Corporate volunteer programs have become a requisite for companies to meet CSR goals and create change in the community. Well-designed volunteer programs can give companies many benefits in return, including creating trust, engagement, and loyalty with employees – a must in the current talent retention market.
In fact, recent statistics have shown that “employees who participate in employer-sponsored volunteering are five times more engaged at work.” However, a 2022 study conducted by Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP) found that the average employee volunteer participation rate across organizations is only 17%.
While corporate volunteer programs have demonstrated positive impacts, the low percentage of employee participation in these programs creates doubt whether they are effective or just in place as a “ticking the box” exercise.
The truth of the matter is corporate volunteer programs cannot take a one-size-fits all approach if the company is looking to meet the program’s intended goals, drive employee participation, and reap the additional benefits that come with doing good. It is up to the company’s leadership to be intentional in incorporating volunteerism into their business model. While every company should take a unique approach designed to align with their culture, community, and stated values, the following five steps are a great start to build a roadmap for any successful program.
Step one: Lead by example, volunteering begins with the C-Suite.
A company’s purpose should be driven from the top-down, starting with the CEO and executive leadership team and disseminated through the organization’s various teams to engage all employees. The same concept should apply to corporate volunteer programs. To motivate employees to participate in these programs, it is important for the CEO to be involved and the company to demonstrate how corporate volunteerism is a core part of the company’s DNA. Rather than have the CEO quietly volunteer at a soup kitchen or give back in secret through a separate foundation, the organization should intentionally look for ways for the CEO to be front and center, volunteering alongside employees to show the importance of these programs. Not only does this demonstrate the company’s emphasis on giving back, but it will also help to further humanize the leadership team among employees and build an authentic connection and trust among employees that corporate volunteering is ingrained in the company’s purpose.
Step two: It takes a village; involve all stakeholders in the design & implementation.
Company-wide volunteer programs cannot succeed if they are planned in siloed groups throughout the company—it defeats the “company-wide” classification. The organization’s various departments should have designated team leaders to co-create aspects of their volunteer program. For example, an organization’s CSR team could be involved in the planning process to define the volunteering guidelines and goals behind the program’s initiatives, while the HR team’s involvement would help define employee volunteer roles and how employees time would be allocated to allow for volunteering. The finance department should be involved in planning a corporate matching incentive, and other specialized teams could identify unique skills to be donated, such as helping community members file taxes, access community service, or create a budget. Certainly, the marketing and communication team must be on-tap to spread the word to internal and external audiences about the opportunities to encourage participation and engagement before any program is launched. Once underway, this same team will share measurable outcomes delivered and share personal stories from all aspects of the company and program.
Step three: Create a sense of ownership among employees.
It’s just as important for senior leaders to listen to their employees when it comes to volunteering as it is for employees to see leadership personally involved. To drive further employee engagement, companies should allow employees to have a seat at the table and select how and where they can give back with some company-established guidelines. For example, companies may want to define the type of organization or geographic reach eligible for a corporate match. Giving employees enough guidance to ensure volunteer efforts are aligned to the company’s brand, while allowing employees to be creative and have a say in how they give back, will drive further participation as employees will understand they have a sense of agency and a stake in the company’s programs.
Step four: Design volunteer programs with the outside community
Involving the nonprofits and other community groups the company plans to partner with PRIOR to finalizing the volunteer program is a critical step that many organizations often skip. Some companies falsely believe that their gift of volunteers, supplies, and service would be welcomed by any nonprofit, and skip the step of confirming with the community partners they hope to help. However, this is a big mistake and can lead to potential program failure. This is because many nonprofit organizations have strict regulations and policies in place to protect the community they serve. If the company does not take the proper steps to bring in the organizations they plan to serve, early in the process, they can be disappointed when the group they hope to assist answers with an abrupt “no, thank you” to the proposed event.
Although the company may have the best intentions, it’s important to keep in mind that volunteering is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Collaborating with community leaders is the best way to ensure a successful volunteer program’s success.
Step Five: Drive further engagement through storytelling
Once the program goes live and community efforts begin, it’s important to amplify the company’s efforts through effective communication and storytelling. The storytelling aspect will help all stakeholders, internal and external, fully understand the initiatives that are underway, champion all participants and encourage employees to get further involved. This is not a one-dimensional endeavor, but rather an opportunity to share several different stories to many different audiences creating (and increasing) engagement with every story told.
Corporate volunteer programs can be effective if the organization takes the time to bring all the components into place to design a program that is unique to both the communities they serve and the employees that carry out the volunteer efforts. To succeed, organizations need to ensure that they involve all sides of the business—from the C-Suite, to employees and the communities they serve.