How to Build an Employee Volunteer Program

By Adie Bartron / Oct 10, 2017

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If I hear one more time that Millennial workers are motivated by purpose, I may stab my eye out with a spork! Yet, as a real-life Millennial who finds deep motivation in my work at the first legal benefit corporation in Idaho, Oliver Russell, and as a woman with a penchant for statistics, I can attest that employee engagement is a pretty big deal. Consider the following:

  • Millennials now make up 50% of the global workforce. Therefore, we cannot and will not be ignored!
  • Engaging employees through volunteer work, or as we call it at my office, “mandatory fun,” (see #7) yields better morale. A recent study found 66% of employees reported a greater commitment to their company after volunteering.
  • It pays to engage. According to Hewitt Associates, companies with higher levels of employee engagement outperform the stock market by nearly 20%.

Sold? You should be. But before you dive in, here are seven questions to consider.

1. What's the point?

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  • What do you want your employee volunteer program (EVP) to accomplish? Just as you establish measurable goals for other aspects of your business, an employee volunteer program needs some metrics attached to it in order to succeed. Generally, EVP goals are around one of three areas: employees, the company, or your community.

    For example, do you want to increase employee satisfaction to better compete for talent or retain your current squad? Or is it more about the company’s reputation or helping a favorite nonprofit community partner?

    Don’t forget you’ll need buy-in from your boss. Without senior management support, success will be elusive, like with any business goal.

    2. How do you choose the right cause or opportunity?

    For instance, if you are a food producer, why not partner with a nonprofit community garden? At Oliver Russell, our passion for art and creativity led us to volunteer to teach a second grade art class at a local low-income school. Perfect fit, right? Be sure your chosen cause or nonprofit actually benefits from your help, so (duh) talk to them first to ensure it’s a mutual fit. Maybe they even have a volunteer coordinator or a list of projects they need completed that you can help with.

    3. HOW MUCH TIME AND BUDGET Should You Spend?

    Are you a small company that can schedule company-wide volunteer events over the lunch hour? Or are you part of a large organization that can allocate a certain number of volunteer hours that employees can use individually? What’s the budget, including the costs of project management for the EVP?

    At my agency, we wanted our volunteer experiences to generate warm, fuzzy feelings for our team. By selecting a consistent date and time for each monthly volunteer event, we could schedule meetings and projects well in advance so we could leave the office en masse and have lunch together after.

    4. WHO IS GOING TO OWN IT?

    You need your boss’s buy in, but you will also need an employee champion who will serve as the project manager and point-of-contact for the organization for which you’re volunteering. Such a champion may help with developing program guidelines, planning event details (and getting it on everyone’s calendars), taking photos, posting on social media, collecting employee feedback, and providing any necessary internal reporting. 

    5. How do you master the calendaring of it all?

    Your champion should brief fellow employees before each volunteer event. What time does it start? Where is it happening, and do they need directions? Tell employees what they will be doing during the event so they can dress for success (i.e. no stilettos in the community garden unless the project needed involves aeration). What should they bring? Trust me, the event will go much more smoothly if everyone has a clear understanding beforehand that they may leave covered in mud. 

    6. We Did It! What's Next?

    Take time to evaluate your experience and gather feedback from employees and the nonprofit. Did employees gain personal satisfaction from it? Did they feel it was valuable for the company and the community? Did your community partner appreciate the help? Use this input to tweak your EVP as it evolves. Also, celebrate! Providing lunch afterward goes a long way in showing your employees appreciation, as does a humble brag on your favorite social channels. You can event send out a press release or write a blog about it to help inspire others and improve your company’s street cred.

    7. WHAT IF VOLUNTEERING ENDS UP BEING FUN AND YOU HATE FUN?

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  • Okay, trick question. If you hate fun, you probably are no longer reading! We’re all about fun at Oliver Russell, which is why we make team t-shirts, bring candy, support rocking out to music (when the setting is appropriate), the liberal use of hashtags and selfies. We’ve even established an award for employee volunteers.

    EVPs are a valuable tool that helps spread good in your community and increases engagement and commitment among employees, while supporting and growing your company’s core business values. You'll find even more great tips on starting your own employee volunteer program here. Or you can email me at abarton@oliverrussell.com—I’d love to share my experience spearheading our EVP. 

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    Adie Bartron

    With every project, the devil—and the beauty—is in the details. And there’s no one better to keep track of them than Adie. She runs projects with both a laser-like focus and a big-picture perspective, making her a favorite of clients like Hewlett-Packard, Mountain Health CO-OP, and the City of Boise. She has a sixth sense for looming deadlines and spends our clients’ budgets as carefully as her own. And she bakes. Did we mention that?

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