Measurable Benefits of an Employee Volunteer Program

Employee Volunteer Programs are enjoying increased popularity.  Does your organization have one?  If you’re asking yourself, “Why would I want one?” you’re not alone.  Read on.

Most organizations have a set of values, which align with their Mission and Vision.  According to Arlene S. Hirsch, Doing Well by Doing Good, “Employee volunteer programs (EVPs) offer a range of benefits to organizations that adopt them, with a special boost to the company’s “triple bottom line,” say experts, which links people with profits through community service.  The result? Increased employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention—and that’s not all. Volunteer site leaders develop additional leadership and project management skills.”

Start At the Beginning

Survey your employees to determine if they would be interested in volunteering their time and talents, and where they would they would like to do so.

My organization decided on a three tiered approach.  The first tier included fundraising for local and national disasters, e.g., house fires, floods, tornadoes, etc.  Second tier includes volunteering one’s personal time to a nonprofit, e.g., Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, etc.  Finally, the third tier recognized employees who volunteered at least 25 hours of their personal time over the last calendar year at a nonprofit.  Third tier employees received special recognition.

While some employees volunteer to meet new people, have fun and give back to the community, others embrace it as a vehicle for professional development.

Put Employees at the Center

Gary Levante, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Berkshire Bank, a 2,000-person Boston-based institution, says, “All successful programs put employees at the center. Employees champion the causes they care about the most.  And when they have a quality experience, business outcomes improve.

Truly successful volunteer programs achieve measurable business outcomes around staff relations, talent and business development, reputation, morale, and more.  Levante says that Berkshire’s top executives embrace its EVP because it helps improve recruitment, engagement and retention.”

Volunteering can have a big impact on a person’s health and well-being, according to a Mayo Clinic study. This is sometimes referred to as a “helper’s high.” Specifically, volunteering can reduce stress levels, improve mood, help people stay active and give them a sense of purpose. 

We Want to Be a Great Place to Work

At the same time, these programs can improve an organization’s reputation and build brand awareness by strengthening relationships with business partners, customers and the community.

We all want our organization to be a great place to work.  When we recognize our employees doing what they’re personally passionate about, it contributes to their satisfaction and engagement.

It can turn out to be a valuable recruitment tool as well.  While learning about the organization’s Employee Volunteer Program, job seekers may be swayed by that as a reason to choose to apply.

Offer Skills-based Volunteering

Some employers have embraced skills-based volunteering, which can serve two purposes: In addition to enabling experienced employees to leverage their professional skills and talents for maximum social impact (like a lawyer taking a pro bono case or a medical provider working in a free clinic), it serves as a professional development tool to showcase and grow their expertise.

According to a 2016 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT study, 92% of surveyed human resources executives agreed that contributing business skills and expertise to a nonprofit can be an effective way to improve employees’ leadership abilities and broader professional skill sets.  The day-of-service model is a skills-based version of traditional hands-on volunteering. But instead of packaging meal kits or painting a house, teams of people work with nonprofits on more complex organizational challenges.

Voluntary-Time-Off (VTO) Policies

Voluntary-time-off (VTO) policies outline how much time employees get to volunteer during regular work hours, as well as how and where they can use that time.

 My organization is a small nonprofit itself, and, at least at this point in time, is unable to offer any ‘additional’ paid time off for volunteering.  Employees either will look for opportunities to volunteer around their lunch breaks, after hours or on weekends, or they can use their accrued time if they wish to volunteer during work hours.  Other organizations provide some paid time off specifically for volunteering.  Some encourage their employees to volunteer at nonprofits committed to the company’s core values.  Employees typically choose where to spend their time.  They need to obtain their manager’s approval to avoid scheduling conflicts and prioritize business needs.

Job Purposing – An Innovative Alternative

An innovative alternative to traditional EVPs called “job purposing” folds social purpose into ordinary jobs without taking people away from their daily responsibilities. This impacts the work experience more directly and has the potential to make a more sustainable social impact.

A safety manager at a Bayer Crop Science plant in West Virginia, for example, made a job-purposing deal with employees: Every day that the plant had a perfect safety record, the company would donate to a charity of their choice. The result?  Indicators of safe behaviors went up by over 200 percent.  We can all think of job purposing deals applicable to our organizations. 

Individuals with purposed jobs are also happier.   With job purposing, employees go home knowing they did something that mattered.

EVP and Engagement

As Allessandra Cavalluzzi states in A Million Dollars in Change: How to Engage Your Employees, Attract Top Talent, and Make the World a Better Place, “Unless your employees feel an emotional connection to your company, engagement won't happen.

Companies that are socially responsible and strong advocates of community involvement have higher levels of engagement than companies that are not actively supporting their communities. Research shows that demonstrating social responsibility in the community is a key driver of employee engagement.”

End Notes

Doing Well by Doing Good, Employee volunteer programs boost engagement and retention while serving the broader community, by Arlene S. Hirsch, January 5, 2019

How Community Involvement Can Boost Employee Engagement, by Allessandra Cavalluzzi, July 18, 2018

2016 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey