Companies giving back to their communities isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, many companies have established programs that give employees paid time off to volunteer. Why would a company, focused on profitability, decide to do this? Although volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity, it can actually have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. Consumers have started using corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a factor in their decision-making process. It is also becoming vital to companies looking to attract and retain young talent who want to make a difference beyond their day-to-day responsibilities. If you’re looking to start a volunteer program at your company, or want to improve one already in place, here are a few tips to help you along the way:
1. Mix It Up
There are many ways a company can give back to its community. However, focusing on just one outlet can limit participation from employees who don’t have a lot of time or flexibility in their schedules. To make volunteer and giving experiences more inclusive for the entire workforce, a company should offer different types of opportunities throughout the year. Here are a few examples:
- Pro Bono Work: Utilize the professional skills your employees already have to provide services to those who are unable to afford them.
- Food & Clothing Drives: Unlike other types of volunteerism, these provide a lot of value without a large time or monetary commitment from employees.
- Fundraisers: These make it easy for virtual employees to participate. While picking causes employees care about can help increase participation, so can collecting donations in exchange for casual dress days, tournaments/competitions, auctions/raffles, and other fun activities.
- Service Projects: Engage employees by providing them with opportunities that don’t require them to leave the office. Onsite projects include making PB&J sandwiches for homeless shelters, blankets for hospitals, care packages for soldiers, and more. These can be done during lunch breaks, or a company can block off time on its employees’ calendars.
- Speaking Engagements & Trainings: Pass along knowledge/expertise to students, professionals, and job seekers.
- Off-site Activities: This is probably the most common type of volunteerism. Ideas include serving food at soup kitchens, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, planting trees, and visiting animal shelters. These activities are also a great way to include an employee’s family and friends.
2. Listen to Your Employees
A successful volunteer program engages employees and addresses their philanthropic interests. One way to ensure this is to make the program employee-driven. This means that the overall focus of the program is determined by the employees, usually a committee of individuals passionate about service. It is still important that the program has executive-level support, as the goals of the program should align with broader business priorities and values. Moreover, executive support and participation help embed volunteerism into a company’s culture.
Distributing a survey is an easy way to gather information from employees about their volunteer experience. Find out the issues they care about and the organizations they support. Employees are more likely to participate in your program if it supports a cause which they already support. You’ll also want to use this survey to figure out what volunteer structure would motivate employees. For example, paid time off to volunteer with a nonprofit of the employee’s choosing or employer-sponsored volunteer days at nonprofits selected by the program committee. Many companies do a combination of both.
3. Evaluate Success
Reflecting is a crucial component of any employee volunteer program. It allows you to analyze the community impact of a campaign from the perspective of the nonprofit organization, the company, and the employees. Understanding what went well and what didn’t go well will help you improve the effectiveness of future initiatives. Here are a few questions you should consider during the reflection process:
- How many employees volunteered?
- What did your employees learn from their service?
- Did you meet the measurable goals for the initiative?
- How many hours were spent volunteering?
- What was the impact on the nonprofit?
- Did your company benefit from the experience?
- Were community needs addressed?
Consider providing journals to your employees so they can do some personal reflection over the course of the initiative. Have them write down what they are discovering about the community they are working in and what they think their personal contributions were during the volunteering experience. This can help employees see the difference they are making and encourage them to volunteer again in the future. Once the reflection process is complete, have your employees share their stories. Sharing will inspire others to get involved, and further instill a sense of fulfillment in the participant.
As we enter the season of giving, I invite you to think about how your company is giving back and how you can make an even greater difference in your community. Your commitment to service helps make the world a better place.
Anne Rubin serves as VP of Collegiate Relations for AMA Baltimore. Learn more about Anne at our Meet The Board page.