How Corporate Volunteer Programs Increase Employee Engagement

Guest post by Scott Huntington

Volunteers from Whirlpool pose with school supplies during the company's 2012 Volunteer Week.

Volunteers from Whirlpool pose with school supplies during the company’s 2012 Volunteer Week.

Business magazines and blogs frequently discuss how important it is for employees to work together in teams, but have you ever thought about whether your workplace may be suffering from a lack of overall employee engagement?

When employees are not committed to their jobs, they may not be as productive and might even start looking for other places to work. Fortunately, corporate volunteer programs could remedy the common problem of low employee engagement and help your workers learn to progress towards common goals, as well.

Volunteering Creates a Sense of Purpose

Most people want to be able to feel they’re doing something good with their time and their lives. It can be hard to come to those conclusions if a person feels like he or she is stuck in a monotonous job or is just uncertain of how particular work duties fit into the overall scheme of what the company is trying to achieve.

However, volunteerism offers a great way for people to remember just how valuable their time is, especially when it is used for the benefit of others. Eventually, that could translate to people being more willing to pitch in and go above and beyond what their job titles dictate that they should do while on the clock at work.

Employee Retention Could Increase

There is also evidence to suggest employees expect workplaces to offer volunteer opportunities. A recent article from Forbes discussed an in-depth survey performed by America’s Charities, which found how 68 percent of respondents looked to employers to provide ways to give back. In some cases, that meant instituting a workplace giving program, and in others, employees wanted permission to use work hours for volunteer purposes.

Clearly, volunteerism is becoming more and more important for today’s workers. If a workplace doesn’t meet the desire its employees have to do good for others, it makes sense why some people might start looking for workplaces that are built around more generous-hearted ideals.

Volunteering Builds Good Leaders

Employees who volunteer are also often willing to frequently lead others, even if they are not in supervisory positions. There are several reasons why this is the case. For starters, volunteerism helps people expand their perspectives, which can often mean they become much more in tune with things happening outside of the workplace.

Additionally, being a volunteer often causes a person to discover new talents. That’s especially true if he or she has a very open mind and is willing to pitch in wherever it is necessary, even if that means going outside a comfort zone.

Acquiring skill sets tends to make a person feel more self-confident. Plus, once that individual enjoys the kind of broader worldview volunteerism can cultivate, he or she may feel compelled to not only leap into action and improve the world, but make the work environment better, too. Often, colleagues notice that attitude and want to follow suit.

Case Study

WebpageFX, an internet marketing company, has seen a huge jump in employee engagement since they started their Pencils of Promise program. The employees call their volunteer project “#FXBuilds” and are working to raise $25,000 to build a school in rural Guatemala. They’ve been working hard and feeling extremely rewarded at their progress so far. Their excitement is spreading and other local businesses like Bortek Industries have decided to look into Pencils of Promise and other employee volunteer programs as well.

These are just a few reasons why increased employee engagement and volunteerism can go hand-in-hand. When employees are not engaged, the workplace could suffer in ways ranging from loss of profits to higher turnover rates. Consider giving your employees ways to volunteer and see if they become more engaged as a result.

Scott Huntington is a writer and blogger with a passion for volunteering. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington or check out his blog, blogspike.com.

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People Make the Difference: Fueling the Rise of Corporate Volunteering

Whirlpool employees spend some time building houses with Habitat for Humanity during the company's 2012 Volunteer Week.

Whirlpool employees spend some time building houses with Habitat for Humanity during the company’s 2012 Volunteer Week.

Social good in our world – and this includes the VolunteerMatch network – is powered by people who want to make a difference. People who work at nonprofits, people who care about their communities, and people who participate in employee volunteer programs at their workplaces, just like your employees.

We recently, and very proudly, released the 2013 Annual VolunteerMatch Impact Report, showcasing the difference that can be made when people give their time, passion and skills over the course of a year. One of the most interesting sections of this report each year is always the “Workplace Impact” section.

People WANT to Do Good at Work

In 2013, 38% of the activity in the VolunteerMatch network happened via workplace volunteering programs. This means more than a third of folks signing up to volunteer on VolunteerMatch did so through their jobs! Cool!

