they are massive sources of untapped expertise, cultural and environmental understanding, trust within the community, local insights, and more.
A Visit.org partnership allows corporations to access this nonprofit knowledge. We see nonprofits as world’s experts in the distinct historical, social, and environmental context where they perform their work. They deeply understand the unique needs of their community members, and they are masters at prioritizing these needs to maximize impact.
By identifying each nonprofit’s unique assets and packaging it so it's easily accessible to employees, Visit.org unlocks opportunities for nonprofits to generate income by adding value towards corporate goals beyond volunteer hours, such as environmental training, corporate innovation, leadership development, mental health improvement, employee belonging, and others.
Due to these reasons, you’ll find that the word “volunteering” does not even appear in our mission statement, which is: Visit.org enhances the missions of impactful social organizations by facilitating mutually beneficial interactions between people and communities around the globe.
What is the difference between volunteering and social impact experiences?
Volunteering is a subcategory of a social impact experience. We coined the phrase ‘social impact experience’ back in 2015 because we wanted to redefine what the nonprofit-corporation relationship could look like.
Our model works well because Visit.org’s nonprofit team crafts carefully curated experiences from well-vetted nonprofits and social ventures.
Our team’s work is as follows:
First, our team scouts for and vets the best nonprofit partners from around the globe.
Then, we identify each nonprofit's unique assets and expertise.
Based on this information, we design an experience agenda that amplifies these unique assets. The design process is based on Visit.org’s industry-leading employee engagement best practices that we’ve honed since 2015. Each experience is designed to achieve three goals:
Create meaningful community impact
Foster connections between employees and the community
Strengthen relationships among employees
Once created, we publish the experience in our online library with a minute-by-minute agenda and visuals so the organizer knows exactly what to expect. We then market and distribute this experience to the world's largest corporations.
Once an experience is booked, the Visit.org team handles every part of the event, from scheduling, marketing, and registering attendees, to automatically capturing employee participation and producing holistic impact reports.
Nonprofit leadership is always present throughout a Visit.org event. They speak with unparalleled passion about the mission and impact of their organization, while answering employee questions. Additionally, a certified Visit.org host keeps the energy and engagement high, while a Visit.org producer overcomes any technical or logistics challenges during the live event.
Examples of social impact experiences include educational talks, stimulating discussions, hands-on activities, wellness journeys, professional development workshops, volunteering, and much more.
In what ways can social impact experiences improve employee engagement?
Going out to a happy hour or a traditional volunteering opportunity with your teammates is great. Employees hang out, they have fun, they create connections. There is certainly social value in these events.
But what happens if you enrich these outings with an intellectually stimulating conversation? What if that conversation — facilitated and happening in a safe environment — leads employees to think more openly and creatively about their work and team? What if individuals feel they are developing personally while also supporting a cause area that matters to the whole group?
Social impact experiences are unequivocally valuable to teams because they build strong feelings of trust, connection, belonging, and authenticity. These transformational emotions create a corporate culture of common purpose that is conducive to improved mental health and business innovation.
In what way do Visit.org social impact experiences allow nonprofits to participate in the global economy?
Visit.org’s social impact experiences enable nonprofits to generate a sustainable income of unearmarked dollars for their cause.
Traditionally, nonprofits receive the majority of their funding from various grants and donations, which are typically earmarked toward specific, prescribed programs.
However, the hand-selected nonprofits that are part of our ecosystem are the best decision makers when it comes to fund allocation within the changing needs of their organizations. They require flexibility to allocate funds where they are most acutely needed at a specific time. Unearmarked dollars are crucial for that flexibility.
For example, earmarked funds could probably be used to pay for teachers, a safe venue, and supplies for a youth tutoring program. But if, midyear, the nonprofit finds that some of these children do not have regular access to nutritious food, or do not have a safe place to sleep in at night, then the organization won’t be able to achieve their education mission. Access to healthy food or a safe bed is a more basic and timely need. In this scenario, the nonprofit would tap their unearmarked dollars to pay for these needs.
Visit.org recently implemented an unlimited “SITO” policy for all its employees, which stands for “Social Impact Time Off.” Can you talk a little bit about this initiative?
Visit.org coined the term Social impact time off (SITO). We see it as a broader definition for the more common VTO, “volunteering time off,” that many companies have.
It’s a way for our team members to engage in their community while also receiving a benefit that enriches their own professional and personal lives. SITO isn’t only about giving to the community. It’s also about activities where the community gives to you.
Examples of SITO include learning about an important community topic such as local environmental risk or participating in a yoga class led by an instructor who leads meditation programs for survivors of domestic violence. When you experientially interact with a topic in SITO, you’ll be more likely to have a deeper understanding of this topic and take more meaningful steps following it.
I’m happy to see that some of our corporate partners are adopting the SITO model to bring more flexibility and depth into their own CSR model. In fact, recent research published in Industrial Relations Journal shows that community impact opportunities were the only workplace initiative that actually improved employee well-being. Programs such as apps or relaxation coaching did not have any measurable effect on workplace wellness.