Volunteering Reimagined: 5 Ways to Energize Employee Engagement

February 1, 2017 Aneil Rajaram

What if playing with puppies, doing a 5K run, or building science kits for schoolchildren at lunch time, was just part of a day’s work? And, what if, in organizing these activities, you were helping your people feel more engaged with your company and community?

Welcome to what’s possible in corporate volunteerism today! At Benevity, we see many different approaches to employee volunteer programs across our client community. And we’ve found a common thread among the best ones: companies that adopt a more flexible, open-choice approach to corporate volunteerism realize greater engagement. The opposite is also true — the more limits and thresholds in place, the lower the participation and impact.

I’m part of the team that runs Benevity’s giving and volunteer program, which we call MyGoodness. We’ve experimented with breaking down barriers and as a result, we’ve seen first-hand how more people volunteer when there are fewer limits. Using these strategies, we saw participation soar by 146% in less than a year!

Wondering how to achieve these kind of results for your own employee volunteer program? Here are five ideas to try — no matter what size your company is — to motivate people to donate more of their time and talent.

1. Make it inclusive: Host an in-office micro-volunteering session

Many companies traditionally implemented thresholds before rewarding their people with Dollars for Doers (D4D) or volunteer grants. But the problem with thresholds is that they limit participation for those unable to meet the requirements.

One of the easiest ways to get people to volunteer is to host small but frequent in-office volunteering sessions. You can run sessions throughout the day or over the lunch hour to maximize turnout. People are busy, so make sure you send meeting invitations so people can add the sessions to their calendars. With this approach, you’ll overcome common barriers to participation like: “I can’t do it outside of work,” “I don’t know where it is,” and “I have commitments with my kids.”

Last year, we hosted six different in-office volunteering sessions at Benevity including making sandwiches and winter kits for a local homeless shelter. We also assembled 264 science kits for Beakerhead, a local science-meets-arts festival, to distribute to elementary students in Calgary as part of our commitment to STEAM initiatives. At another session, we encouraged people to join a community cleanup within walking distance from the office.

Quick tip: In-office volunteering brings more people in, builds a great team environment, offers breaks during the workday and connects colleagues from across different groups in a fun, interactive way.

2. Make it count: Tap into your peoples’ talents with skills-based volunteering

Most charities don’t have a lot of resources, and they often lack support and expertise in certain areas. But skills-based volunteering is where your company can contribute. It’s a win for your company because it helps to develop your people’s leadership, networking and problem-solving abilities. On top of all that, you also strengthen your reputation as a socially responsible company to work for and this makes you more attractive to your current and potential employees.

Quick tip: Skills-based volunteering results in a more meaningful experience. And when people do what they’re good at, it’s great for employee engagement and great for the charity. Trends show people report feeling high satisfaction and high personal skills development.

3. Make it social: Plan offsite team-building activities around causes

In addition to building the science kits for Beakerhead, almost one-third of Benevity-ites came together during the 2016 festival itself. Many teams selected volunteer shifts together to get out and socialize with each other; some of it was during work hours, some was after work and on weekends. Everyone felt good about giving back and doing it together.

From the charity’s standpoint, your people are valuable because they offer much needed help. Your company strengthens its connection to the community and its reputation as a business that gives back. Everyone wins.

Quick tip: Group volunteering offers great team-building time. Plus, if you pick an organization that everyone is pumped about, you’ll help solidify camaraderie among your people. When people are emotionally connected to causes and they can volunteer and donate through work, they’ll associate those good feelings with your company.

4. Make it fun and rewarding: Organize a volunteer auction

Volunteer rewards don't have to be monetary. Instead, try something like a volunteer auction which is a creative way to reward community service. It also ensures people track their time and taps into the competitive side of your teams, all in the name of giving back.

Here’s how it works: People who track their volunteer hours can exchange them for ballots to use in a company auction. The more a person volunteers in a month or a quarter, the more bidding power they earn to win cool, fun prizes. Think about prizes that reinforce your culture. Some examples include:

  • Having a senior executive host a barbecue for your team
  • Getting a meeting room named after you
  • Having lunch with the CEO

People will be keen to get the chance to beat out their colleagues in an auction the following month. You can also try organizing internal teams to bid in blocks and compete against other teams too!

Quick tip: Volunteer auctions are a great way to reward your people for volunteering (and for tracking their time) in a way that can reinforce the uniqueness of your culture, without requiring additional budget.

5. Make it personal: Enable your people to set up their own events

Don’t underestimate the power of friendships and connections in compelling people to participate. Many Benevity clients use Spark’s robust reporting capabilities to discover which causes matter the most to their people. They then enable their people to set up their own volunteer opportunities for organizations they support and to reach out to colleagues to join in too.

In my personal time, I volunteer at the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), a local animal rescue shelter that finds homes for abandoned dogs and cats in rural Alberta. A couple of times a year, I bring dogs to the office as a de-stresser and set it up in Spark as a Giving Opportunity.

People get to play with puppies and then make a donation to a charity that really needs it. It’s awesome, and I get to be a bit of a hero in both of those parts of my life! That part of my life, and my Benevity work life used to be separate. But now my passions are aligned with what I do at work and outside of work.

Quick tip: When it comes time to choose the charities you want to work with, listen to your people to find organizations they already support. When you align with what they care about, you’ll see very powerful engagement as a result.

Bonus tip: Bring it all together for more impact

Considering that the average employee donation amount is 41% higher at companies with a volunteering program compared to those without, it’s easy to see why it’s important to integrate your Goodness programs. At the end of the day, people who volunteer also give more.

One of the most rewarding things for me in this role at Benevity is when our people tell me their volunteering stories. Some of them have never volunteered before — then they go to a volunteer event and connect to an organization that inspires them in some way and they become champions of that organization!

Reimagining volunteering in your office with these quick and simple approaches can help spark more meaningful engagement and increase productivity to boot. It makes volunteerism a part of your company culture every day, inspiring more people to join in. Just watch: reinventing your programs today will boost future participation and impact.

If you currently have thresholds and limits in your volunteer programs, we can show you how technology can make tracking and distributing rewards to employees and charities much easier. Find out how you can modernize your Goodness programs with Benevity’s volunteering solutions.

About the Author

Aneil  Rajaram

Aneil Rajaram is a Goodness Development Specialist at Benevity. He helps new clients learn more about Benevity’s cloud-based workplace giving and volunteering solutions. He’s also part of Benevity’s MyGoodness team, our very own corporate giving and volunteer program that inspires Benevity-ites to get involved with the causes that they are passionate about.

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