Clearly, employees WANT to be able to volunteer through their employers. In fact, according to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, more than 50% of Millennials are influenced to accept a job based on that company’s involvement with causes. And since by 2020, Millennials will make up roughly 50% of the U.S. workforce, smart companies are taking notice of this. And smart companies are building strong, engaging employee volunteer programs.

Workplace Impact in the VolunteerMatch network during 2013.

People are Taking Things to the Next Level

But there’s more. You’ll notice that employees in the VolunteerMatch network volunteered an average of 36 hours in 2013. Yet, according to the 2012 VolunteerMatch EVP Client Insights Survey, companies provide full-time employees an average of about 8 hours paid time off. So where are the other 24 hours coming from??

Employees are so motivated and empowered by their company’s engagement programs, they are taking the opportunity provided and running with it. Even when volunteering on their own time, their workplace programs inspire them to give back, and often to get their friends and families involved, too.

We hope seeing the Workplace Impact of the VolunteerMatch network inspires you to take a look at the impact of your own company, and consider how you can do even better during the second half of 2014 and beyond. And if you need any help coming up with ideas, well, we’re always here for you.

How do you measure and report the impact of your employee volunteer program? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Volunteering Does the Body (and Your Employees) Good

Discovery Communications employees gardening and volunteering together.

Discovery Communications employees gardening and volunteering together.

In the past 10 years, we’ve seen more and more corporations developing employee wellness programs. And it is no longer just about having an office gym or healthy snacks in the kitchen.

Many corporations are now using their own money, time, and other resources to incentivize their employees to be healthy. From dental cleanings and discounts on gym apparel, to personal training sessions, companies are starting to take a serious look at how to improve the physical and mental condition of their employees.

Employers are finding that motivating their workers to be healthier makes them happier people, and consequently, happier employees. And while volunteering may not help you lose all that holiday weight in time for bikini season, it can still be a big contributor to your overall wellbeing!

In 2013, UnitedHealth Group conducted a study on the link between health and volunteering named “Doing Good is Good For You.” With all their expertise in the healthcare field combined with years of research, they found that volunteering makes employees feel better physically, emotionally and mentally. An astounding 76% of participants said that volunteering made them feel healthier and 94% said that volunteering improved their mood.

Volunteering managed and lowered employee stress levels, making them more engaged with their companies and eager to work. By integrating volunteering into your wellness program, your company shows that you care not only about your employees’ physical wellbeing, but also their mental!

Many corporations are using a third party to help with their wellness programs, such as Limeade or Healthways, these platforms allow employees to record and track their healthy activities. Employees can earn points which then equate to money that they can use to buy wellbeing-related items such as running shoes, water bottles, etc.

Humana, a VolunteerMatch client, uses volunteering as one of the activities to count towards Healthways points. As an employee tracks hours on VolunteerMatch, they are a few dollars closer to earning a reward that encourages them to keep being healthy! By placing the same value on volunteering as other physical activities, employees see that a company not only values but pushes well-rounded workers who give back!

As an employee engagement leader, you can encourage your company to volunteer in a healthy way: From coaching and sports related activities for a great cause, to getting your hands dirty with gardening, there are lots of volunteer opportunities that benefit your physical health. And with 15,000 opportunities related to health, 7,500 related to sports & fitness, and 2,500 related to gardening and plant restoration in the VolunteerMatch network, your employees are sure to find something that will get them outdoors and active. These opportunities get employees out of their chairs and collaborating with other employees, boosting moral.

If your company already utilizes an employee wellness program, think about all of the ways that you can reengage your employees by adding volunteering to the mix! It creates even more ways for your employees to be involved in both company programs, while keeping them happy and healthy!

Curious how you could easily roll volunteering into your company wellness program? Sign up for a demo of VolunteerMatch Solutions to get the wheels turning!

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Touch Your Employee Volunteers’ Hearts to Engage Their Bodies and Minds

Touch your employee volunteers' hearts to engage their bodies and minds.While your company has a Corporate Social Responsibility program for many reasons (retention, team building, employee engagement, brand reputation), your employees usually volunteer for one reason: because they care.

Most of the time, your employees are volunteering for intrinsic and personal reasons – they are connected to a cause, inspired by the work of a nonprofit, or believe it is everyone’s duty to give back to their communities. There is a great amount of power in this intrinsic motivation; it can even help you to build a company culture and employee volunteer program that is authentic and inspiring.

