7 Things to Consider Before Starting an Employee Volunteer Program
The area of employee engagement is a pretty big one for the purpose-driven economy, and one of the ways employees find engagement is through company-sponsored employee volunteer programs—or EVPs. In one study, 94% of companies surveyed believed employee volunteering provides a way to raise employee morale and 66% of employees reported a greater commitment to the company as a result of their experience volunteering.1
If you’re looking to implement an EVP at your company, there are a few things to consider:
What do you want your EVP to accomplish? Establish business goals that the employee volunteer program can meet (if possible, goals should be measurable). Consider how the program will help employees, the company, and your community partner:
Your employees - How do you measure your employee engagement or workplace satisfaction? Do you distribute an annual workplace satisfaction survey to employees? If so, is your goal to use the EVP as a teambuilding exercise to increase employee morale? For recruitment and retention of employees?
Your company - Will the program be used to demonstrate corporate social responsibility in your community? To further establish your corporate reputation?
Your community – What measurable goals can you help your community partner achieve? What impact do you want the program to have on your community?
Before starting your EVP, it’s also important to gain support from senior management. (Without company-wide buy-in, success will be hard to achieve.)
An effective EVP utilizes the interests, skillsets, and values of your employees while adding value to your bottom line. Spend some time assessing the interests of your employees and community needs to identify meaningful volunteer opportunities. For instance, if you are a food producer, perhaps you want to work with a nonprofit community garden. Our agency wanted to choose a cause that allowed us to use our passion for art and creativity in a way that would benefit others. Teaching second grade art classes at a local, low-income elementary school felt like the perfect fit for our team.
While it’s important to determine whether or not an organization is a good fit for you, it’s also wise to consider whether or not you are a good fit for them. Are they ready to be a community partner? It may be helpful to identify 2-3 organizations and talk with each of them about their volunteer programs. Do they have a volunteer coordinator? Are they able to identify a concrete list of projects that your team can complete?
Decide how much time your company can give employees to devote to volunteering. Are you a small company that can schedule company-wide volunteer events over the lunch hour? Or are you part of a large organization that can allocate a certain number of volunteer hours that employees can use on an individual basis?
For Oliver Russell, the focus was on spending time as a team. By selecting a consistent date and time for each monthly volunteer event, we were able to schedule meetings and projects well in advance, enabling us to leave the office as a group.
Additionally, do you have a budget in mind for this program? Along with budget needed to cover employee time spent outside of the office during work hours, be sure to include costs for project management, which leads me to my next question...
Identify someone in your company who will be the project manager for your EVP and can be the main point-of-contact for the organization for which you’re volunteering. Other tasks for this person may include developing program guidelines, planning event details (and getting events on calendars), taking photos, posting about volunteer events on social media, collecting employee feedback, and providing any necessary internal reporting.
Have your project manager brief employees before each volunteer event. Remind them of the time and location (do they need driving directions?), tell them what they will be doing during the event (will they be standing? should they wear comfortable shoes?), and let them know if they need to bring anything (will your event require gardening gloves or clothes that can get messy?). Trust me, the event will go much more smoothly if everyone has a clear understanding beforehand.
Take time to evaluate your experience. Encourage your employees to provide feedback about each event. Did they gain personal satisfaction from it? Did they feel it was valuable for the company and the community? Did your community partner provide any feedback? How did the event provide value for their organization? Use this feedback to help tweak your EVP as it develops.
This is also a good time to celebrate the occasion with employees. Something as simple as providing lunch, which we do at Oliver Russell, goes a long way in showing your employees that you appreciate and applaud their efforts.
Additionally, share your experiences, starting first with your employees and expanding from there to your broader network of suppliers, customers, and friends. Post photos to Facebook. Send out a press release. Write a blog post for your website.
Okay, that was a trick question. Hopefully you don’t hate fun. Here are some additional ideas to make your volunteer events even more enjoyable: wear team shirts (the students always got excited when they saw our orange shirts coming down the hallway). Bring a bag of candy to share. Listen to music. Take photos. Create a hashtag specific to your event. Establish an award for employee volunteers.
EVPs are a valuable tool that helps spread good in your community and increases engagement and commitment among employees, while supporting and growing your company’s core business values. For even more great tips on starting your own employee volunteer program, check out pointsoflight.org. Or you can email me—I’d love to share my experience spearheading our EVP here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Volunteering-The Business Case: The Benefits of Corporate Volunteering Programmes in Education, Corporate Citizenship & City of London, 2010.
2. United Healthcare Do Good Live Well Study 2010.
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