3 Benefits of Volunteering As a Company

Guest post by Alison Grenkie

A version of this story first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

The Company that Volunteers Together Stays TogetherPicking up garbage. Growing mustaches. Cycling for a cure. Selling baked goods. Rocking out for a cause.

And that’s just the beginning! There are all kinds of things that you can do to give back to the community and raise awareness or money for an issue you care about.

Increasingly, regular businesses are incorporating volunteering activities like the above into their company culture – and seeing some pretty amazing benefits!

1. Happier & Healthier Employees
There’s a growing body of research suggesting that those who regularly volunteer experience a wide variety of physical, mental and emotional health benefits.

For example, volunteering has been shown to lessen symptoms of chronic pain, heart disease and depression, while also reducing stress and improving overall mental health. One 2013 study reported that 76% of U.S. adults who volunteer say that volunteering has made them feel physically healthier, while 78% say that volunteering lowers their levels of stress.

Why would a business want happier, healthier employees? Because health and happiness create a ripple effect of positivity that includes increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and even improved customer satisfaction!

 2. Encourage Team-Building
The company that volunteers together, stays together!

Many of the typical team-building activities are, let’s face it, a little bit hokey. Whether they have their merits is a discussion for another time. But there’s no arguing that volunteering has intrinsic value all on its own.

There’s a lot to be said for getting out of the day-to-day work environment and uniting coworkers in a common and worthwhile goal. Volunteering builds camaraderie and promotes empathy, simultaneously connecting coworkers and communities.

 3. Boost Employee Satisfaction
We’ve been talking about “work-life balance” for so long now that the phrase has lost meaning for many of us. The separation between work and life is increasingly hard to define.

The result is that both employers and employees are expecting more from each other. With mobile technology we’re constantly connected, and employers are encroaching more and more on the personal. Employees, meanwhile, are looking for employers that reflect their values and help them to express their own.

By incorporating volunteering into a benefits package that prioritizes work-life balance, companies are recognizing that their employees have passions outside of the office and are supporting them in the pursuit of those passions. Bakers and bikers alike are encouraged to show off their skills for a worthy cause. They’ll thank you for it with their loyalty – employee retention is directly tied to how people feel about their work-life balance.

The Moral of the Story
Volunteering is a gift that keeps on giving. So whether you hold direct sway over your company’s culture – as an HR employee or as a small business owner, for example – or you’re just one employee trying to make a difference, it’s time for a shift in perspective. Start thinking about volunteering as an investment: in yourself, and in your company’s success.

Alison Grenkie is a marketer and blogger who is passionate about volunteering, travel, and environmental issues. Follow her on LinkedIn for more insights.

Image Source: HubSpot Free Stock Photos

How Technology Transforms Workplace Volunteering

Technology Transforms Workplace VolunteeringHow can you match employees with the right volunteer opportunities – the ones that best build on their skills and interests? Technology.

Did you know that the average employee at VolunteerMatch partner companies volunteers 36 hours a year? How do we know that? Technology.

There’s no question about it: Technology has transformed the world. And it has also transformed workplace volunteering.

In this infographic, we summarize what we’ve heard from our 150+ partner companies about technology and volunteering.

From stats on the amount of time saved for employee volunteer program managers, to the number of virtual volunteer opportunities companies are participating in, find out the many ways technology transforms workplace volunteering: Check out the infographic!

Employee Volunteerism: Why Not All Companies?

Guest post by Emily Rothberg

This post originally appeared on Emily’s Blog.

Office Workers in Front of a WindowIt seems easy. Why doesn’t every company offer employee volunteer programs?

More and more companies are offering paid volunteer time off (VTO), with the CECP 2014 Giving in Numbers Report showing 59% in 2013, an 8% increase from 2010. And, the business case for employee volunteerism is beyond well-documented.

So, why aren’t employee volunteer programs standard practice? Two business challenges can undermine the best of intentions: Determining what counts, and determining the end game.

What Counts?
If a company’s employees volunteer, does that a program make?

How a company decides to track and report time, or recognize and reward employee volunteer efforts, matters. If my manager allows me to leave work an hour early to prepare a meal for a homeless shelter, and I make up that hour by coming in early the next day, is that a program? If I plant trees at my daughter’s school and input those hours in the company’s volunteerism platform, should the company get credit for the activity? And, if the answer to these scenarios is yes, does any company not have a volunteer program?