It’s all about balancing your business reasons for employee engagement with your employees’ personal motivations. Step back from your program and ask yourself if you have the right mixture of encouraging employees to volunteer with the causes that align with your business, and empowering your employees to volunteer for the causes they care about. If not, here are a few easy ways to connect to the personal values of your employees. I guarantee it will increase engagement:

Tell the Story

When you talk about your employee volunteer program, don’t just talk about the numbers – tell the story of volunteering. Don’t be afraid to pull on heartstrings and highlight the emotional side of the great work you’re doing.

Understand Your Employees’ Interests

While your program may focus on education, animals or financial literacy, it’s important to understand if there are other key causes that your employees care about. There are a plethora of tools at your disposal to glean this information:

  • Add a registration question to your VolunteerMatch site or put a survey out to all your employees to ask what causes are most important to them.
  • Check out the popular causes feed on your site’s impact tab to see what causes folks are signing up for most.
  • Run a report to see what causes folks are tracking hours for outside of the events you host.
  • Once you have that information, think about planning a few events that more directly align with your employees’ passions – see if it increases your traction or attracts volunteers you wouldn’t often see at your events!

Empower Champions!

Let your employees lead by becoming champions. As locals themselves, they’ll be able to tap into what’s most meaningful for their local communities. You can even use VolunteerMatch’s Opportunity Builder to have employees propose projects they want to lead – it’s easy for you, and has a huge impact!

Encourage Employees to Find Their Causes

One of the benefits of working with VolunteerMatch is the tremendous network of close to 100,000 vetted nonprofits that need volunteers. Shout it from the rooftop: your employees can use this tool to connect to what they’re passionate about!

The Best Benefit: VTO

Giving your employees Volunteer Time Off (VTO) means your company is sending a clear message: we care about our employees, and by extention we care about what they care about. It’s a no brainer.

Remember this: Volunteering shouldn’t feel corporate, it should feel personal and authentic. So find what excites your employees and mobilize their energy. Soon you’ll have more than a volunteer program: you’ll have a volunteering movement that will shape a richer culture for your business.

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No Money? No Problem! 14 Ways to Engage Employees and Save the World on a Slim Budget

14 Ways to Engage Employees and Save the World on a Slim BudgetYou’ve made the business case for a larger budget for your volunteering program, citing potential increases to employee retention and morale, community impact, skill-building, and brand reputation. But here’s the problem: you’re still stuck with funding that doesn’t give you much flexibility.

Well, you’re in good company. In our many conversations with CSR professionals over the years, I don’t know if we at VolunteerMatch have ever met someone who felt their program was sufficiently funded. In fact, in our 2012 EVP Client Insights Survey, we found that on average, program managers would like a budget that is 64% higher in order to optimize their programs: $61.79 per employee per year instead of $37.78.

So how can you still run an exceptional program on a tight budget? We did some brainstorming and came up with a number of ideas that we’ve seen work:

