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Community involvement: Building an employee volunteer program


You want to initiate company community involvement, but where do you start? Very likely you have a handful of people already giving back to their communities. But how do you establish an employee volunteer program that is meaningful and also won’t max out your resources?

It starts by talking with your employees because they’re the ones who can get your community involvement, or corporation social responsibility (CSR) program off the ground.

Employee-driven community involvement

Find out their interests and passions

Find out what your employees are interested in. Are they already involved in nonprofit organizations? Probably so.

If not, ask if anyone has a social concern or if they have a friend who is battling an illness. Are they passionate about animal rights or feeding the hungry? Once you find out what their interests are, you have a place to start. And, you don’t have to do it all yourself.

Establish a team
To keep the philanthropy projects from demanding time from a single staff member, get a team of employees involved with the task of organizing events. When they have a cause that speaks to them, they’ll be diligent to get others involved.

For example, you could establish a system where the team focuses on one volunteer effort a quarter; and each quarter it’s a different organization. One quarter, it might be someone organizing a walk to benefit children; the next quarter someone else is inviting everyone to support a veterans group.

This way, everyone gets a chance to be the community service star. Participation likely will be good, too. Knowing that they’re going to ask for help with their favorite charity down the line will encourage employees to support a co-worker’s cause.

Company-driven community involvement

At some point, your employee volunteer program may include a company-led component.

Your employees should always have the option to volunteer where they want – remember we want engaged, passionate employees. Employee-driven volunteerism always makes sense.

But sometimes employees who want to volunteer and give back to their community don’t know where to start. You can help them by creating options.

Support existing initiatives

You can start by supporting what your employees are already doing. Determine where people are already involved, then contact those agencies to ask if there’s something the company can do as a whole.

For example, one of your employees has been collecting stuffed animals for a children’s center for the past three years. You ask if she wants help and support from the company – and she says yes. Suddenly, it’s a company community involvement effort that now collects 250 stuffed animals in a year. Everyone wins.

As an involved community member, you may know about an organization that needs volunteers on a regular basis. Maybe your team will volunteer together at the soup kitchen, food bank or a YMCA program.

Or individuals may be needed to work a charity bike ride or mentor students at a local school.

Align with your company’s mission and values

There may be organizations that are a natural fit with your business. For example, a hospital might align with nonprofit agencies that provide free mammograms. Network within your community and industry to find those natural fits.

As a small or medium-size business, you likely won’t have a company community involvement coordinator on staff. That’s OK. Many nonprofits typically have volunteer coordinators who can help you identify volunteer efforts that benefit their agencies.

Starting a company community involvement program is about finding out what your employees are interested in and the needs within your community – and then creating a match.

Should you give employees paid time off to volunteer?

Offering employees paid time off to volunteer is a huge perk. If at all possible, you should do it. It doesn’t have to be a lot – a couple of hours a month can reap big benefits for you, your employees and a local charity.

You may not have much cash to give to a variety of organizations, but you may be in a position to offer a few of hours of employee time. Very likely you’ll get the productivity back many times over.

Providing this perk could be a way of setting your company apart from your competitors. Not many companies offer this, but it’s a great way to sweeten the pot when you’re trying to attract and retain superstar employees.

You might be concerned about employees taking advantage of the paid time off for volunteerism. If they do, then ask yourself if they’re the type of employees you want working for you. Anyone who takes advantage of a program like this just might take advantage of other things, as well.

Recognition for volunteer time

People who are volunteer-minded don’t usually do it for recognition. That’s not what motivates them, and the reward they receive is probably nothing tangible.

However, if you recognize and reward employees for their good work, it exposes others to the kind of behavior that you and your company value.

If you do choose a reward or recognition program, try to make it mean something to both your employees and the nonprofit organization. Honor your employee with a gift or other perk, but then also send a monetary gift to the organization of that person’s choice. When you reward the charity, too, your employees will see that corporate giving is a real part of the company’s values.

The payoff of an employee volunteer program

Employees should be encouraged to make a positive impact in the community through volunteerism. And your company should make a financial or in-kind donation to nonprofit organizations in your community.

Why? Because the benefits can go beyond employee engagement and your bottom line.

Giving to and helping somebody else has physical, emotional and spiritual repercussions. It helps with your interpersonal relationships at work and at home.

If we all truly understood the effect of volunteerism, there would be no barriers to making the most amazing impact in our community.

If you’re looking for superstar employees who reflect your values and mission to make a difference in your community, check out our e-book to see if you’re on the right track: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.