Creating a Successful Employee Volunteer Program

Company-sponsored volunteer programs not only increase job satisfaction of employees, they also help to build stronger, more enriched communities.

The impact an organization and its employees can have on a community was the topic of a recent panel discussion featuring Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Director of Community Responsibility, Suzanne Miller Allen. The panel was moderated by The Conference Board President and CEO Jon Spector and also included senior leaders from Bedrock Management Services, General Motors, and The Empowerment Plan.

Are you looking to start or strengthen an employee volunteer program at your company? Here are a few key pillars to building a successful employee volunteer program, as shared by these experts:

Build your team: A successful volunteer program must be effectively managed, in many cases by a team of dedicated individuals. It requires a lot of time and effort to build partnerships, coordinate logistics, and resolve issues when they arise, and keep efforts focused on the mission. Decide who will lead your company’s volunteer program and recruit a team to support him or her. If an employee is taking time out of the day to volunteer, their experience should be well-organized. If an employee has a bad experience or does not feel like they made an impact, it may deter them from volunteering in the future.

Define your focus: Remember, employees are people first. Each have their own personal passions and commitments, but as an organization you need to define your service vision. Your program will not be able to be everything to everyone, and it may require some difficult conversations. Just because an opportunity doesn’t fit your focus doesn’t mean that group isn’t doing good work. Continually ask, is this an opportunity to move the needle? As Michigan’s largest health insurer, our focus is on supporting programs that work to improve health care in our state, as well as investing in the communities where we do business.

Offer opportunities that are easily accessible and meaningful: First, make it easy for employees to sign-up or contribute to your efforts at a level they are comfortable with. Check with your organization to see what communication tools you have access to, such as an employee intranet or SharePoint site. Next, look for opportunities that allow employees to give their time, talent or resources in and around the communities where they live or work. It may be packing boxes or it may be budget forecasting and logistics. When it comes to working with employees who have time-restrictive job roles or responsibilities, consider offering on-site engagement opportunities or weekend events.

Engage employees of all ages: Cause-minded millennials are bringing greater attention and changes to employee volunteer programs. The United Way reports that, “while most employees (of all ages) expect their employers to be socially responsible companies, millennials further expect… to be allowed to volunteer during company time.” Millennials also have a different expectation than the “giving behind the scenes” approach. Instead of golf outings and black tie galas, consider including experiential giving opportunities such as 5K races, team challenges and community events. For many organizations however, their most engaged employees can often be their retirees. These employees have moved on from their jobs but still want to remain part of the company culture and use their experience and knowledge for good. Include opportunities for retirees to use their highly specialized skills in a setting that works for them, and helps them connect with former coworkers. Regardless of your program’s demographics, offering a variety of opportunities will help attract employees of all ages.

Make service part of your company culture: When it comes to getting employees engaged, it’s important to make service and giving a part of your company culture at all levels. Leaders set an example for their teams by actively encouraging employees to get involved and recognizing team members for their contributions. Employees have an opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with their coworkers and senior leaders with whom they may not regularly interact with. When employees feel good about the work that they do in the community and proud of the company they work for, it creates an infectious enthusiasm for giving back.

What tips do you have for helping to build a successful employee engagement program? Leave a comment below.

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Photo credit: MIBluesPerspectives

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