How VolunteerMatch Volunteers: Stephanie Hong, Engagement Manager

We’ve talked and talked (and talked and talked) about the benefits of employee volunteer programs, including volunteer time off (VTO). Now we want to show you. In this series of blog posts, we’ll interview some of our own employees to find out how they spend their volunteer hours, and why they love VTO.

VolunteerMatch employee Stephanie Hong and the puppies she's helping by volunteering.So, who are you?
Hi there – my name is Stephanie Hong and I am the Engagement Manager at VolunteerMatch! I am a Bay Area transplant who loves giving back to the place I now call home. Volunteering has been part of my life since I was 7 years old, and I am proud to work at an organization that promotes volunteerism.

Where do you volunteer?
With a background in marketing, I wanted to put my skills to good use. Many animal shelters in California are short staffed, especially for the City of Stockton Animal Shelter. In my spare time, I help manage their SEM (search engine marketing) and act as webmaster to keep their website up to date. It is extremely fulfilling to provide my expertise when they otherwise would not have staff for it.

And with a love for animals, I recently just started at Rabbit Rescue as a rabbit socializer! I spend 2 hours a week hanging out with rabbits to make them perfect pets. From just sitting with them to get them used to humans or playing with them to give them exercise, it is the perfect excuse to get out of the office and help animals in need!

What drew you to these organizations?
As you can tell, I have a soft spot for animals. Even as a young child, I wanted to be the voice for them. As I grew older and gained more professional talents, skilled volunteering is where I found the greatest reward. Utilizing my marketing skills for good AND playing with rabbits – now that’s volunteer heaven!

Parker the rabbit, from Rabbit RescueHave any fun stories to share?
At Rabbit Rescue, a handful of rabbits reside at the Petco in San Francisco. It is our duty as volunteers to get them ready to be the perfect pet. Many are sweet and outgoing, but you do get a few who are shy and afraid of humans.

One such rabbit was Jules. She would hiss whenever I tried to pick her up and there was no way she’d let a stranger pet her. One day, she escaped from her enclosure and I had to chase her around Petco like a maniac. Suddenly, a hero came along and swooped her up. I’d never seen Jules so happy to be in someone’s arms. Spoiler alert: the hero adopted Jules the weekend after.

Would you volunteer if VolunteerMatch didn’t offer VTO?
Since volunteering has been part of my life for so long, I would definitely still volunteer without VTO. Volunteering is something I enjoy making time for. Don’t get me wrong, VTO is amazing! It is one of the best employee benefits out there. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to devote as much time as I wanted to help organizations. The ability to take 8 hours a month during work hours to help others is a perk that shows your employer really cares.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Many people do not want to bring work home. But what if you were using your “work” to help a cause? That is why I think skilled volunteering is so important. Countless nonprofit organizations do not have the budget to hire for every skill. With skilled volunteering, professionals can set aside a few hours a month for specific tasks like graphic designing, programming, marketing, writing, accounting, etc. Next time you’re looking for a volunteer gig, consider using your professional skills to make a difference!

Changing Corporate Perspectives on Workplace Volunteer Programs: Q & A, Part 2

Angela Parker and Chris Jarvis, contributors to Volunteer Engagement 2.0, VolunteerMatch's new book

Angela Parker & Chris Jarvis

In last month’s Best Practice Webinar, we heard from Angela Parker and Chris Jarvis, co-founders of Realized Worth about Workplace Volunteer Programs.

A few questions from our audience were left unanswered as our allotted time came to a close. Angela and Chris were kind enough to answer these questions offline. In part two of this two-part series, I’m pleased to share these additional insights from Angela and Chris.

Q: How aligned does volunteerism need to be with a company’s funding focus areas? We have employees who want to volunteer for causes the company does not fund. Does this matter?

A: Most people in your company are not involved in the community. In fact, only 25% of Americans formally volunteer. If you limit volunteer opportunities strictly to your company’s desires, you make the tent smaller than it already is.

