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Director of PR and Communications
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Why you should empower volunteers

In the 1990‘s, 25% of Danes did volunteer work. Today, that figure has increased to one in three. But as volunteers are increasingly used in both private and public sectors, we need to ask a question: what motivates volunteers - why would anyone work for free?

Most recently, Stagis helped Varde municipality create a vision for the future. Citizen involvement was instrumental in creating the vision. And because we told the citizens of Varde this, they responded with commitment and involvement, showing up in force, taking part.
I began my career as a volunteer. I first volunteered at Roskilde Festival working with international press, but was later hired as a press manager. And it's my yearly pleasure to work with some of the 32,000 wonderful volunteers who help make Northern Europe's largest festival.
I've also gotten a glimpse of what goes into a political campaign, as a field organizer on the 2012 Obama campaign in Ohio - but before you get you hopes up, I have to disappoint you+, US campaigns are not quite like in House of Cards.

The overall strategy came from Chicago, and I was charged with 50 volunteers. Making sure that they were happy and engaged, despite working for free.

Now, the common denominator for both the Roskilde Festival and Obama's campaign was that the volunteers didn't just work for free, they actually enjoyed it. The key: empowering volunteers and entrusting them with responsibility.

Since volunteers don’t get paid, you have to create value for them, or they become uninterested and leave - making a person feel needed is perhaps the greatest value of all.

Libraries and festivals
To cut costs, 68% of Danish libraries use volunteers. This har led to the paid librarians focusing on harder tasks that required skill and expertise, problematically volunteers are assigned menial tasks: stocking and checking in books - the boring parts of library work. Work they quickly got tired of.

And because the volunteer librarians don't feel needed, they don't stay for long and have to be replaced. This requires the training of new recruits and negates any return on investment.

So, although it has been estimated that there can be a return of more than four US dollars for every one US dollar invested in developing a volunteer training and management infrastructure, you have to retain volunteers for longer periods to reap the rewards. You do this by empowering them.

A poor investment leads to a poor return - and vice versa.
Roskilde Festival invests heavily in engaging their volunteers. They get initial training, there’s a special lounge to hang out at, they get free meals, flushing toilets and hot showers - a much appreciated luxury during the seven day festival.

There are different types of volunteers at Roskilde. Most of the volunteers are organized through various associations, sports clubs and restauarants and work 32 hours to gain a free festival ticket. The festival itself employs almost 1.000 volunteers who work year-round.

If you have ever been to Roskilde Festival, the first group are the volunteers you see walking around in orange vests or sell the food you buy. The latter group perform tasks that would normally would be held by paid employees: they plan how the festival site looks; book music, and as in my case work with communications. The volunteers I have worked with as press manager have been highly skilled and qualified; they have background ranging  from professional journalists, consultants from major press agencies to heads of communication in the private sector.

To put it mildy: They are given a a lot of responsibility.

For example: The first time I ran a PR-strategy at Roskilde as a 100-hour volunteer, I managed eight 100-hour volunteers and twenty-five 32-hour volunteers.

The crazy part: As a journalist, I knew about communications and the media world, but I had never run a PR strategy before. But, Roskilde instilled responsibility in me as a volunteer, and that motivated me to excel.

Volunteers return yearly as a consequence of Roskilde's efforts to empower them. And as they return, they are gradually given more responsibility and value.

How to empower volunteers
During Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, 2.2 million Americans volunteered for a common goal: to help reelect Obama as president.

I volunteered as well. Coordinating my volunteers from all over Tuscarawas County, Ohio, one of the important swing states. While doing so, I got hands on experience with how campaigns in the US work: they use a tested recipe for engaging volunteers. The recipe has different stages. The process steadily increases their social capital and training to correspond with the responsibility given.

By steadily increasing the perceived value of the work and the amount of responsibility associated with the work, campaign managers can empower volunteers, enable them to do a job, and actually make them feel happy about doing it for free. Of course there is also the big common goal: to influence who is in the end elected president.

Volunteer work in the private sector
But volunteerism is not just for festivals, NGOs and presidents. More than 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies report having a formal employee volunteering program as part of their CSR-strategy. For example: In 2014, Microsoft donated $7.7 million as a result of the 456,000 volunteer hours logged through the company's employee volunteer program.
In 2011, Hewlett Packard’s Danish division wanted to rediscover and focus on their strengths to increase engagement, motivation and pride within the organization, and asked Stagis to consult on how to do so.

During the financial crises, HP had tried to steer through troubled waters. The former CEO Mark Hurd introduced reforms and cut costs in order to help HP stay afloat. But with a public reluctant to invest in IT, HP's PC division subject to media commentary and an overall decline in tech business, questions within the company began to emerge: “who are we?” and “who do we want to become?”.

From June to November in 2011, Stagis mapped out HP's corporate identity. This resulted not only in creating a more physical, visual or tactile expression of identity within their headquarters in Allerød, using text on walls containing different themes that correlated with their corporate identity. It also resulted in a volunteer-program called HelP. 

HelP would use HP products and competencies to empower small businesses to grow, flourish and later create partnerships with HP itself. In turn, HP employees felt pride in helping those who needed it and would rediscover the principles that Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded the company on.

