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7 min read

4 Things to Ask When Designing an Employee Volunteer Program

October 15, 2014

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As a small business, finding ways to engage your employees is important. For example, chefs from your local restaurant may volunteer together at a soup kitchen to strengthen their relationships as a team and with the community. Or, perhaps your dog daycare’s employees enjoy spending time working together at your town’s shelter.

However, creating a successful volunteer program is about more than just team building. An effective program can improve your business’s reputation in the community and even make employees more productive and engaged at work. To reap these benefits, your business must create a volunteer program that considers employees' interests, motivates them to join, and contributes to the greater good of your community (and beyond!). 

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics you need to start your volunteer program and a few key questions to consider.

The Basics of Employee Volunteer Programs

Corporate volunteerism is just one piece of an organization's broader corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. Double the Donation defines corporate volunteerism as “an aspect of corporate philanthropy that involves encouraging employees to commit their time and skills to charitable causes in their communities.”

In addition to improving your business’s image and engaging employees, a robust employee volunteer program can help you attract top talent, provide employees with an opportunity to develop new skills, and improve their mental health

To inspire employees to participate in your program, leverage  the following strategies:

These are three ways businesses can motivate volunteers to get involved (detailed in the text below).

  • Offer paid time off to volunteer. Paid volunteer time off (VTO) allows employees to volunteer during business hours, giving them more time to participate. Consider offering VTO hours on a monthly or annual basis, depending on your business’s needs and 
  • Recognize and reward participants. Thank volunteers and recognize participants on a regular basis to motivate them to keep going. Mention their efforts during company-wide meetings, send them thank-you cards, create a volunteer recognition wall, or offer small gifts.
  • Highlight program wins. Keep employees up-to-date about the impact of their work. Reach out to the nonprofits your business works with to learn more about how volunteers make a difference. For example, your employee’s two-hour volunteer shift at a soup kitchen may have fed 50 people.

Additionally, make your program convenient and accessible by providing both in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities. For example, bilingual employees could translate documents in their own time through a digital program like Translators Without Borders or visit a local hospital during work hours to lend their services.

4 Questions to Consider When Designing a Volunteer Program

Below are a few questions and factors to consider when creating a volunteer program for your small business:

1. What causes has my business supported in the past?

Does your small business already donate to a specific cause? If so, simply align your actions with your giving. It’s likely your employees are already engaged in the cause and would be enthusiastic if volunteer opportunities would become available. 

If your company doesn’t regularly engage with charitable causes, think about the products and services your business provides. Is there a natural link between those services and ways you could volunteer? 

For example, businesses that work with animals, such as vet clinics, dog boarding services, or groomers, could volunteer with shelters and rescues. In this case, employees already have an affinity for working with animals and have the skills needed to be dog walkers or kitten foster parents.

2. Is there a local charity you could partner with?

Local initiatives are likely to be important to your employees and make excellent starting points for volunteerism. When employees volunteer within their own communities, they can see the results of their hard work firsthand. Plus, it enhances your image as a socially responsible and community-oriented small business, attracting customers who appreciate such values and generating positive word-of-mouth.

To find local organizations to volunteer for, you can:

  • Use a site like VolunteerMatch.org to identify local volunteer opportunities.
  • Reach out to your local chamber of commerce to discover nonprofits in your area. 
  • Connect with nonprofit leaders and ambassadors to inquire about where volunteers are needed most.

Keep in mind that other organizations likely have processes prospective volunteers must complete. Make sure each of your employees completes volunteer applications, interviews, onboarding, training, waivers, and any other forms or requirements the organization has.

3. What matters to my employees?

In order to engage employees in your program and keep them coming back, you need to show that you care about their values, interests, and input. Before committing to a cause, consider asking your employees for feedback. 

For example, you might:

  • Send out surveys. Create surveys that ask employees how they feel about the program overall, their interest or dedication to the causes you support, what they think is going well, and what could be improved. For honest feedback, consider making the surveys anonymous.
  • Hold a vote. If you only have a few employees, it may be best to vote on which initiatives or organizations to dedicate your program’s support to. To compromise, you could offer VTO hours they can use at any time, for any cause.
  • Perform interviews. If you’re just getting started with your volunteer program, consider interviewing your employees to gauge their expectations for the program. For example, maybe they envision providing free services to a local nonprofit’s beneficiaries or volunteering as a group over the weekend. 

You should check in with employees regularly to ensure that they are happy with the program and the opportunities to give back. Make sure to respond to feedback, whether positive or constructive, to acknowledge that you received it and implement their suggestions whenever possible.

4. Does my business have connections that could expand our impact?

Look over the history of your business. Have you worked with businesses that are involved with charitable organizations? Do you think that your clients might be interested in joining your efforts?

Here’s how to leverage your network to increase the impact of your efforts:

  • Learn about new or smaller organizations. Discuss your program with clients, employees, and other businesses in the area, and ask if they have a connection to a nonprofit. You might find that some of your contacts have founded their own small initiatives or already work with a nonprofit. Help them get these smaller organizations off the ground and grow their impact by backing them with support from your business.

  • Share about worthy causes with former clients. Spread the word about the causes you support and ways to get involved with your clients. For example, a groomer could use the marketing tools in Gingr’s dog grooming software to send email and text messages to clients who share about opportunities to donate or volunteer. Or, you might spotlight specific volunteer roles in your business’s newsletter.

  • Secure business partners for the organizations you support. Let’s say you run a catering service, and you frequently work events alongside local photographers and DJs. The next time your nonprofit partner is holding a gala, race, or other event, see if these businesses would be willing to sponsor the event or volunteer to provide their services pro bono. To sweeten the deal, the nonprofit can also offer free advertising to the business by featuring their name and logo on event signage, brochures, and social media posts.  

Reaching out to your network helps your business get more people involved in your efforts to impact a worthy cause. Not only does this strengthen your business’s ties to its community, but the feeling of being connected to a positive collective effort will inspire employees to dedicate more time toward volunteering.

Creating a volunteer program is an essential aspect of giving back to and becoming part of your business’s community. Remember to show appreciation for your volunteers and highlight the positive impact they have on the community. This will keep them engaged in the cause, motivate regular participants, and expand the impact your program can make.

Guest Contributer

Written by Guest Contributer

This article was written by a VolunteerMatch Guest Contributor.