Generally, providing three tiers of volunteer opportunities can help satisfy the company, your employees, and the community. Here’s one way to structure that:

  • Tier 1: Signature Programs – Big events that match a specific cause with the company’s strategic focus. For example, a bank’s signature program could be financial literacy.
  • Tier 2: Community Programs – Smaller, community-focused events that match a specific cause with a social or environmental issue in a community. Many large companies have offices all over the world. Community programs need not be related to the company’s giving focus, but should have direct local proximity to the cause.
  • Tier 3: Employee Choice – Causes that matter to employees.

When you allow employees to follow their passion/pet causes, they will more likely want to get involved in events featuring the company’s focus. Generating this “quid pro quo” could end up boosting support for your signature programs.

Q: Do measurements such as Social Return on Investment (SROI) look at the impact of volunteering?

A: There are a number of measurement experts in the field. Two that come to mind are VeraWorks and True Impact. Strong SROI measurement tools do include the impact volunteering has on the beneficiaries and the community. We encourage you to explore some of these models and adapt them to what you need.

One recent advancement in the measurement space is determining the benefit volunteering has on the company. A group of companies in Canada recently launched a project to tie volunteering to retention rates and employee satisfaction scores; the hope being that knowing the financial impact of volunteering can help boost internal budgets and support for more community activity.

Q: How can you maximize the passion of really engaged employees?

A: A key attribute of transformative volunteer programs is the role of the “third-stage volunteer” (aka “Champion”, “Ambassador”, “Guide”). In any given company, approximately 6% of employees fit this model – and you can tell them a mile away! They are always passionate about volunteering, always supporting local causes, and always asking you to sponsor the next run, walk or bikeathon.

The best way to maximize the passion of these individuals is to elevate them to a leadership position. Their highest level of contribution may, in fact, be bringing others along for the ride. And they want nothing more than to share the transformative experiences they have had already. They’ll love you for it – and they’ll return the favor by digging deeper into their “passion” reserves!

Thanks, Angela and Chris!

Missed the webinar? You can still watch a recording of the webinar, and browse the slide deck.

Angela and Chris also contributed a chapter on this topic to VolunteerMatch’s new book. Learn more.

Changing Corporate Perspectives on Workplace Volunteer Programs: Q & A, Part 1

In last month’s Best Practice Webinar, we heard from Angela Parker and Chris Jarvis, co-founders of Realized Worth about Workplace Volunteer Programs.

We discussed the trends and challenges they’re seeing in their work, recommendations on how to inspire employees to volunteer, and the corporation’s role in a higher calling. The webinar was full of great content and discussion, but a few questions from our audience were left unanswered as our allotted time came to a close.

Angela and Chris were kind enough to answer these questions offline. In part of this two-part series, I’m pleased to share these additional insights from Angela and Chris.

Chris and Angela of Realized Worth

Chris Jarvis & Angela Parker

Q: What do you do if your company’s CSR Manager wants to implement a volunteer program, and the CEO says, “Our employees don’t want that.”?

Imagine he’s not open to seeing CECP studies, ROI studies, etc. Is it time time for a coup??

A: This is a great question – and one we hope never comes up! The answer is actually quite simple: there is no substitute for experience. Your employees can only be convinced of the true impact of volunteering when they experience it themselves.

This begs the next question: How do you give the CEO a meaningful experience? One way is to use good old-fashioned peer pressure, by leveraging the social capital of the people around him. This includes trusted advisors, peers and even family/ friends. If the event is run well – with clear linkages to the beneficiary of the cause – transformation can occur. And when that happens, the CEO can realize the influence the company plays in helping everyone achieve that.

This may take awhile, but it’s an essential step in ensuring you have buy-in from executives.

Q: Any advice on how to shift focus from quantity of volunteer events to quality of events? And can you communicate this to get buy-in?

I believe if the markets in my company– we have about 60– directed their focus to fewer, higher quality events per year, we would see more participation from employees. Right now, we’re experiencing volunteer fatigue because there is just too much going on– some markets have 2-3 events per month!

