Employee volunteer programs housed within the workplace are popular and successful among large organizations such as UPS, Home Depot, and Honda of America. However, business giants such as these are the exception, not the rule. Recent statistics from the US Census bureau find that the vast majority of American businesses, a full 85 percent, employ less than 100 people each. These small and medium sized organizations account for 37 percent of the country’s workforce, or approximately 40 million people.

Obviously, promoting volunteerism within small businesses can make a real difference throughout the nation. Think about the changes you could make in your own community. On the flip side, as a smart business owner, you also need to weigh out the costs and benefits of implementing an employee volunteer program (EVP). What are the advantages it will bring to your employees and your business itself? And how can your business effectively and affordably manage an EVP?

Employee, Company, Community

Most employees involved in an EVP feel a sense of personal satisfaction just from the act of volunteering. In turn, this boosts the company’s employee retention and also has a positive impact on new hires. Volunteerism within a business brings together people from across the organization and encourages teamwork, which in turn increases job productivity. It is also a great for morale. In a recent study by the Points of Light Foundation, a national organization dedicated to strengthening volunteerism throughout the country, close to 60% of businesses strongly agree that EVPs are an effective vehicle for enhancing the company climate. Additionally, employees often report learning new skills from their volunteer experiences, skills that often translate into better performance and/or promotions within the organization.

In addition to happier and better-trained employees, companies also reap a variety of other benefits. Over half of the respondents in the same Points of Light survey reported that an EVP allows their company an avenue to put into practice corporate objectives, and almost 75 percent agree that employee volunteer programs provide a vehicle to strengthen their company’s image. Greater visibility and increased networking, in turn, provide additional inroads for stronger public relations and marketing campaigns. Building upon that, your company can strengthen relationships with customers, local officials, and the media. Carefully chosen volunteer opportunities that complement the company’s niche can also highlight what your organization has to offer in the business sector.

Its a win-win-win situation. Not only do the employee and the company benefit, but so does the community. When individuals at all levels of an organization devote a portion of their time and talents to tackling issues in their own local area, positive change happens. In fact, 85 percent of businesses surveyed agree that EVPs aid in the creation of healthier communities.

The Perks Seem Great.  But How Do I Start an EVP that Works for My Company?

The Points of Light Foundations report, Employee Volunteer Programs:  Building Blocks for Success for Small to Medium Size Businesses, outlines the steps to creating and maintaining a flourishing EVP. Many of the tips we will share here are from the Points of Light publication. You’ll be able to fast track your own program by using proven strategies already being used by other businesses.

Step 1:  Assessment

Start by investigating the needs present in your own community. The Points of Light Foundation offers a database on their www.1800volunteer.org website. This resource will help you quickly and easily identify possible volunteer opportunities. At the same time, use a brief survey to find out what kinds of interests your employees have and if any of them are already volunteering.

Once you have analyzed the community needs and your employees interests, you may want to narrow your focus. Many businesses with thriving EVPs tend to focus on just one or two areas in which they funnel their volunteer resources, such as literacy or hunger relief efforts, or choose to partner exclusively with one nonprofit agency.

Now you have a few more factors to consider. What will you name your program? Many successful programs generally give their EVP a name that is easily identified as a volunteer outreach and contains the company’s name. How much input will your employees have? You may want to consider a board of directors with seats available for employees at all levels. Another consideration is if volunteer time will be paid or unpaid. After making these decisions, you will need to develop programs and activities that appeal to staff throughout your organization. Consider offering one-time group activities such as Habitat for Humanity projects or an in-house fundraiser such as a walk-a-thon to maximize team building, but also make sure to sponsor ongoing volunteer opportunities as well.

Step 2:  Coordinate Business and EVP Objectives

When choosing the focus of your EVP, carefully consider how it will mesh with your overall business plan. Make sure that your efforts and successes will be meaningful and easily communicated to customers and the community. As mentioned before, choosing a volunteer focus that complements your day to day business operations will allow your workers to use their skills within the community while establishing them as experts within their field.

Step 3:  Secure Support from Top Executives

Support from your president or CEO is crucial. He or she should actively promote and encourage the EVP program to all employees within the company and also support the recognition and reward of company-sponsored volunteerism.

It is just as important for your management team to buy into the EVP as it is your CEO. Not only will your managers be more generous in allowing time off for members of their department, but they will also be more likely to volunteer their own expertise to the organization of your choice.

Step 4:  Seek Out Partnership Opportunities

You will easily expand and strengthen your EVP by partnering with other organizations. Consider teaming up with customers or suppliers. Schools and nonprofit organizations almost always welcome chances for additional volunteers. Make use of national volunteer mobilization events such as Make a Difference Day, National Family Volunteer Day, and National Volunteer Week.

Step 5:  Match Corporate Giving with Corporate Volunteerism

Strengthen your company’s volunteer efforts by also focusing corporate donations in the same area. If your EVP centers on a partnership with a nonprofit, use company fundraisers to donate proceeds to that organization.

Step 6:  Quantifying and Evaluating

As with all aspects of business, quantifying the success of your EVP is a key factor. These are numbers you will want to highlight in your community relations pieces and in your board reports. Be sure to keep statistics on items such as:

  • Number of employees who volunteer
  • Amount of time donated to each activity
  • Number of organizations served
  • Number of individuals served
  • Amount of money raised
  • Dollar value of volunteers time

Feedback is another important piece of evaluation. Make sure to survey the EVP participants to find out the degree to which they enjoy their volunteer opportunities, find them satisfying, and feel they are making a contribution to the community. If possible, your company may also want to quantify any increases in areas such as revenue or brand recognition due to its heightened visibility in the marketplace.

Step 7:  Recognize and Reward

Although an act of altruism is often thought to be its own reward, your program should also recognize its participants. Small gestures such as certificates, plaques, coupons, or gift cards can go a long way in keeping your volunteers motivated and your program invigorated. Most successful volunteer programs also hold an annual ceremony to formally recognize volunteer efforts; this is often an opportunity to invite media for additional public awareness.

Step 8: Publicize Your Programs Efforts

To best get the word out about your programs accomplishments, you’ll want to use a variety of communication methods, both internal and external. Outlets such as social media, newsletters, bulletin boards, websites, e-mail, and even traditional advertising methods are all great ways to get both your employees and your community talking. This can be a great way to recruit new volunteers for upcoming campaigns. Its also a wonderful public relations tool for your company.

Coordinating and Managing Your EVP

The benefits of an EVP are clear, and the steps toward setting up and maintaining a successful EVP, in theory, seem simple. In reality, however, EVPs do require organization, management, and in a word, time. If you are like most small to medium sized businesses, its hard to justify the hiring of another employee solely for the purpose of coordinating your EVP. And chances are if you walk into your human resources, marketing, or communications office and tell someone you are going to add another responsibility to his or her workload, you aren’t going to get an enthusiastic response, even if it is for a good cause.

So how do you get the benefits of an EVP without a detriment to your core business? Many organizations in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors are turning to an online tool called VolunteerHub.

Your Volunteer Coordinators Virtual Assistant

VolunteerHub assists EVP coordinators by streamlining all aspects of volunteer scheduling. With VolunteerHub, coordinators can easily post information about volunteer opportunities.

Volunteers are then able to sign up at their convenience via Internet, drastically reducing the coordinators time that would generally be spent fielding questions about schedules and registration. VolunteerHub automates registration confirmation, event reminders, and thank you e-mails. In addition, the program allows coordinators to generate rosters and printable sign-in sheets. This powerful but easy to use assistant also features record keeping capabilities, with all the information safely stored on VolunteerHubs servers.

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