Nearly three-quarters of employees say their job is more fulfilling when they have opportunities at work to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues, and 77 percent say it’s important their employer provides them with hands-on activities around social and environmental responsibility, according to Cone Communications. It’s no wonder that we’re seeing a growing interest from businesses on how they can develop employee volunteering programs that positively impact employees, the workplace, and the world.
Despite the interest companies have in developing employee volunteering programs, it can be hard to know where to start. Or maybe you already have a volunteer program in place, but participation rates are lower than you’d like.
Try using the Four C’s framework, which identifies the four most important elements of an employee volunteer program. Keep in mind that this framework is not a step-by-step program. Instead, you should reflect on your organization’s culture, strengths, and weaknesses to determine how to develop these four elements in your employee volunteer program.
Grassroots support for company initiatives can spur action, but for important, company-wide programs like an employee volunteering program, it’s vital to have executive-level commitment. Ideally, there should be an executive who will oversee the employee volunteer program and who can advocate for it amongst their peers.
Making your employee volunteer program an executive-level conversation also ensures that leaders of all business units are aware of the program, increasing the chances of information spreading to all employees from the top down. The more executives, managers, and business leaders who support and evangelize an employee volunteer program, the more likely it is to become embedded in a company’s culture.
In order for employees to see the value of a volunteer program, it’s helpful to connect it to something that they already view as important to the business. The best way to do this is to review your organization’s mission, vision, values, and/or purpose statement and explain how the employee volunteer program relates to that statement.
Reviewing your mission, vision, and values can also provide guideposts for what types of volunteer opportunities your business should offer. Providing opportunities that relate to your corporate goals ensures that employees don’t feel like they’re just being asked to volunteer on behalf of an executive’s personal philanthropic interests.
That said, the best volunteer programs provide a variety of way for employees to participate in employee sponsored volunteering. Timberland’s employee volunteer program, called Path of Service, was founded 25 years ago and provides its employees worldwide with up to 40 paid community service hours each year. Atlanta Mcllwraith, the senior manager of community engagement at Timberland, says, “when service is easy, balanced, and flexible, it stays relevant to employees, and encourages them to volunteer for causes that matter most to them.” Mcllwraith also notes that one of the key lessons her company has learned is to “strike a balance between volunteer events that address strategic issues for the company with the ability for employees to serve in ways that speak to their own passions.”
When developing an employee volunteering program, it’s important to think carefully about how you will brand your program and communicate volunteer opportunities to employees. Even the best-designed programs will fall flat if employees aren’t aware of the opportunities. Make a list of all of the communication channels available to you — e-mail, intranet, posters, table tents, green fairs, etc. — and learn what they’ll require from you in order to get your message out.
Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY) has a long history of volunteering, which has become a cornerstone of its company culture. The program, called TEAMPHLY, encourages employees to enhance the communities where they live and work through volunteering. In 2016, TEAMPHLY volunteers completed more than 25,000 hours of community service.
One of TEAMPHLY’s keys to success is that its organizers have identified employees at the local level and given them the autonomy to identify and run volunteer programs, rather than having every event developed by the corporate team. Given that the TEAMPHLY Acts Administrators know their community and employees in the region better than those at the corporate level, this group can organize volunteer events that they think will be of interest to employees. They’ve also been trained to resolve any issues that may arise, answer questions and share feedback with the corporate team. Thea Valero, corporate social responsibility specialist at PHLY, says, “This team is one of the most important keys to our employee volunteering program’s success. I have complete confidence in our TEAMPHLY Acts Admins to run events, which allows my team to focus on the broader corporate strategy.”
We’re living in a data-driven society, and to be taken seriously, employee volunteer programs need to be examined from a quantitative point of view. The best way to do this is to develop measurable goals for your employee volunteer program. Metrics such as number of employees who volunteer, number of hours volunteered, and number of employees who use their full volunteer benefit are all common. Measuring these data points and working toward a goal are the best ways to see when changes are happening.
Be transparent with your employees about your goals and the progress that you’re making toward it. Take the time to acknowledge those employees who participate and are helping you work towards those goals. We encourage companies to set aggressive and challenging goals, but to celebrate successes on the way to hitting them.
Choose your focus to grow your program
Commit, connect, communicate, and count are the essential elements of an employee program because they demonstrate to employees that volunteering is a business priority, in addition to being good for them personally and the community. If you’re just starting your employee volunteer program, start with the “connect” element. If you’re trying to improve participation, pick the element that you think you’ll be able to improve the fastest, and go from there. With a little work, you’ll have an impactful employee volunteer program embedded in your company culture.