Volunteerism That Really Works by Nita Kirby, Director of Client Strategy, CyberGrants

Volunteering continues to drive engagement and is an outlet for social change. Whether companies are giving their employees time off to work on specific projects, known as “paid release/volunteer time off” programs, or teams are getting together to tackle an issue at a local non-profit, the gift of time and expertise within the workplace has been exploding. Time and funding support have been increasing over the last decade, as challenges continue and citizens find their voice to make a difference

The advantages a volunteer program that works are numerous (as well as charitable). Perhaps you’ve heard that:

  • Points of Light through “Straight to the Point” has shared a number of advantages–
  1. Employees see release time as a benefit or ‘perk’ that improves employee morale, retention, and recruitment.
  2. Active, engaged employees are happier, more professional, and more productive.
  3. Employees are able to engage with volunteer opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, such as with their children’s school.
  4. Promotes the company as a ‘good neighbor’ in the community.
  5. Typically, union employees are included in the release time program, which bridges the gap between union and management.
  6. Brings positive outcomes for the company, including employee development opportunities, leadership building, team building, and increased employee morale.
  • According the current Deloitte Volunteerism Survey,
    1. “89% of surveyed corporate human resources executives believe that companies who sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those who do not”
    2. “77% say company-sponsored volunteer activities are essential to employee well-being”
  • A July 2017 article in Forbes states – “You can find case studies all over the place describing the remarkable return on investment that corporate volunteering efforts deliver to companies large and small. The rewards your ‘brand’ could enjoy by making itself synonymous with doing good in the world can’t really be overstated. The Carroll School of Management studied this formally and documented how closely linked employer-sponsored volunteering and core business goals really are. “Reputation management” is just the tip of a very enticing iceberg.”

It’s simple to see why companies are clamoring to facilitate volunteerism initiatives within their organizations. In fact, more than 3 out of 4 companies are implementing some sort of paid release program for employees. Excellent EVPs implement a variety of time-release policies, depending on the company’s nature and strategic approach around employee volunteerism. This means that while some companies can afford to give employees PTO to serve on volunteer committees, smaller companies may have to rely on increased PTO if the employee chooses to spend that PTO giving back to the community in a formalized way.

The advantages are clear: employees see the time off, skill building, and camaraderie they get from volunteering on “company time” as a value add; volunteer programs can give the organization a good name in the community; and paid release can bridge the gap between union and management (which can occasionally be a tenuous relationship). So how do you build a volunteerism program in your own company?

  • Ensure your program is properly administered and someone is on hand to handle the requirement of requesting and approving of paid time off. The last thing a great volunteerism program needs is someone not playing by the rules.
  • Consider combining your volunteer paid time off policy with a program that is near and dear to the organization (if your company has its own charity or non-profit arm, for example) or one that is meaningful to employees (smaller towns may have schools where many employees’ children attend that can use the volunteer hours).
  • Build in a “disaster relief” clause that allows for employees to go without sufficient notice to assist during a time of crisis (Hurricane, earthquake, tornado, et al)

 

To set the stage, please consider the following example:

Purpose/Goal:

The purpose of the program is to support activities that enhance and serve communities in which we live and work and the issues that impact quality of life.

We recognize that participating in these sorts of activities enriches the lives of its employees.  Community is not defined as just local community, but may encompass the global community.

Amount of Time:

Employees can donate up to 24 hours (3 days) per calendar year toward charitable organization, in accordance with giving and volunteering guidelines.  More than one organization may be chosen. 

The hours break down as follows:

  • 2 half-days off for group volunteer activities, sponsored by the company (8 hours)
  • 16 hours off for personal volunteering by the employee

This donated time, up to 24 hours per calendar year, will be considered paid time off.  The pay rate will be the employee’s current base salary on the day(s) the time is taken.

This time is refreshed at the beginning of each calendar year, unless the program is amended or discontinued, and does not accrue from year to year.  Usage of this time or lack thereof does not affect vacation accrual or sick leave usage.

It takes a lot of moving arms throughout the entire organization to make volunteering at work not just a reality, but a thriving enterprise. Do your research, get advice, and then make something big happen. The advantages of some sort of volunteerism are clear, it’s up to you to assess what will work for your organization and begin reaping the benefits