Stop Dictating How Your Employees Volunteer

Stop Dictating How Your Employees Volunteer

What if I told you that I know the reason a full 33% of your employees don’t participate in your giving and volunteering program?

You’d act quickly to remedy that barrier right?

Well, thanks to America’s Charities Snapshot 2017 Report, we do know the reason. And for many companies, it’s not that hard to remedy.

According to the report, 1/3 of employees won’t give through their workplace because they’re not able to choose the causes that matter to them.

The report elaborates further:

“Workers don’t want to have their giving choices dictated by their employers. In fact, more than three-quarters of respondents said that having the ability to choose causes they care about is imperative or very important to a positive donation experience.”

And further:

“One of the most resonant messages from the Snapshot 2017 survey is that employees highly value programs that offer them choices — and that they are turned off by employers who offer them limited choices.”

Anonymous survey respondents also weigh in:

“As a company that values and champions diversity, I like the fact that everyone can donate to the charity of their choice.”

“Some charities are listed each year and none of them are mine.”

It ultimately advises:

“Give employees the tools and resources for them to give how, when, and where they want.”

These sentiments aren’t limited to just one report. Mark Horoszowski and Ty Walrod note the adoption gap in employee volunteerism in their article How To Create A Human-Centered Approach To Corporate Giving:

“Research shows that employees consistently ask for opportunities to give back, yet they are not taking advantage of donation and volunteer opportunities when offered. So what is going on?”

They conclude that many volunteer and giving programs are designed to serve the company, rather than the employees:

“Employees donate for deeply personal, often subconscious, reasons. On the other side, their employers are likely participating for largely commercial reasons.”

By standardizing giving, you’re taking the personalization out of it. The article summarizes:

“Simply put, employees are more likely to give even more when they decide how and when their time and dollars are given. As such, if companies want to engage their employees with giving campaigns, the best thing to do is let employees decide where they volunteer and where they give their money.”


As a solution to this lack of engagement, both America’s Charities Snapshot Report and Horoszowski and Walrod’s article emphasize the benefit of offering employees paid time off to volunteer (VTO).

In fact, America’s Charities discovered that this is the number one motivating factor in workplace giving:

What Motivates Workplace Donors

According to the report, volunteering with other colleagues is less of a motivator for employees than exploring their individual passions through VTO. I’ve argued in the past that companies tend to put too much focus on team-building as a reason for a volunteer program. It shouldn’t be discounted, as 40% of employees still see it as a motivating factor. However, we need to understand that volunteerism is personal.

Sherifah Munis, chief social responsibility officer at NewWave Telecom and Technologies Inc., says:

“The heart of what we are doing is engaging with something that is very personal to people. We are not giving a piece of paper. Volunteering is about something very personal that touches you. That’s why people are doing it.”

So, if your company doesn’t already offer VTO as a way for employees to explore their personal reasons for giving, it’s time to get on board. But don’t stop there. Take your efforts one step further by offering an easy way for employees to discover meaningful volunteer opportunities by plugging in the VolunteerMatch network.

In addition to VTO, empower employees to suggest and organize their own volunteer opportunities for your company. By handing over the reigns on some of the planning, you’ll be creating more meaningful experiences for your employees.

Employee volunteering thought leader Chris Jarvis explains:

“Ask employees to give and you’ll see a handful of one-off transactions, but empower employees to learn about, connect with and give to the causes that interest them, and you’ll have yourself a team of employees championing your company’s community involvement and cause initiatives.”

In summary, employee choice in volunteer and giving programs is more important than we previously thought. Empower your employees to give in ways that are personally meaningful to them, and you’ll begin to see more engagement with your program.

2 thoughts on “Stop Dictating How Your Employees Volunteer”

  • 1
    Jerome Tennille, MSL, CVA on December 17, 2017

    I read this post a couple weeks back and have some thoughts. I like the ideas put forth and the spirit of what’s being suggested. As a volunteer management and engagement professional, I too think on a daily basis about how to maximize participation. However, I wonder about the realistic nature of what’s being suggested. For-profit corporations and businesses are also just as unique as the communities they’re often working to serve, and each also has organizational culture and business models that have to be considered. There needs equal consideration to that just as much as employee choice.

    I just think this challenge is more complex than folks realize. For example, McDonald’s is one of the most successful companies on this planet. As a company in 2016 they made over $24 Billion USD, and they have a lot that they can give in part because of their wild success. However, for them it’s not as simple as adopting VTO. They’re a largely franchised company with over 36,000 independently owned and operated chains. By law they’re not able to mandate or make these franchised locations adopt certain policies handed down by corporate. Not to mention they have over 300,000 employees, a majority of them being hourly workers, where volunteerism just isn’t accessible like it would be for the salaried employee. It would be up to that franchised location owner to decide whether or not to allow that hourly employee time off to do so while still earning a wage. For that owner, that means money out of their pocket, their livelihood, and on the more extreme side of things whether or not the location stays open or goes out of business, forcing everybody to find new employment. Not to mention being a global company that also has to consider international law and government policy across multiple continents where volunteerism isn’t valued the same as it is in America, Canada, UK, etc. That’s just one example, but I would go out on a limb and say that there’s a lot to consider about a business’ practice that often dictates how employees can give. How do you implement something like VTO with successful companies that have largely franchised locations, are global and have a majority of hourly workers?

    I’ve also wondered about the risk to brand identity by allowing employees to support anything and everything under the sun. Brand identity is incredibly important, and for CSR programs that are done right, they’re largely woven into the strategic vision of a company having an impact across the entire enterprise. This is partly because there are interdependent functions. The Home Depot is a great example of what I would consider successful “dictating” of employee giving and volunteerism. As a company they have The Home Depot Foundation and Team Depot, the philanthropic arm of the company where donations are given and employees engaged. The Home Depot is strategically aligned with Habitat for Humanity. It makes perfect sense, a DIY company that provides raw material to builders has partnered with one of the largest community builder organizations in America. The Home Depot then donates money, material and human capital (their employees who are largely skilled in building) to complete the builds. For brand identity they couldn’t have done any better. They aligned their company with a perfect partner.

    In this day and age of consumer activism I think companies would actually be doing themselves a disservice by not dictating some of that giving. By allowing employees to support everything and anything, it’s almost like communicating to the public that they stand for everything… and if you stand for everything you risk standing for nothing. And consumers want to see that companies take a stand for something. So how do you secure brand identity by allowing employees to give where their heart is?

    All that to say, I think there needs to be a balance, and it also needs to make sense for that company.
    These are things I imagine most companies grapple with. Those are just some of my thoughts as I digested the post. Thanks for letting me share.

  • 2
    Tessa Srebro on December 18, 2017

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jerome! I completely agree that having a balance between corporate priorities and employee choice is important. I’m not proposing that paid volunteer time off be the only type of volunteerism a company supports. That being said, I think for companies that have a structure that makes it possible to easily adopt a VTO policy, it would be in their best interests to do so. And for companies that allow employees to find and organize their own volunteer initiatives outside of VTO, having some guidelines in place for what a company will and will not get behind (with no exceptions being made for C-level employees) is also important.

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