Employee Volunteer Programs – the good, the bad & the ugly

There is no doubt we are still operating in a stressed economic environment.

So what do you do to help your business stay ahead of the pack?

Quite a few organisations have turned to developing an Employee Volunteer Program. That is giving your employees time off specifically to volunteer with charities or community groups.  There is an abundance of literature that positively supports this as a highly effective strategy to:

1.     Increase employee engagement, therefore increasing productivity

2.     Retain employees for long periods, reducing training & recruitment costs

3.     Attract top people to your business, winning the war on talent

4.     Increase community goodwill

5.     Act as an effective training ground for junior employees to up skill

Research from the Center for Work-Life Policy confirms that high-potential employees are seriously motivated by a desire to give back to the world. They are increasingly seeking out employers that allow them to participate on company time.  The same investigation also found Gen Y employees say that having volunteer opportunities available to them at work makes them more likely to choose an employer in the first place – & more likely to stay there.

A recent Gallup report showed organisations with high levels of employee engagement have 3.9 times the earnings per share growth compared to organisations with lower engagement.

Over the past 12 months, I have had plenty of discussions with people from both large & medium businesses who shared their experiences with employee volunteer programs.  Unfortunately a consistent response has been – “We love the concept but, they’re not organised overly effectively.”

Where is the system breaking down?

After delving deeper into the issue a regular pattern has surfaced.

Not enough resources!

I believe from my subjective research, the major impediment blocking the true potential of an employee volunteer program is a lack of resources to effectively design, implement & monitor the program. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for & a volunteer program is no different.  So what does the skeleton of a good program look like?

  • Leadership – Someone with authority needs to be championing the program, not just paying lip service to it.
  • Program Objectives – Objectives need to be set. What do you want to achieve? Set them just as you would with your other business goals.
  • Strong Relationships – You need to know the capabilities & impact your chosen NFP/s can deliver.  This takes time, effort & a deep understanding of their business model.
  • Clear Internal & External Communications – Why are you doing this? What impact are you achieving? How can your team, clients & suppliers become involved?
  • Resource Allocation – Does the person/team charged with the task have the skills, time & resources to actually make this happen? Or is this just one extra job for an already busy HR or Marketing person/department?
  • Monitoring & Measurement – Close the loop.  Are you achieving your business objectives? Are you making a real impact with the program?

While the process is the same, size does matter when it comes to volunteer programs. Larger, multi-location businesses have more complex issues to deal with. Finding the right fit will often require several NFPs & therefore immediately increase the effort required to execute the program.

I have heard the good, the bad & the ugly.  From painting rooms that then needed to be professionally repainted at a cost to the charity to amazing success stories of team building activities while volunteering with the homeless.  While the research paints a great picture, I believe it can be a little misleading by not fully explaining the effort required to get the result.  You need more than just a program that gives employees one day a year & leaves the rest to them or the team leader to manage.

To state the obvious there is a direct correlation between the success of the program & amount of resources you are willing to invest. I’m not advocating blowing the budget, but if you already let team members have time off & are willing to take the initial hit in productivity, why not take the time to invest in developing a program that delivers all the associated benefits to your business?

Where to from here?
I am always happy to speak to any business about Employee Volunteer Programs. It does not matter whether you already have one or may be thinking about starting one. Once the right framework is in place the business growth opportunities are substantial.