Volunteerism does not have to be philanthropic on the part of a business, but that doesn’t overrule the good feeling empowerment can create with volunteers. The thing to remember is to match workload with investment: to empower volunteers by giving them new skills and responsibility, but also making sure that they feel needed or get special treatment, like influencing a music festival or presidential campaign.


Flere og flere danskere bliver frivillige. Men hvad motiverer frivillige til at arbejde gratis? Jeg har arbejdet med frivillige på både Roskilde Festival og under Obamas præsidentkampagne i 2012. Jeg lagde mærke til, at de frivillige og organisationerne fik mest ud af samarbejdet, når de frivillige blev bemyndiget.

De fleste mennesker vil gerne føle, at de er nødvendige. En af måderne er at give dem et ansvar, der får dem til at føle, at de er uundværlige - for ofte er de.

Danske biblioteker har siden 2011 prøvet at bruge frivillige til at mindske udgifter. Desværre har bibliotekerne ikke givet de frivillige det ansvar, der skal til for, at de frivillige føler, at der er behov for dem. Derfor fastholder bibliotekerne aldrig den enkelte frivillige længe.

I stærk modsætning til bibliotekerne giver Roskilde Festival ansvar til deres frivillige og sørger for, at de føler sig vigtige. Eksempelvis ved at give dem backstage adgang. Deres tilgang gør, at festivalens frivillige vender tilbage år efter år. Det man med et godt engelsk ord kalder empowerment. Der findes ikke en god oversættelse af "empowerment". Det tætteste er bemyndigelse, der betyder at give "formel tilladelse el. fuldmagt til at udføre visse handlinger; synonym beføjelse" (

Bemyndigelse er altså en måde at fastholde frivilliges interesse for arbejdet og samtidig skabe et stærkt tilhørsforhold mellem organisation og frivillige.

Frivillighed kan i det private bruges til at øge arbejdsmoralen og samtidigt gøre noget godt for samfundet, og derved forbedre en virksomheds CSR-profil. Men det kræver stadig, at virksomheder sørger for, at de frivillige bliver bemyndiget.

Stagis har tidligere arbejdet med frivillighed. For eksempel i forbindelse med visionsprocessen for Varde Kommune, hvor vi inddrog borgerne i den vestjyske kommune, som blev en stor del af udformningen af visionen. Stagis arbejder ud fra en tanke om, at strategien altid skal spejle de indre styrker.

Rediscovering the authentic strengths of HP

Over the past six months I've had the privilege of spending time with the management and employees at HP in Denmark. After several tough years during the financial crisis and a shifting environment for the IT industry, the Country Management Team wanted to rediscover and focus on the strengths of the Danish HP organization in order to increase engagement, motivation and pride within the organization. Stagis was invited to work with the management team to rediscover the authentic strengths of HP and to help the organization remember and reclaim what they are good at – what HP in Denmark is passionate about.

During the spring I met most of the managers in the Danish organization and during May and June I’ve personally been meeting and interviewing a lot of managers and employees at Hewlett-Packard in Allerød. When I started out I mostly thought of HP as the hardware company that most people think about – a company that produce servers, laptops and printers. But then, as I met with people and joined workshops and meetings, I remembered some of the things I had heard and read about HP over the years. When Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded their small company in a garage in Palo Alto in California in 1938, they were not only founding a small tech shop, they founded what is now known as Silicon Valley, the cradle of an entire industry. And they led the HP company from being good to great through a number of leadership principles that have been praised in well recognized management litterature. Like “Management by Walking Around”, “Open Door Policy” and “The HP Way”. Here’s one of the ads that ran during HPs “reinvent” campaign reconnecting to the historic garage and the principles of Bill and Dave:
Rules of the garage

I think the ad captures some of the greatness of HP. Since the time in the garage HP has come to be the largest IT company in the world with more than 320.000 employees around the globe. But during the past few years things have been tough in the tech industry due to the financial crisis. The former CEO Mark Hurd introduced new forms of reporting and cut costs in order to help HP stay afloat. Just a few months ago the former CEO of eBay, Meg Whitman, took over the role of CEO. The shifting external environment had an impact on the tech industry and on HP. Customers are reluctant to invest in IT, the strategy of HPs PC division is subject to media commentary and naturally, life in the tech business is not what it used to be, five or ten years ago. As you can imagine, the financial crisis naturally leads into identity questions like “who are we?” and “who do we want to become?”.

HP hovedindgang
HP Powerhouse

When I first entered HP one of the things that struck me was the lack of visual identity. The building is new, cool and looks great, but if someone had removed the HP Invent graphics from the building I wouldn’t be able of seeing, which company was working here. The same goes for the reception area and the meeting rooms. Where is the physical, visual or tactile expression of identity and the passion for the products, the employees and the customers? Every organization needs to express and show who they are in order to build a strong authentic identity.

Here’s the good news. Last week I was visiting HP in Allerød again. Newly appointed Managing Director in Denmark, Jakob Schou Meding, was on his tenth workday at HP, talking about community, knowing each other, working together and how to build trust in front of about 200 employees. People were cheering and seemed to have high hopes for the future. I joined to give a brief presentation of the authentic strengths of HP Denmark that I discovered over the past months. When I walked out of there I was proud to be part of the process and I felt quite sure that I was witnessing a local organization becoming a new, more focused version of itself. In the very near future the organization will be working with a series of initiatives to increase the sense of community, appreciation, engagement and leadership – and to help the potentials of the Danish organization grow.