What Will Grow from Your Employee Volunteer Program?

What will grow from your employee volunteer program?At VolunteerMatch we’re always excited when one of our corporate partners ends up in the media for their employee volunteer efforts. So you can imagine our delight when we saw an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy this summer telling the story of General Mills employees and their very special volunteer effort.

In 2009, a small group of engineers and food scientists from General Mills came up with an idea to package and donate meals to schools in Malawi, where even when children are able to make it to school, they are often too hungry to retain anything they are being taught. The initial goal for the program was to send one million meals over three years.

Three months after the start of the program, they had already surpassed this goal. In early 2011, the employee volunteer program begun by a small group at General Mills became an independent charity called Partners in Food Solutions.

Partners in Food Solutions began as many nonprofits do: a bright idea by a bunch of committed individuals passionate about their cause and determined to make a difference. What makes this organization different from so many other nonprofits, however, is where it began – under the umbrella of a corporate volunteer program.

As corporate social responsibility (CSR) and employee volunteering become ever more fundamental and integrated into companies’ operations, we expect to see more of these corporate-incubated charities. Another example is the ‘Get Schooled’ initiative, which was launched through Viacom’s CSR program and is now supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, other corporations, and many major celebrities.

What is it about employee volunteer projects like that of General Mills that make them so successful, to the point of spinning off into their own independent charities? And how can you replicate their efforts to have an even greater impact with your employee engagement efforts, whatever they may be focused on? Here are some tips:

  • Design your program around the passions of your employees.
    General Mills may not have seen as much success if they had tried to get volunteers to read to kids, but food scientists and engineers were sure to get jazzed about feeding hungry kids. Not sure what your employees care most about? Ask them!
  • Involve senior management
    There was at least one senior vice president helping to direct the volunteer project at General Mills – and this no doubt helped a lot. With a partner on board from the upper echelons, your program will immediately gain credibility at the executive level. Additionally, you’ll be better positioned to make it easy and attractive for employees to participate in the program – providing benefits and encouragement for people to give their time both during and after work.
  • Partner with other organizations and companies
    When the employees at General Mills wanted to expand their impact, they decided to reach out to organizations working in Malawi and other companies and their food scientists. By forming these types of partnerships, you’ll be able to learn from groups already working on the ground in the communities you’re looking to help, and you’ll increase your manpower by inviting other employee volunteers who share your passion and expertise.

Congratulations to General Mills and Partners in Food Solutions on the success of this great program!

If you want some help bringing your employee volunteer program to the next level of impact, check out VolunteerMatch Consulting Services.

Do you have examples of independent charities that grew from employee volunteer efforts? Let us know in the comments!

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