What is an “Excellent” Employee Volunteer Program?

Discovery Communications Discover Your Impact Day
Volunteers from Discovery Communications participate in their annual Discover Your Impact day of service.

That’s the question that The Points of Light Institute answered in the report it released last month, “Trends of Excellence in Employee Volunteering.” The report analyzes the finalists of the 2010 Corporate Engagement Award of Excellence to identify trends and best practices in employee volunteering.

In other words, what are these companies doing that makes their employee volunteer programs (EVPs) so successful?

The Points of Light Institute report is a great snapshot of some of the best EVPs out there, and includes trends, best practices and data every employee volunteer program manager should be aware of. Below is a summary of the major points in the report:

What is an “Excellent EVP?”

First let’s talk money. The most successful EVP’s invest an average of $179 per employee per year in employee engagement.

Don’t panic! This data includes some very large corporations outliers – some of the biggest companies in the world. The range for investment by excellent EVPs is actually $18 to $800 per employee per year.

Eighteen dollars per year could be doable, even for a small mom-and-pop outfit. Another thing to remember: most companies spend far more than $179 per employee on training costs – this type of engagement both reinforces and supplements employee development.

What about staff time? On average, excellent EVPs have one full time staff member working on the program per 28,000 employees in the company. While most of us don’t have nearly 28,000 employees, the take-home point here is that the more time invested in the program, the greater the engagement.

Positioning of EVPs Internally and Externally

Your employee volunteer program can and should support your company’s business goals, and excellent EVPs recognize this. Employee professional development, recruitment, engagement and retention are all strengthened and supported by a dynamic EVP.

Additionally, a well-run EVP can contribute to a thriving company culture of participation and loyalty, and can increase brand awareness both internally and externally among your consumer audiences.

Most of the excellent EVPs analyzed in the report focus on a specific cause issue, and some even hone in on particular programs or timelines. For example, often a company will leverage what it already does commercially to have a greater impact – Campbell Soup Company makes use of its assets as a food company to reduce hunger and childhood obesity.

Another trend that emerged in the report was the smart use of company assets for greater impact. This includes both in-kind use of materials, tools and infrastructure like shipping and packaging, as well as skilled volunteering by the employees themselves. (For more about how your company can better leverage skilled volunteering, click here.)

Finally, every excellent EVP analyzed in the report uses technology as a big part of their operations. Most of them have some sort of online portal to sign up employees and track volunteer hours, such as what VolunteerMatch Solutions offers. These tools make the day-to-day process of managing and sustaining a volunteer program easy for EVP managers.

Motivating Participation

A popular best practice used by excellent EVPs is to incentivize volunteer engagement for employees, using programs such as dollars-for-doers, and offering paid time off to volunteer.

All of the excellent EVPs offer employer-sponsored group volunteer events, using tools such as the Special Event Manager to organize days of service or longer-running programs.

Every one of the excellent EVPs analyzed in the report have a way of recognizing engaged employees, whether at company-wide events, through awards, or with fun devices like colorful badges to wear around the office. AT&T’s Cares National Volunteer Week Contest engages employees to vote for the most interesting and deserving project submitted by fellow employees. The projects with the most votes are funded by AT&T.

Measuring Impact

The final nugget Points of Light provides in its report is this: Measurement is important! Demonstrating the impact of an EVP is a key to its continued success. Old National Bank (one of our clients) partnered with researchers and discovered a significant relationship between employee volunteering and especially engaged and committed employees.

An oft-used measurement tool by many of the excellent EVPs in the report is Independent Sector’s estimation that an hour of employee volunteer time is equivalent to $21.36. In this way, many companies are able to provide the quantitative worth of their employee volunteer program.

Many of the excellent EVPs also recognize the value of one of the most powerful tools out there for showcasing impact: storytelling. Don’t just report how many trees you planted, or how many children you tutored. Show pictures of the forest you created, and have one of the children express in their own words what one-on-one help meant for them.

Congratulations to all the excellent EVPs that were included in the report. You are truly having an impact!

Do you agree with this list of best practices for excellent EVPs? Is anything missing?

Maura Koehler-HanlonMaura Koehler-Hanlon is a Senior Client Relations Manager at VolunteerMatch, bringing her passion for Corporate Social Responsibility and excitement for volunteering to the team. She has led the initiative to launch the VolunteerMatch Consulting Service. (For more info, contact us.)

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