10 Steps for Starting an Employee Volunteer Program

Employee Volunteer Guide
Updated: April 2018


What You’ll Learn In This Guide

  • How to develop an employee volunteer program that will last
  • How to tailor the program to fit specific needs
  • How to get support from company leadership

According to the most recent America’s Charities Snapshot Report, employee volunteer programs are gaining popularity as nearly 60% of companies offer paid time off for employees to volunteer. The report also shows that 82% of the respondents say employees want the opportunity to volunteer with peers in a corporate-supported event. Employees are asking to volunteer, and companies are finding ways to reward employees for their participation through paid time off.

All of this is paying off, as nearly 60% of employees who are proud of their company’s CSR programs are considered engaged at their jobs. Thus, employee volunteer programs are being directly linked to increasing employee engagement. The benefits are endless, but there are many steps to getting an employee volunteer program started. Better yet, how do you keep one running for the long haul? We’ve pulled together employee volunteer program steps to use as a starting point for building your workplace volunteering program. Take a look!

How can you develop an employee volunteer program that will last? Follow these steps:

  1. Define your focus to align with employee and company values.
  2. Tailor the program to fit your company’s specific and unique needs.
  3. Create achievable and granular goals to ensure you can both reach and measure them.
  4. Put together a pitch to get leadership buy-in and budget access.
  5. Get support from company leadership to kick off employee participation.
  6. Prepare for objectors.
  7. Create a meaningful experience by surveying employees on their expectations and needs.
  8. Communicate to employees via email, meetings, social media and company intranet.
  9. Integrate volunteerism into your culture.
  10. Set quarterly milestones to adjust, tweak, check measurements and connect with stakeholders.

Step #1 - Define Your Focus to Align with Employee and Company Values?

Inside Tip:

Your “why” should also align with the values of your company. For example, if your company seeks sustainability, then include volunteer opportunities that advance green initiatives. The company mission statement and business objectives are starting points to garner ideas for your employee volunteer program. Aligning the program to business objectives can also increase buy-in from company leaders.  

Before you dive in, take a moment to think - why do you want to start an EVP? Are you interested in improving the company image, improving your community, improving engagement at your company or are you looking for a new attraction tool for recruiting? These questions need to be answered before you begin to identify the purpose of establishing the program to drive all efforts. Your reasons will have an impact on the type and longevity of the program you decide to develop. Some common reasons for starting an employee volunteer program:

  • Devastation in the community around your location.
  • Low engagement among your current workforce.
  • Employee request to organize around a cause.
  • To increase team-building in the organization.
  • To counteract a public relations issue.

You can see how each of these would have different outcomes, goals, measurements and unique challenges. For example, if engagement is already low among your employees, this might be an added concern or a place where you need support before you even start.

Step #2 - Tailor the Program to Fit Specific Needs

Every volunteer program is different, as every workplace is different. A donation-matching program may be successful elsewhere, but would flop in your workplace. A home-building campaign for low-income families may be difficult if you have lower-income workers. While the median employee participation rate for matching gift programs is 9%, it’s not the only program out there. When trying to decide what program will work best for you and your coworkers, consider:

  • Would anyone be willing to commit to time outside of work?
  • Are your jobs flexible enough that paid volunteer hours are an option?
  • Would people rather donate money than time?
  • Would your executives be willing to offer incentives?
  • Would your employees and volunteer leaders want to be recognized for their community service?
  • What kind of volunteer work are your employees better suited toward?

If your employees spend their days doing high level accounting, it might not going to be something they want to do during their volunteer time as well.

Step #3 - Create Achievable and Granular Goals

If you want an employee volunteer program to last, you must set goals for it. Recent research has shown that setting specific and challenging goals leads to higher performance 90% of the time. Think about the value your volunteer program will add to your organization. Write down goals around corporate philanthropy, charitable giving and any pro bono work your company offers. Map these goals to total business outcomes.

Work backward toward your goals to ensure they are both achievable and can be measured in the future. For instance, you may want each location in an area to contribute 4 hours per employee per year. In order to ensure that all employees have a chance to volunteer for those four hours, you’ll need to plan enough events during multiple shifts and in multiple parts of town in order to give everyone the opportunity to participate. Your goals should be granular and easy to hit when building an EVP that will scale.

Did you know 60% of companies offer paid time off for employees to volunteer? Check out these top ten steps for starting an employee volunteer system at your organization.Click to Tweet

Step #4 - Put Together an Amazing Pitch for Execs

This will take careful research and a well-planned presentation to convince management and executives that an employee giving program is a good investment. Explain how volunteering helps attract and retain valued employees. 92% of Millennials believe business success should be measured by more than just profit. Community volunteering and donation-match programs illicit positive reactions from new talent, make your company stand out, and can be seen as signs of a successful company. Expound that corporate volunteerism is good PR. If your company needs to counteract bad publicity, or simply wants to increase brand awareness, a high-visibility volunteer project may help.

Download our getting exec buy-in guide for complete step-by-step instructions. In it, we’ll help you:

  • Show how CSR software improves the organizational challenges your execs care about most.
  • Identify the one person you need on your team to get buy-in and how to find and engage them in your plight.
  • Gather research to show execs exactly how CSR software will affect your organization.

