Webinar Recap: Building a Flexible – and Sustainable – Volunteer Engagement Program

Assess, Adapt, Evolve, RepeatIt’s clear that there is a growing connection between employee engagement and CSR, and Forbes Magazine even claimed this connection as a top CSR trend for 2012. The importance of volunteering, supporting causes and aligning them with your company’s culture is evident.

A great way to integrate these causes into your organization is to create a successful employee volunteer engagement program. But what program elements do you need to drive this success?

For the January edition of our Best Practices Network Webinar series, we talked with VolunteerMatch’s own expert, Vicky Hush, and invited Sue Osten from UnitedHealth Group and Erin Dieterich from Discovery Communications to speak about creating a flexible and sustainable program, and the fundamentals of successful employee volunteering.

Guest Speaker Insights

Vicky Hush, VolunteerMatch

According to Vicky, one of the most influential ways to create a successful program is to internalize the mantra “Assess, Adapt, Evolve and Repeat.” Engaging programs pay attention to current events and use innovation to reflect what’s happening in the world at the present time. Paying attention to this saying allows the program to evolve over time, and in turn will likely lead to happier employees and more appealing programs.

VolunteerMatch has developed a Volunteer Program Change Model that successfully allows clients to create this type of program. With this system, your program can evolve by creating easy access and choice among employees, having a focus that is aligned with your business, and being open to new insights as the program develops. The key to this model is having the flexibility to evolve your program over time, which keeps your program relevant and in sync with your company culture, eventually leading to success.

Sue Osten, UnitedHeath Group

UnitedHealth Group has had a Social Responsibility program since 2006. Today the company focus is on philanthropy, volunteering and utilizing socially responsible business products. The company mission is to help people live healthier lives and it uses a portfolio approach to plan and manage company sponsored volunteering.

Sue says she finds it helpful to maximize impact and provide clear direction with broad three year targets that have room for flexibility. This strategic direction helps the company implement any needed changes at different rates and ensure the program’s sustainability over time. UnitedHealth Group will soon implement an auto tracking system from VolunteerMatch that will automatically track volunteer hours among employees.

Erin Dieterich, Discovery Communications

For Discovery Communications, having a volunteer engagement program is an important part of the founder’s original mission of “satisfying curiosity.” Discovery has three different programs within its employee volunteer program that allow for flexibility and choice for employees. Erin suggested that webinar listeners create an ongoing list of elements for improvement for the next version of their programs – as she says “always be thinking of version 2.0.”

A successful program is ongoing and innovative, meaning each year you will have new insights to install for the coming year. Keeping up to date with what worked and what didn’t each year is crucial. Erin suggests creating an adaptable program by staying in tune with what keeps employees interested, which will ensure their ongoing participation in the program.

Participant Questions

Addressing Employee Resistance

A common question that came in from webinar participants was how to address resistance from employees when implementing a new program. A great tip was to address what’s most important first, and not to push too much change at once. Additionally you could start with a pilot program with a limited number of employees in one geographic location, and make needed adjustments before launching to the entire organization (this is what Discovery Communications did with its successful “Creating Change” pro bono marathon.)

Further tips were to address and identify key players and get them to be vocal about the program. Always make sure to get ongoing feedback from employees and deliver these to executives to make any necessary adjustments.

Motivating your Employees

Another great question discussed in the webinar concerned employee motivation. Using a team-building effort to get employees to work together outside the office (while gaining regular pay) is a great way to incentivize participation and strengthen connections within your organization. Motivation often depends on the culture of your employees, since some will be self motivated and more likely to participate.

Vicky suggested simply asking employees what will motivate them and listening to their responses. Other ideas included giving away cool items for participation like a unique T-shirt each year, or by using informal signup parties or mixers at the end of the day as incentive.

Want to learn more about making your employee volunteer program successful? View the full recorded webinar here, and check out VolunteerMatch’s just-published guide “How to Build a Sustainable Volunteer Program.”

Carley Klekas is an intern at VolunteerMatch. You can reach her at cklekas@volunteermatch.org.

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