On the other end of the spectrum, if what counts are only activities aligned with a company’s strategy, or managed by the corporate citizenship/ CSR staff, such as a company day of community service with a pre-approved menu of activities, and my supervisor is strongly encouraging my participation, have I been “volun-told?” Have we messed with the entire spirit of volunteerism?

What’s the End Game?
If a company hasn’t outlined its employee volunteer program goals and defined how to measure success, does that company have a strategy?

Take the practices of rewarding and recognizing volunteers with paid time off and/ or funding (“dollars for doers”). Yes, employees and their nonprofit partners are grateful, and the whole notion feels democratic, as everybody’s effort counts, and no single activity is deemed more worthy than the next. But, while $250 matching gifts surely help smaller nonprofits operate day-to-day, donations of this size don’t add up in the societal impact equation. Can a company looking to make a significant impact, or even distinguish itself with stakeholders, accomplish those goals with a basic “follow-your-passion” strategy?

For those who take on the employee volunteerism challenge, does every company deserve bragging rights? How about two criteria for assessing success:

Core Business Practice
While the cliché “it’s part of our DNA” has become ubiquitous, volunteering at top companies is truly a year-round, CEO-to-intern component of a company’s business. Beyond enthusiastic tweets on annual days of service, executives serve on nonprofit boards and lead pro bono initiatives. Employees such as line workers, who don’t typically have an easy time leaving their work place, have options for meaningful volunteerism. When HR recruits on campuses, and managers speak with customers, giving back through volunteer time is framed as a core business value.

In sum, the company’s volunteerism rules of the road for what counts and how it’s counted are spelled out clearly. The company adopts and communicates consistent standards of conduct and appropriate risk mitigation measures.

Integrated Strategy
In leading companies, the CSR department doesn’t own employee volunteerism – volunteering is everybody’s business. Rather than passive recipients of a top-down corporate strategy, employees play an active role in developing and executing employee volunteerism guidelines and programs.

In these companies, employee volunteerism is a component of a larger corporate citizenship strategy, and options range from episodic, hands-on volunteering to deep, skilled volunteerism. Companies view their employees as their greatest asset and actualize that mindset by developing their next generation of leaders through nonprofit board service or pro bono engagements. These human-capital volunteer activities also address the nonprofit sector’s most mission-critical needs and long-term viability challenges.

The reality is this: Companies face tough choices in designing and operating effective employee volunteerism programs. Best practice programs engage employees’ heads, hands, and hearts to drive business value and maximize social impact. The end goal isn’t easy to achieve, but it’s a vision worth working toward, and surely one within our grasp.

Emily Rothberg & Company helps companies thrive by donating their time, talent and treasure. It also helps nonprofits grow corporate support for greater impact. In her blog, Emily shares insights from her years inside corporate America, intertwined with thoughts from her clients, as well as long-time colleagues.

How to Create a Stellar Employee Volunteer Program

VolunteerMatch Employees Greg Baldwin and Laura Ellis volunteering at the SF Marin Food BankIf your company currently has an employee volunteer program (EVP), that’s amazing! EVPs increase employee satisfaction and retention, and can be a key tool for recruiting top talent. A formal EVP also allows you to track results, so you can easily show the world your company’s impact. And our favorite part: implementing EVP tools simplifies your tasks, so you have more time to spend out in your community.

If you don’t have a formal program set up, you may be wondering, “Is now the right time?” To find out, ask yourself the following:

  • Are our consumers or business contacts asking what we are doing for our community?
  • Are we seeing an increase in the number of employees asking each other to support a charity?
  • Are we seeing an increase in the number of employees asking to volunteer?
  • Are we losing talented employees to the job market or having trouble retaining employees?
  • Am I or my coworkers spending a lot of time on volunteer event coordination?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, it’s time to consider a formal EVP program. We put together 5 easy steps to building a successful EVP to guide you through the process. Even if you already run a great EVP, you may find some new ideas.

Download the PDF: 5 Steps to Building a Successful Employee Volunteer Program.

Forget Candy – How to Show Your Employees You Really Care

Heart outline made from red candies.It’s that time of year – love is in the air. Many cringe at the thought of Valentine’s Day, calling it an over-commercialized, high-pressure holiday for couples.

