Engaging Your People in Meaningful Volunteerism

April 7, 2016 benevity

National Volunteer Week reminded us of the importance of hands-on giving: what’s next?

Happily for society, the clarion call of volunteerism is echoing across the business world, and as results roll in from National Volunteer Week (April 10-16, 2016), we are expecting to see the week have more of an impact this year than ever before. Initiated by Points of Light in the United States (the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service), the week is about “inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage their communities.”

For companies, National Volunteer Week was a timely opportunity to spearhead workplace programs that respond to the growing interest in volunteer opportunities in ways that generate both business and community impact. And while the annual event itself presented a chance to test drive new volunteer strategies, it’s now time to look forward and begin planning life-changing volunteer experiences on a much larger scale.

Recognizing that today’s diverse workforce is hungry for volunteer opportunities that can accommodate a wide spectrum of ages, abilities, interests, skills and available time is the new key to unlocking greater engagement across your organization. Having a smart tool like Spark to track and reward volunteer time will be sure to get even more people on board (and make your life easier at the same time). Here are some approaches that will help you create impactful and engaging volunteer programs year-round.

Identify which motivators drive engagement
Prior to launching any kind of employee volunteer program, it’s critical to understand the intrinsic motivations that drive volunteerism in the workplace. Simple altruism is not the only motivator, and studies now reveal the inspirations behind giving back are as diverse as the people themselves. True, many of your people will take part out of a basic desire to make a charitable or social impact. But some will also sign up to share their skills and training, perhaps even in a mentorship capacity. Others might volunteer hoping to learn a new skill, or gain insights into the cause itself. Still others will be there to network, and possibly advance their careers. Before launching any new volunteer program or initiative, it’s wise to recognize the many possible entry points into the activity, and design accordingly.

Strategies that drive greater impact: breadth, incentives and low barriers to entry
Once you have identified your motivators and determined your goals, volunteer strategies follow in lockstep. They can range from the tried-and-true company-sponsored events (like serving meals at homeless shelters, sorting groceries at the local food bank and packing boxes at gift donation centers) to mentor programs (like teaming employees with potential beneficiaries such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, YWCA and YMCA, and Boys and Girls Clubs) to skills-based opportunities that align impact goals with people development (like having a designer help with a charity website, an engineer assist with integration of software products, etc.).

Nearly 27% of companies also offer financial grants or “Dollars for Doers” rewards connected to volunteer service, with 30% more reporting that they plan to. A popular strategy for a Dollars for Doers program attaches a monetary figure to volunteer hours spent and then converts that amount into a giving opportunity for employees. For example, an employee could record 10 hours working at a soup kitchen, have those hours turned into “giving dollars” or donation currency, and then use a program like Benevity’s Spark to give to any charity they choose. Incentivizing your program is a proven way to drive engagement.

If your organization is already supporting a volunteer program, it’s also worth keeping in mind some of the approaches that strengthen it. That includes removing minimum hour thresholds that could be acting as barriers to participation and engagement, and moving beyond activities focused only on fun and team-building toward ones focused on providing deeper and more meaningful experiences.

Program integration and employee recognition drive business impact
The key to a solid volunteer program is that it supports and coordinates with all the other engagement programs your business is undertaking. It thrives when complemented by other strategies, from year-round giving to everything else your company does to involve, recognize and reward its most valuable asset. In fact, integrating strategies is so powerful that employees who volunteer donate on average 41% more dollars.

Speaking of your most valuable asset, don’t forget to acknowledge your people’s hard work. This will help motivate them to keep giving their time on a year-round basis, while supporting and rewarding their efforts in recognition of the impact they’re having. 

The benefit of volunteering is seen beyond the immediate impact on community initiatives and charitable efforts. The longer-term payoff for companies is employee engagement, which studies like the 2015 America’s Charities Snapshot are very clear about:

Volunteerism is now the core around which companies are building employee engagement strategies and programs. Not only does it serve as a catalyzing force within companies but it is an on-ramp to full employee engagement and deepening partnerships with nonprofit organizations.

National Volunteer Week has reminded us that there is still much to be done… and many more possibilities to explore.

 

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