  1. Get your executives involved! One of the biggest drivers of employee engagement (which doesn’t cost a dime) is C-suite participation. When employees see executives supporting volunteerism in general, and taking part in and lending their names to specific projects, it makes a huge difference in rates of engagement. Find out which executives and managers to reach out to – who would be willing to send out communications and participate in projects? Who already has a pet cause, donates to, or sits on the board of a local organization? Make them your program celebrities!
  2. Find and support your champions, the people who truly know the intrinsic value of volunteering, to be your spokespeople and recruiters and to take some responsibility off your plate.
  3. Talk with other managers about volunteerism as a team-building exercise. There are often departmental budgets for team events or parties, so instead of the budget for a project coming from your EVP (employee volunteer program), perhaps that money could be found another place and provide a creative approach to team-building.
  4. Invest some time in reporting and evaluation of your program, and take surveys to see what gets people excited, or to solicit their feedback in general (plus it lets them know they’re appreciated). Maybe you’ll find some surprises or notice trends that you can capitalize on that can make the program more efficient and targeted. SurveyMonkey and FluidSurveys both have free account options, and your VolunteerMatch Reporting tool can be more powerful than you realize.
  5. Spend some time on LinkedIn and Twitter - ask others how they do it! Use these networks to build up more knowledge about the space and find creative ideas.
  6. Follow along at industry conferences (such as the VolunteerMatch Client Summit) via social media if you don’t have much budget for travel. And for VolunteerMatch clients, while much of the value comes from interacting with peers, speakers, and staff, we do provide summaries of the presentations that can serve as inspiration for your program.
  7. Get your HR team invested, and more employees will find their way towards you. Have them talk about the company’s volunteer policy during on-boarding meetings, in handbooks, pay stubs, and emails. A coordinated program with HR can also alleviate some human resources and legal concerns which can lead to legal and insurance costs if not properly captured.
  8. Make sure your program is strongly branded with easy-to-find links and well-designed pages on your intranet, and collect plenty of photos and videos from volunteer projects and share them widely. This can go a long way towards inspiring people, even when you don’t have an active campaign going on.
  9. Move external costs in-house. Maybe you can have graphic designers or marketers work on your EVP brand as in-house pro bono volunteering and cross-functional team-building.
  10. Channel more of your time towards current volunteers. This is often the best way to recruit new ones, and often costs less. We’ve seen that individuals who volunteer more than once a year are more engaged with the company, so be sure that they are thanked and appreciated, even on a minimal budget. These people can then become your best cheerleaders for getting others involved.
  11. Create or point people to virtual volunteering opportunities, which are often cheaper to manage and implement.
  12. Unite employees around a campaign or, paradoxically, around a competition (between departments, supervisors, etc.) Both are great drivers of volunteer engagement that rely more on internal communications and energy than dollars.
  13. See if there are cheaper or more creative avenues for incentives or recognition to keep employees motivated. Perhaps lunch with the CEO?
  14. And finally, for those of you who don’t have a software tool to manage your program other than Excel, I would make that a priority. Having a centralized, branded website with searching, hours tracking, and communications capability is a powerful thing, allowing you to do everything else on this list in a way that will save you and other administrators time and money. I humbly invite you to check out VolunteerMatch Solutions!

How do you manage a slim budget while still engaging employees to make a powerful impact on the world? Share with us below!

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Loop Them In: How to Help Your Remote Employees Feel like Local Volunteers

A Whirlpool employee works on some sporting equipment during the company's Volunteer Week.

A Whirlpool employee works on some sporting equipment during the company’s Volunteer Week.

Whether your company is large or small, many volunteer programs face the challenge of successfully communicating and implementing a volunteer program for their field-based and remote employees.

Unlike a typical employee environment, these remote employees may be working odd hours that don’t coordinate with group volunteering, or working in an inconvenient location that doesn’t allow them to volunteer with their coworkers, or even volunteer at all! Employees who don’t get to participate in the group volunteering activities put on by your company may feel out of the loop and frustrated about not being able to contribute to your program’s goal to improve the community.

However, as a program manager, you can still reinforce the importance of volunteering for both your employee’s well being and the company’s. Remind both employees and leadership that volunteering boosts morale and productivity and improves the reputation of the company. These are good reasons why your volunteer program should be designed to encourage all types of volunteering environments.

With that in mind, here are some successful ways you can “loop in” your remote employees:

Grow an Employee Forest with Arbor Day Foundation

Arbor Day Foundation volunteers plant trees

Arbor Day Foundation volunteers plant trees

The Arbor Day Foundation (an awesome member of the VolunteerMatch network) is helping companies empower their workers with the “Employee Forest” campaign. Tree saplings are delivered to the employee’s office or home, and in turn, the employee can plant the tree in their yard or local park. This gives the employee the chance to plant the tree in a special place with their family or friends on the weekend, no matter how “remote” of a worker they are.

The amazing thing about the Employee Forest campaign is how every party benefits. Companies are making an impact in multiple communities by having employees’ plant trees in different locations. Employees feel good about their employer and themselves for the chance to give back to their communities and spend time with their loved ones, no matter how far away they may be from the home office.

Pre-Shift Meetings at MGM

MGM, a stellar VolunteerMatch client, uses “pre-shift” meetings to engage employees who are working a shift on the floor. A manager debriefs a staff person before his or her shift starts on what’s going on in the world of MGM volunteering.

