How to successfully engage your employees in corporate volunteering programs

When done well, they lead to teamwork within the organisation

Samhita
Published: 19, May 2016

Samhita is a social sector consultancy that provides customized solutions for companies and foundations to deliver impactful initiatives, leveraging the strengths of diverse stakeholders in the social sector. Our consulting practice has worked with leading companies to shape and implement their CSR strategies and assess the on-ground impact of such initiatives. Samhita works across multiple causes including healthcare, sanitation, education, women's empowerment, skills and livelihoods and financial literacy. Samhita also partners with donor organizations like The Rockefeller Foundation and Tata Trusts to facilitate multi-stakeholder collaborations and implement high-impact social programs at scale. Find out more at www.samhita.org or email csr@samhita.org

Employees look for volunteering opportunities to contribute to society and NGOs are interested in leveraging the expertise of volunteers to address their needs (Photo: Shutterstock)
Employees look for volunteering opportunities to contribute to society and NGOs are interested in leveraging the expertise of volunteers to address their needs (Photo: Shutterstock)

Designing an employee volunteering program (EVP) that keeps employees engaged, is aligned with the objectives of the company, and actually benefits communities is not easy. Managing the expectations of all stakeholders can be overwhelming: Companies want employees to be engaged in their social initiatives so that they can exemplify organizational values and enhance their professional and leadership skills. Employees look for volunteering opportunities to contribute to society and NGOs are interested in leveraging the expertise of volunteers to address their needs.

Having said that, the benefits of a well-chosen EVP are manifold. The research firm Gallup recently conducted a meta-analysis of 199 studies on volunteering programs, covering 152 organizations, 44 industries, and 26 countries. Their results showed that high employee engagement in their EVP increased business performance numbers across the board: Profitability increased by 16%, productivity by 18%, customer loyalty by 12%, and quality by an incredible 60%.

EVP managers face significant pressure to design creative and effective ways to build voluntary interest among employees. To provide some guidance to EVP managers, we’ve included some key steps required when designing effective employee volunteering programs.

1.  Involve your Board Ad hoc decisions by individuals or teams, though well-intentioned, are not sustainable unless volunteering is integrated into the culture of the organization. When a clear intent is demonstrated at the board level, employee volunteering is prioritized within the company. It is important that the board recognize and acknowledge the benefits and impact of volunteering programs on the company, its employees, and the community. Active participation from the CEO and executives will nurture and encourage a culture of volunteering within the organization.

2.  Map employee interests
While planning an EVP, it is critical that volunteer managers understand the interests and aspirations of employees and that their motivation to volunteer as employees constitute the core of the engagement program. The best way to do this is to conduct a survey throughout the organization. A survey will provide valuable information on the interests of employees and will allow volunteer managers to estimate the following:

●    The number of employees interested in volunteering
●    The number of hours employees can dedicate
●    The top social causes employees are passionate about, e.g. women empowerment, education, sanitation
●    The kind of activities programs should offer employees – if they should utilize the expertise and skills of employees, or require non-specific skills like those needed for planting trees or basic communication or accounting skills

3.   Customize your program
Volunteer managers need to design programs that take into account the results of the survey and institute programs based on the survey results as well as the values of the company. Besides common initiatives such as teaching or mentoring children, participating in tree plantation drives and marathons, employees can also use their skills to help NGOs develop their social media and marketing strategy or assist them in automating operations. For instance, The Senior VP of Corporate Communications of a leading FMCG company, volunteered with an NGO to create a strategic communication plan to communicate with potential and existing donors, while a VP of Sales in a multinational company assisted an NGO in setting up a food processing unit by creating a distribution channel for the products and institutionalized standards in production by leveraging his contacts in the industry.

4.   Find the right volunteer partner
Companies typically engage their employee volunteers with the NGOs that they support as part of their CSR programs. This is a beneficial partnership since the NGO receives much-required non-monetary support that helps in strengthen their organization.

Placing employees with the right NGO or project is crucial to the success of an EVP. A company should meet the NGO beforehand to understand its requirements and the NGO should maintain a dedicated point of contact who will assist employee volunteers with relevant information and any additional support required for the project. The NGO should also define the problem statement and clarify expectations with the volunteers as part of the orientation process.

If a volunteering program is successful, EVP managers will need to engage with more NGO partners to create additional placements for employees. While engaging with new partners, companies must manage their expectations as only a few organizations have the experience and capacity to engage and manage volunteers meaningfully. NGOs that have good volunteering programs have been running such initiatives for a long period and companies should not expect every partner to have the same level of experience. This should not affect the decision of companies to engage with NGOs that have relatively newer programs – all that is needed is additional support from the companies and a clear set of roles and responsibilities for the volunteers. In this case, the volunteer manager has a crucial role to play in matching the expectations of volunteers and partner organizations. It is also recommended that companies start with a small manageable number of volunteers and NGOs. Depending on its experience in the first phase, the company can scale up its program by adding more volunteers and increase the intensity of the engagement.

5.   Keep employees motivated
Finally, it is important to ensure that employees stay motivated and enthusiastic about volunteering. Recognizing them for their efforts, particularly non-monetarily, is one way of doing this. For example, volunteers can feature in the company newsletter, have an informal meeting with the CEO to talk about their experiences or have video testimonials of their volunteering experiences on the company website. Recognizing and rewarding employees will also encourage more employees to participate in such programs.

Implementing a high-impact volunteering program is a gradual process that matures over a period of time and involves building a relationship with the right partners. Any good volunteering program must also incorporate the views of all stakeholders within the company. When done well, engaging employees in volunteering programs strengthens a company’s relationship with the community, demonstrates its values, builds leadership skills and encourages teamwork within the organization and makes an impact on the issues that the company is attempting to address.

-By Solomon J. Manohar, Assistant Manager, Impact Facilitation

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