Step #5 - Get Support From Company Leadership

Side Note:

Did you know volunteering program management software can help you engage leaders, thus engaging the rest of the workforce? CyberGrants Employee Engagement Platform allows program managers to tailor imagery, messaging and goals to resonate with specific employee audiences.

Aside from getting approval from executives to fund the program, you have to get the leaders within your company engaged in the program to kick off participation.The best way to introduce the new program is through a strategic pitch or introductory session. Make sure to mention:

  • The company’s image and bottom line will be improved by engaging in volunteerism.  
  • Volunteer projects increase team productivity and interdepartmental cooperation. Sharing a volunteer experience can shed light on productive interaction that carries over to the workplace. Social barriers and preconceived notions brought about by office politics are broken by interdepartmental team volunteer efforts.
  • Volunteering builds and reveals skills. Seeing employees in a different setting can reveal leadership skills that you would not have otherwise seen.

By demonstrating how specific departments will benefit from your EVP, the leaders of those departments are sure to give you the thumbs-up.

Step #6 - Prepare for Objectors

No matter how well you’ve prepared, some people are going to object to an employee giving program. The important thing is to be fair and hear out anyone’s opinions. Assemble some statistics and reasoning (Did you know 76% of Millennials would even take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company?) to combat their objections. Gather statements of support from respected stakeholders. Explain how the EVP will benefit both the employees and the company, and tell them why you wanted to do it in the first place. If they remain unconvinced, gather their feedback and utilize it to improve your program offerings or processes.    

Step #7 - Create a Meaningful Experience

To Do:

Send out a quick survey to get a pulse on what’s driving the employees to participate and what they look to get out of the program. Do a quick audit of the plan you’re building to make sure it aligns with employees’ expectations. Offering variety in projects, times and locations can help keep volunteers engaged rather than making lists in their heads of things that need to be rescheduled or delegated while they are out of the office.

Ensure people aren’t getting involved for the wrong reasons. Your employee volunteer program shouldn’t just be about accruing extra personal hours, it should mean something to each individual who participates. Team feedback is essential: find out what’s important to everyone, and situate the program around their needs.   

Step #8 - Communicate to Employees

When it’s time to get the word out, send out key messaging and information across all viable channels: email, meetings, social media, the company intranet and even through your own volunteer program management software! Some elements you’ll want to include in your communication distribution plan:

  • Digital content - You can publish blog articles, social media posts, landing pages and even host all of the information on your careers site in an employee benefits section.
  • Email campaigns - Set up internal email campaigns to deliver the information to employees, help them get enrolled and show them how your new program will work and the benefits for providing one.
  • Make program managers available - You can set up open office hours and invite employees to stop by to learn more about the new program. Provide coffee and snacks, host a luncheon or throw together an out-of-office happy hour event - whatever fits your culture most. The point is to kick off the program with a bang and get the workforce excited about this new initiative while making the leaders of the program known across the company so employees know who to turn to for questions and concerns.

Step #9 - Integrate Volunteerism Into Your Culture

Once your program is up and running, you may want to step back and celebrate. Don’t relax for too long, because there’s more work to be done. Your program may be successful at first, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

In order for an EVP to be sustainable, giving has to be an integral part of company culture. Integrating corporate social responsibility into your culture has many benefits. For example, employees who work for purpose-oriented companies are 47% more likely to serve as company advocates. Here are a few things you can tweak to make sure volunteerism is always a priority:

  • New hire onboarding processes
  • Company mission and values
  • Recruitment materials
  • Employee bios
  • Company social media accounts

Make it a habit to publicize outcomes when a volunteer project is complete. Share photos and interview employees on how a volunteering opportunity affected them personally and professionally. Showcasing employees who have participated in your program is important in exciting employees to start or continue volunteering and can further infuse its importance in the company culture.

For more information, check out our post Company Values: Integrating Them Into Your Culture.

Step #10 - Set Quarterly Milestones to Measure Impact

Whatever program you decide to implement, higher-ups are going to want to see the ROI for your employee volunteer program, especially if you’re volunteering during work hours. You may have convinced management to let you start the program, but you’ll have to convince them why they should keep it. Analyze the community impact of the campaign from the perspective of the organization, the company and the employees:

  • How helpful was your involvement for the supported non-profit or cause? What was accomplished?
  • Did the volunteer opportunity support the company’s mission and business objectives?
  • How were the employees impacted by their time spent volunteering? What did they learn about the cause, your company, their coworkers and themselves?

Reviewing EVP goals regularly ensures you are asking volunteers to do what is needed most, now. Comparing post-volunteering surveys to those completed at the initiation of the program can demonstrate the impact employee giving has on your coworkers by finding out if they’re happier, more productive or more likely to stay at the company.

A manual called Measuring the Difference Volunteers Make: A Guide to Outcome Evaluation for Volunteer Program Managers sums up the importance in evaluating your volunteer program: “If you can’t see success, you can’t learn from it. If you can’t recognize failure, you can’t correct it. If you can demonstrate results, you can win public support.”

Corporate philanthropy software can also track and measure all of your workplace volunteering data like the amount of employees who participate, hours contributed, amount of paid time off given and more! Learn more about this software here.

Creating and managing an employee volunteer program is difficult, but far from impossible. With these tips, you’re well on your way to making your company—and the world—a better place. Ready to get on board and make employee volunteer programs a breeze to manage? Learn how CyberGrants’ integrated, cloud-based corporate philanthropy platform can work for you.

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