A: There are many answers to this great question. Without knowing your specific circumstance, here are a few tips to prevent volunteer fatigue:

  • Ensure you have diverse opportunities available covering many different causes. If the events are only driven by the company (helping to achieve a “signature” cause), you may be alienating some people. Find out what people care about and encourage people to follow their passion.
  • Meet people at their highest level of contribution – find the volunteers that may be “fatigued” and ask them to play a leadership role for the people in their department. Give them the tools to plan 2-3 meaningful events that match the interests of their colleagues.
  • Focus your measurement on engagement instead of participation. This includes measuring leadership development, skills development, and manager support. You may find that higher engagement happens with less (but more meaningful) events.
  • Involve non-traditional players. Find out what HR, marketing, finance and others would want to see from a volunteering program.

Q: How can we take desk-based or lunchroom-based volunteering efforts (because of our business need, folks can’t leave the office) and make them transformational?

A: This is an excellent question, and a common issue for many practitioners. Ryan Scott outlined some interesting ways to involve on-site employees in volunteering. His article Help, I Can’t Get Up!’ Volunteering From Your Desk covers this exact topic.

Thanks, Angela and Chris! Check back next week for part 2 of this Q&A series. In the meantime, you can watch a recording of the webinar, and browse the slide deck.

Note: Angela and Chris also contributed a chapter on this topic to VolunteerMatch’s new book. Learn more.

Words Matter: 4 Simple Language Changes to Grow Your Employee Volunteer Program

4654424717_cf0f293c2e_bCrafting the perfect volunteer opportunity that fits with your company’s mission. Fighting for internal buy-in for your employee volunteer program. Letting the world know the good your employees are doing.

Running an employee volunteer program comes with many moving parts. That’s why it’s all too easy to overlook one important thing:

How you talk about your employee volunteer program to your employees impacts its success.

I’m not talking about mass, public communications. I’m talking about the simple, day-to-day communications you have with your employees about your program: That email you sent announcing your new program. That conversation you had with your colleague about your next event. The announcement in your internal newsletter.

In these communications, the words you use are important.

Why? They can make your message stand out from the hundreds of messages your employees receive daily. They can create a personal connection between your volunteer program and your employees. And in turn, they can increase excitement for and participation in your program.

But where do you start? Here are four tips for increasing employee engagement in your volunteer program, using simple language changes alone.

  1. Use Active Voice
    Your employees will be more interested in your program if they trust in its credibility. Credibility is implied when you speak or write confidently. And what’s the number one way to convey confidence when writing or speaking? Use an active voice.

    This means reducing your number of “to be” verbs such as “are”, “is”, “was” and “will be”. For example, “We will be cleaning up Renatska Park,” can change to, “We will make Renatska Park a cleaner space for our community to enjoy.”

  1. Involve Your Listener
    We all want to feel like we’re a part of something. Use the words “you” and “your” in your communication to make your employees feel like you’re talking to them directly. (i.e., “Renatska Park needs your help,” and “You can improve outdoor space in your community.”)
  1. Tell a Story
    You may think the facts will speak for themselves, but without a story to frame them in, people will forget them or overlook them all together. It’s in our nature as humans to enjoy and respond to stories. For example, instead of simply focusing on the number of students your employees tutored, talk about one employee who was particularly touched by one student.
  1. Keep it Short
    There’s nothing worse than an email that you have to scroll to find the bottom, or when a person talks for ten minutes about something than could have been said in two. Know the key points you want to convey, and stick to those. And rather than anticipating every, little, possible uncertainty, offer a format for people to reach you if they have questions.

Using these tips, you’ll decrease the amount of quick skims through your emails and zone-outs while you’re speaking. You’ll increase the amount of times your message actually gets read and heard.

Before you know it, more and more people in your company will also be talking about your employee volunteer program.

Photo credit: Steve Johnson

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.