Employee Volunteer Programs are enjoying increased popularity. Does your organization have one? If you’re asking yourself, “Why would I want one?” or “Where do I start?”, you’re not alone. Read on.

Ask for Input

Survey your employees to determine if they would be interested in volunteering their time and talents, and where they would they would like to do so. While some employees volunteer to meet new people, have fun, and give back to the community, others embrace it as a vehicle for professional development.

In “Doing Well by Doing Good” by Arlene S. Hirsch, Gary Levante, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Berkshire Bank in Boston, says, “All successful [employee volunteer programs] put employees at the center. Employees champion the causes they care about the most.”

My organization decided on a three-tiered approach for employee involvement. The first tier included fundraising for local and national disasters, e.g., house fires, floods, tornadoes, etc. The second tier included volunteering one’s personal time to a nonprofit, e.g., Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, etc. Finally, the third tier recognized employees who volunteered at
least 25 hours of their personal time over the last calendar year at a nonprofit. Third-tier employees received special recognition.

Consider the Benefits

According to Levante, Berkshire’s top executives embrace its EVP because it helps improve recruitment, engagement and retention.

These programs can improve an organization’s reputation and build brand awareness by strengthening relationships with business partners, customers and the community. We all want our organization to be a great place to work. When we recognize our employees for giving back to causes they are passionate about, it contributes to their satisfaction and engagement.

All of this can turn out to be a valuable recruitment tool as well. While learning about an organization’s Employee Volunteer Program, job seekers may be swayed by that as a reason to choose to apply.

Aside from the improvements listed above, volunteering can also have a big impact on a person’s health and well-being, according to a Mayo Clinic study. This is sometimes referred to as a “helper’s high.” Specifically, volunteering can reduce stress levels, improve mood, help people stay active and give them a sense of purpose.

Offer Skills-Based Volunteering

Some employers have embraced skills-based volunteering, which can serve two purposes. In addition to enabling experienced employees to leverage their professional skills and talents for maximum social impact (such as a lawyer taking a pro bono case or a medical provider working in a free clinic), it serves as a professional development tool to showcase and grow an employee’s expertise.

According to a 2016 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT study, 92% of surveyed human resources executives agreed that contributing business skills and expertise to a nonprofit can be an effective way to improve employees’ leadership abilities and broaden professional skill sets. The day-of service model is a skills-based version of traditional hands-on volunteering. But instead of packaging meal kits or painting a house, teams of people work with nonprofits on more complex organizational challenges.

Rethink Your Time Off Policy

Voluntary Time Off (VTO) policies outline how much time employees get to volunteer during regular work hours, as well as how and where they can use that time.

My organization is a small nonprofit and, at least right now, is unable to offer any additional paid time off for volunteering. Employees look for opportunities to volunteer around their lunch breaks, after hours, or on weekends. Or, they can use their accrued time if they wish to volunteer during work hours.

Some organizations’ VTO policies provide some paid time off specifically for volunteering. Others encourage their employees to volunteer at nonprofits committed to the company’s core values. Employees typically choose where to spend their time.

I have found that volunteering has many benefits—whether I’ve done it in association with my employer, my HR professional association, or simply on my own with my wife, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie, the opportunity to give back, and the gratitude from those we have served. Try it—and encourage your employees to do the same. You’ll definitely be glad you did.