But I choose to look at it differently. I choose to celebrate love in all forms, including the love I have for the organization I work for, VolunteerMatch. And the love it has for me.

What better time than now to take a close look at what you’re doing to show your employees you love them? (Again, I don’t mean you should be in love with your employees. Chances are, your Human Resources department has some policies around that.) But your employees should feel important, appreciated, respected, and cared for.

Why? The phrase “employees are a company’s greatest asset” is so widely used, it’s basically a cliché. So, to use another cliché, why not “put your money where your mouth is?” Employee appreciation goes beyond candy bowls, birthday cards, and an occasional free lunch (although those are nice, too!) Here’s how to spread long-term TLC to your employees, not only on Valentine’s Day, but throughout the year, with your employee volunteer program (EVP).

Listen to Them
EVP doesn’t stand for executive volunteer program; it stands for employee volunteer program. So, why would you want executives making all the decisions? Ask your employees what they would like to see in your EVP. Fewer group volunteer activities? More skill-building volunteer options? How about a method for recognizing stand-out employee volunteers?

Also, continue to get feedback on how you’re doing at all stages of your EVP. Honest critique will help your program grow. When your employees are happy with your program, they’ll engage more.

Honor What’s Important to Them
Your company probably has some cause focus areas that align with your mission. For example, ConAgra Foods aims to end child hunger, and 1st Source Bank teaches financial literacy. But that doesn’t mean your company can’t help in other ways with causes that are important to individual employees. Offering volunteer time off (VTO) lets employees choose the causes they donate their time to. But don’t stop there. Encourage employees to share their volunteer stories at company meetings, events, or even on your company blog. Show them that their time is important, and you care about how they’re spending it.

Thank Them
Candy heart that reads, "You're Fab."From increased productivity to attracting more customers and talented new employees, your company sees many benefits from your EVP. Even though you’re managing the program, you can’t take all the credit. Your employees are out there making positive change in their communities (while giving positive publicity to your company). Don’t forget to say thank you, and say it often.

Which reminds me: Thank you for the work you do with your CSR program. Happy Valentine’s Day!

A VTO Success Story: What One VolunteerMatch Employee Learned in Chile

At VolunteerMatch, we like to practice what we preach, which is one of the many reasons I feel lucky to work here. Last month, I was able to take a week off from my normal duties supporting our nonprofit community and join 11 other volunteers from around the U.S. on a week-long trip to Santiago, Chile with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program.

Shannon David ready to shovel cement.

Me in my cement-shoveling look.

When I started at VolunteerMatch just over a year ago and learned about the paidvolunteer time off (VTO) benefit offered to employees, I knew I had to make the most of it. A friend recommended Global Village, and before I knew it, I had completed a phone interview with the volunteer team leader and signed up for the trip. That was in early 2014, so I had nearly a full year to fundraise for Habitat Chile, learn a little Spanish, and talk up the trip to anyone who would listen.

We worked on a program called Nuestros Hijos Vuelven a Casa (Our Children Return Home), which supports families with children who have catastrophic illnesses or serious disabilities. Habitat Chile gets referrals from the hospital and screens the families to make sure they comply with program requirements. Then, they develop a plan to improve their existing home to better meet the physical and medical needs of the child. My team spent a week at the home of Patricia, a 17-year-old suffering from cancer. She lives with her parents and two little sisters in a very small apartment…

Read the rest of Shannon’s story.

Mobilize Employee Champions for #GivingTuesday

It may come right after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but #GivingTuesday is all about giving back to the causes we care about most. And volunteering can be a great way to do that. And engaging employees in #GivingTuesday initiatives is a great project to add to your company’s calendar.

Building on the buzz and energy of #GivingTuesday can help your company increase impact and support for the causes you support. This webinar discusses ways for you to do exactly that.

Join speakers from #GivingTuesday, Salesforce Foundation and VolunteerMatch for this special webinar to talk about ways you can organize your networks of family, friends, or coworkers to make a big difference for your cause on #GivingTuesday.

You are more powerful than you realize – and by mobilizing your employees to be volunteer champions, you can harness that power to help the causes your company supports, and that you care about.

Watch the webinar on YouTube.