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Try This for Your Employee Volunteer Program

In my last post Let’s Take a Step Back and Revisit Employee Volunteer Engagement, I uncover fallacies of corporate volunteering specific to maximizing engagement. Of late, the overwhelming call to action for businesses includes adopting volunteer time off (VTO) coupled with overriding employee choice in cause area selection. While this works for some major companies in financial consulting, banking, professional services and information technology, I’m here to tell you it’s not as simple for other industries to embrace. If you fall in this category of companies that can’t adopt VTO I’m not leaving you high and dry. I’ll share some very realistic suggestions that you too can adopt. It’ll take work, but you won’t be burdened with retooling your entire business model for the sake of maximizing volunteer engagement. Let’s first begin by focusing on some greater considerations.

To have a successful corporate volunteer engagement program, it must be designed to exist within a larger system. What I mean by that is everything you do to engage employee volunteers will exist within a business that has to make money. It cannot exist in a silo or on its own successfully. There are many functions from a business administration standpoint that need to exist to maintain a profitable business, and you’ll have to weave volunteer engagement through those functions. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also no walk in the park. Some of the more immediate recommendations are more strategic in nature, but if volunteer engagement is to be maximized than it must be implemented strategically.

Whether you’re the founder or a middle manager whose collateral duty is community engagement, you’ll first want to understand your companies purpose. Yes, for-profits are designed to make money, that’s why it’s called a for-profit. This may stretch your thinking, but think about purpose differently for just a second. I believe making money isn’t the sole purpose of for-profits, so bear with me.

Work to connect your company purpose to community engagement aspirations.

Most people start a company because they’ve found a way to do something better that didn’t already exist. This is often a new product or service. You’ll want to understand the why behind the company and the purpose of that specific product or service. For example, if you’re working at a boutique meal subscription company that offers subscription boxes, maybe the why of the company is bringing nutritious foods sourced from responsible local farmers to a family’s dinner table. But maybe the deeper purpose is helping customers make healthier choices with their dietary habits. When you translate this to serving a community in need, this could mean eliminating food deserts and hunger across America.

By understanding the purpose, you can better align efforts with a similarly missioned food pantry or a school nutrition program working to deliver healthier food options to children in the cafeteria. Either way, this is the first step. It’s about understanding what you want to stand for as a company. This will help you decide some larger volunteer efforts the company brand can align with. Build this foundation before you inject choice into the conversation.

After you understand your purpose and how that might align with the mission of a non-profit organization, you’ll want to outline some long-term goals. These long-term goals will be important to how everything is executed on a more operational or tactical level in terms of volunteer engagement.

Outline your goals as a company centered around community service.

Whether this is the number of engaged employee volunteers, or number of volunteer hours served, this is just a starting point. Long-term, aim for gaining qualitative data around outcomes. Just recognize this is a more complex process that needs a subject matter expert to guide the process. For those looking for a great place to start, think about aligning your company goals with larger collaborative efforts like the United Nationals Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While these SDGs are designed for governments to adopt, there are companies that have aligned their corporate social responsibility efforts to these SDGs through the assistance of IMPACT2030. At the very least being aware of these larger collaborative efforts will provide an idea of the direction you can go. Once you have some long-term strategic goals created, make these goals known, educate employees on what they are, and bring awareness to them (internally and publicly). Ultimately, you’ll tie these goals to your greater company purpose.

This next suggestion is tricky, but some companies already do this on a more formal level. I’ll preface this by saying philosophically this will not resonate with everybody. However, I’ve seen this implemented successfully and it does work.

Bake community service initiatives into employee performance goals.

This could be at the supervisory level and doesn’t need to be a systematic human resources change. Rather, if you’re a supervisor, make a small portion of your direct reports goals related to community service. This incentivizes it in a way that they’ll feel it in their wallets. To be clear though, don’t make community service mandatory. Make it “extra credit” that can work for them, but not against them. Tie it to performance in a way that by participating they could receive additional bonuses or other perks that they may not otherwise receive.

Regardless of writing in performance measures around community service, there will have to be some more specific guidance for employees on how to organize service work. It’s not enough that you tell someone to go find an organization and create a project, that’s discouraging. Instead, do most of the heavy lifting for them. Create a foundation of resources that you have at the ready. Then get connected with the community you’re looking to resolve challenges with.

Connect your company with volunteer centers.

If you’re a small business, connect with a local volunteer center or government council to stay informed of existing challenges that can be addressed. It’s not enough that you have their contact information though. Be sure that you’re actively participating in discussion, forums and events. If you’re a national or global company, connect to larger non-profit consortiums or volunteer associations that can be a connector on a larger geographic scale. One that comes to mind is Points of Light’s HandsOn Network. Most of these larger organizations have chapters or local affiliates that can then connect with your local market. Doing so will help you decentralize each office to have some say-so in the community they support. But don’t stop there, look for county governed collaborative efforts that bring corporations, non-profit organizations and government officials to the same table.

Doing this enables those at your company to understand the challenges that exist on a local level. This better equips employees to make their choices on who to serve in a way that’s in the context of helping the neighborhood they work in or even live.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. We’ve went through some suggestions that help from a more strategic level of understanding purpose, tying actions to greater goals and where you can turn to better understand local challenges. The next step is providing guidelines that encourage and empower. I believe if you ask someone to do something, you need to set them up for success. Nothing changes when we’re asking employees to volunteer. Work to provide the guidance they need to execute just like it was a part of their full-time job.

Create accessible giving guidelines for all employees.

This guidance should help empower and encourage giving by equipping employees with the tools to know how to choose a non-profit, set up an event and execute in a step-by-step fashion. These guidelines should reside on a companywide intranet, cloud or share-drive based server. This should be a brief how-to instruction for forming a team of employee volunteers, selecting organizations, what they need to consider and where they can turn for additional resources. This guidance shouldn’t mandate who they serve, rather, it should help them make their choices within the parameters set that focus their efforts against the strategic goals and greater purpose.

And finally allow choice through the guidelines you’ve created.

Inject choice within confines of strategic goals and purpose.

Don’t penalize people for choosing what’s near to their heart, instead, create broad goals rather than specific organizations to serve. For example, if as a brand you support a single (or a handful of) organization that’s within the cause area of youth empowerment, offer this organization as a selection, but don’t limit employees to just that single organization. You should allow choice within the entire area of youth empowerment, so it remains “on brand.” Be sure that the guidelines created help people figure this out.

This may be a whole new world for anybody working at a for-profit company. But going through a process outlined above will help align employees with your larger initiatives while giving choice in a way that’s not counterproductive to other business functions. It’s about finding an even keel between consumers who demand that your brand stands for something, while meeting the individualistic needs of each unique employee. With rising consumer activism, not standing for identifiable causes may be the difference between success or failure. The great news is that you don’t have to do this alone. If you’re looking to navigate these uncertainties, or need some assistance in enhancing volunteer engagement at your place or work, contact me today.

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