Employee volunteers

Four unexpected blessings of employee volunteer programs and how to get started

My father was a firefighter and was always very involved in the community so you could say that having a giving heart is in my blood and something I want to pass on to my child. That’s why my husband and I have been volunteering with her since she was three years old and it continues into her adulthood, with traditions like giving personal items to people living on the streets of Philadelphia every Christmas Eve and volunteering for Angels Community outreach for 13 years.

Bringing joy to others is important to me. So, when I researched NEMR as a possible employer, I looked closely at their philanthropic soul and found they have been volunteering and supporting the community for decades. And when I started here six months ago, I asked how could I have an impact?

Today, I chair the employee volunteer committee and am helping our team share the causes that they care about. When you, as a leader, care about what your people care about and find important, and help them to share their good works with others on the job, that fosters employee engagement and team building.

What are some of the other benefits of having a company volunteer program?

The unexpected blessings of giving back include:

1. Pre-qualifying employees

There is no doubt that attracting talent is one of the benefits of an employee volunteer program. But what about the right talent? Having job candidates ask about company social responsibility is a strong pre-qualifier. Individuals who actively seek employers that give back are likely to be cooperative team players with good hearts. Who doesn’t want that type of person on their team?

2. Building bridges

Certainly, there are generational gaps in values and priorities. A volunteer program can help create common ground among those with different experiences, backgrounds and beliefs. Participating in shared causes can bond people on a different level and that can translate into greater collaboration at work.

3. Developing your people

Volunteerism can help your employees become better human beings and better employees. There are a host of soft skills that can be learned, like compassion for others. Individuals who participate in volunteer activities might also decide to serve on a committee at work or serve on the board of the nonprofit. That experience can be transformative, as they gain exposure to financial issues, donor and volunteer engagement, project planning and more.

4. Legacy building

One of the greatest joys I get from volunteering is knowing that I have taught my daughter to have a giving heart. Offering your team members opportunities to volunteer gives them extra purpose in life that can impact their mental health, their families and of course the larger community.

How to launch an employee volunteer program

Start with your people

This might seem obvious, but company leaders sometimes forget to involve employees from day one. Find out what issues your people are passionate about. Is it poverty? Animals? Children? A simple employee survey can provide insight, and you can create a committee to choose specific causes or have employees vote. Also, rotate the nonprofits you support to give everyone’s ideas a chance.

Align with your values

NEMR’s mission is to be the decisive advisor that makes a positive difference. That applies to our clients, our colleagues and the community. Volunteerism should come from a place that is authentic. When I researched NEMR as a potential employer, I was impressed with the company’s history of quiet giving, and the extent to which Founder Janis Sweeney and President Steve Sweeney are active in the community. When company leadership believes in giving back and demonstrates its commitment, your volunteer program will have credibility.

Having your employer brand aligned with both your words and your actions is super important to success in attracting good candidates, retaining your employees and growing your business.

Be consistent

Many companies share their good fortune at the end of the year with holiday food or gift drives. NEMR is no exception. For the last 5 years NEMR has participated in the Volunteers of America adopt-a-family initiative, and my office is already filled with tons of gifts. But community needs are year-round and giving should be too. We currently offer a quarterly all-employee group volunteer opportunity. In 2022, we supported the Food Bank of South Jersey and Ronald McDonald House in Camden.

Starting this January, individual team members will also be able to give back by selecting from a library of nonprofit options suggested by their colleagues.  The idea came when one of my teammates stopped me and said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you. I volunteered at Cathedral Kitchen a couple of months ago and it was such a great opportunity, I think we should do it as a group.” So, there is buzz around the office about volunteering and sharing their passions with their teammates. Now, they can also feel good about sharing in that fulfillment through our volunteer library.

Document and reward

At NEMR, our team members are required to volunteer during work hours and are also awarded PTO hours for time spent giving back. It’s symbolic of the value we place on volunteerism and it’s a great extra employee benefit.  You’ll want to track time spent volunteering and report the hours, so having the technology in place to do so is essential.

Make it visible

You don’t need to be a braggart but sharing your community support through digital means can inspire other companies to follow suit. Imagine how your impact can expand by being a role model for other businesses! Posting pictures on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social channels is also a wonderful way of thanking and recognizing employees.

At the end of the day, volunteer programs are about fulfillment for your people. And when designed correctly, they are about listening and taking action on their ideas. What better way is there to show that your team members really do matter not just as employees, but as human beings?