HR Pros & CEOs: Don’t Make These 4 Common Employee Volunteer Program Mistakes

Supporting employee involvement in the community is a great way to deepen employee engagement and loyalty. Having a successful program is also a great selling point to prospects. The 2016 Cone Communications Employee Engagement Study sited that 75% of employees find their job more fulfilling when given the opportunity to make a positive impact at work. WOW! And wouldn’t you know—an Employee Volunteer Program is a great way to set employees up for success in the “impact” department!

First, let’s take a shallow dive into what an Employee Volunteer Program (or E.V.P. for short) may look like in your company. An EVP can include either of these or some combination of:

Employee-Sponsored Volunteer Opportunities

This is when the company plans and executes a volunteer opportunity in the local community and compensates employees to be away from the office and volunteering during that set time, day, and location. Company-sponsored volunteer opportunities, when properly planned, can be powerful team building or bonding experiences in addition to doing good in the community.

Stay tuned for another blog article providing a deeper dive into my specific considerations and recommendations for company-sponsored volunteer opportunities!

Employee Volunteering-Related Benefits

Benefits related to employee volunteering can take a few forms:

  • Paid time off to volunteer or in exchange for reported volunteer hours
  • Paid time off or approved time off to volunteer in the event of a natural disaster or other major world event (i.e. Hurricane Harvey, 9/11, etc.) for a week or more
  • Work time, paid time, and/or company resources to serve on a non-profit board of directors

These benefits can be a great way to honor individual employee’s community contributions and especially helpful for companies that may have a large percentage of employees working part time or telecommuting. Also great for very small companies that have too few employees to take them all off-site for a volunteer event.

Stay tuned for another blog article delving into my specific considerations and recommendations for each of the aforementioned employee volunteering benefits!

Now that we’ve given general structure to the concept of an “Employee Volunteer Program,” let’s get to the subject of this article—common mistakes made in the design and implementation of these programs!

Common Mistake #1

Forgetting that an EVP is Part of the Company’s Philanthropic Endeavors

Particularly for small- to mid-sized companies, philanthropic activities and employee benefits tend to arise very organically (read: without a whole lot of strategic consideration). It’s important to have a detailed plan for inclusive design and effective implementation, but first, you must be sure that the company’s philanthropic priorities (see 8 Things to Consider When Determining Your Corporate Giving Priorities) and the company’s goals are considered in the design of this program to ensure proper-buy in and to set it up for success.

For example, if the company donates money to or sponsors events for charitable organizations, wouldn’t it make good sense to somehow tie company donations of money with company donations of employee time? And a missed opportunity if not? Without company-wide alignment, the program will fall flat, feel disconnected, and maybe even fail to deliver a true return—bummer! By involving those folks making the donation determinations in your planning process, you can better-ensure success.

Common Mistake #2

Forgetting to Reflect: Where the Real Impact Happens

If you spend all sorts of employee time planning volunteer opportunities or all sorts of company resources providing paid time off to employees for volunteer work and then never speak of it again, where’s the impact? Providing opportunities at all staff or department meetings or immediately following a company-sponsored volunteer opportunity (you can build this into the volunteer experience) for employees to reflect on, and share with each other is a win-win. This can go a long way to solidifying the experience in their minds and hearts. This is a VERY “non-profit” thing to do, by the way—and it works every time if done well! Questions like these can help get the flow going:

  • What impact did you make on the community today?
  • What did you learn about yourself today?
  • What did you learn about a colleague today?
  • How did it feel to volunteer your time today?
  • How could you apply your experience today to your work?

Common Mistake #3

Forgetting Continuous Improvement: Collecting and Using Real Data

Regardless of the structure of your Employee Volunteer Program, it’s critical that it is consistently and regularly evaluated. It’s as, if not more important to understand why folks are participating in the program and how they feel about it as it is to understand why folks are NOT participating and why. If your planned volunteer events never have more than 25% employee attendance, something’s not right. Did folks not hear about the opportunity? Did they not understand it well? Were they disinterested? Why? Likewise, if you offer paid time off for volunteer hours and you have low employee filings, why? You are likely expending valuable dollars from your budget for this program. If it’s not working, isn’t that a waste?

Kristy Krugh is the owner and principal of Wicked Philanthropic Strategies and Wicked Visible Marketing. Following 15 years of service to the non-profit sector, Kristy now works exclusively with mission-driven companies in the for-profit sector to optimize their philanthropic systems for maximum marketing, sales, constituent, and community returns. Clients from across the country engage Kristy from her home base in Bend, Oregon where she is supervised daily by her rescue Bulldog, Dunkin. Kristy offers no-risk, no-cost Corporate Giving Assessments to all prospective clients and can't wait to hear from you!