The managers get their staff involved by filling them in on how many hours the company tracked last year, local nonprofits that may need help on their days off, or simply opening up the floor for these employees to plan a volunteering event together. This gives these employees, who may never see each other during their shifts but still work the same hours, a way to start off their work day feeling involved and knowing their volunteering options.

Virtual Volunteering is Real Volunteering

On average, VolunteerMatch has over 4,500 virtual volunteering opportunities posted on our website at any given time. If employees feel like they can’t leave their desks, work in a remote location, or physically can’t move around too much, VolunteerMatch offers thousands of options for them to work from wherever they are! Employees can choose opportunities that match their skills, such as putting together a communications plan for a nonprofit, or something outside the box like knitting hats for premature infants. There really is something for everyone!

As a company, you want your employees to feel like a part of the team when it comes to giving back, even if they can’t attend the group volunteering outings. Empower ALL of the workers who represent your company to contribute to the volunteer program by looping them in with choices that fit their lifestyles and passions.

How does your company engage remote and non-traditional employees in your volunteer program?

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Lessons from the Road: Shaking Up Employee Volunteer Programs

This article is part of a special series penned by VolunteerMatch leadership focused on the changes we all need to make to our programs and strategies to shape the future of employee volunteering and corporate social responsibility. How will you innovate your employee volunteer program? Here are some ideas we picked up on the road.Earlier this month I hit the road with Vicky Hush, VolunteerMatch’s VP of Engagement & Strategic Partnerships. We headed up to Portland to present to Hands On Greater Portland’s Corporate Volunteer Council to share our expertise with employee volunteer managers about how to keep your employee volunteer program (EVP) fresh and exciting. Leading up to the presentation, we had a tough internal conversation which amounted to this: how controversial did we want to be? What would happen if we just came out and said that we think EVPs should be doing more? We decided to go for it – those Portlanders are a tough bunch with all that fresh air! And it worked: when we asked the room of EVP managers “how many of you feel like your employee volunteer program is as strong as it can be?” we (not surprisingly) didn’t see a single hand. Through the conversation, we reviewed a few frameworks that can help companies “reinvent the road,” including:

  • Go back and review the core reasons that your company has a volunteer program – other than for the community benefit. And be honest.
  • Look at the overlap between your employees’ passions, your corporate strategy and your communities’ needs. Think about the shared value between your company’s strategy and society’s needs.
  • Constantly adapt, assess and evolve using the program change model.

Towards the end of the presentation, we shifted to brainstorming specific program components. There were some great insights!

Communications Trends

We discussed communications, and two trends became clear:

  1. People are overstimulated with messages, so we have to think about creative, new ways to reach them, particularly focused on social, inclusive, lively, fashionable, and visual methods.
  2. We have to go back to basics. Sometimes the least efficient mode of communication is the most effective (meaning, sometimes you have to go back to face-to-face interactions).

Measurement Challenges

One area where most companies struggle is measurement. Everyone in the room agreed that the silver bullet is tracking impact, but we have not yet developed a way to successfully track this. By the end of the discussion, the trending idea was that corporations need to invest in nonprofit infrastructure to build open-source tools to track metrics that are mutually beneficial for corporations and nonprofits. VolunteerMatch loves this idea – who is up for helping us achieve this project?

Incentives that Work

Finally, we brainstormed on creative incentives. While we all agreed that awards, competition, dollars for doers and VTO are effective, there was one major idea that emerged: incentives need to be carefully implemented to feel authentic. The culture of philanthropy is not something that can be forced or created through incentives, as the true motivation to volunteer is inherently intrinsic. You want to create incentives that match this ethos: Make it easy and rewarding for the volunteers who already engage, and don’t try to force employees to volunteer who aren’t naturally drawn to it. In an ideal world, what if you could flip incentives on their heads, and instead recruit and hire employees based on their community-minded drive? So now our challenge for you – how can you innovate on your EVP to increase your impact? Think about how your program is unique, and what value your employees can bring to the community. Think critically about why you do what you do, and start to challenge your company to do more. We’re here to help if you need us! Let us know how you want to innovate on your EVP – connect via Twitter at @VM_Solutions, and check out the rest of the blogs in this special series.

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