How to Engage Your Staff Through Employee Volunteerism

One Way:  Enterprise Wide / Community Disruption Model

Step 1:     Find an organization that can take on hundreds of employees for roughly 6 hours on one day per year.

Step 2:     Tell employees to sign up for a “day of caring” at said organization – but be sure to pick a day that’s mostly inconvenient, so that not too many people can actually participate.

Step 3:     Threaten (nicely, of course), employees to either show up to the day of caring, go to work or spend a vacation day.

Step 4:     Give a motivational speech at the organization, and be sure to tell the organization how appreciative it must be to host your employees for the day.

Step 5:     Thoroughly disrupt the organization’s programs for the day, and leave before dinner.

Step 6:     Repeat annually.

Needless to say, this style of binge-day volunteering is fun and exciting for the employees, yet is just as beneficial to the organization as a college student on a weekend bender.  It seems like a good idea, but is it really?  If you have doubts, you’re probably right:  as the binge-day of caring draws near, more and more employees begin daydreaming and scheming about what they’ll do for the organization – instead of concentrating on their work.  Teams will form and fall apart up until the day, and productivity will go down from the moment the binge-day is announced.  The organization must also plan, budget and otherwise prepare for the onslaught of a variety of skilled labor ready to tackle anything with brawn… when the organization really could use your corporate employee brainpower.

A Better Way:

Step 1:     Research and Listen.  In every community deemed important to the strategic outlook for your company, have your top management seek out and get to know the community leaders.  The people to identify should include, but are not limited to current, future and past: local politicians, religious leaders, teachers and community elders.

Step 2:     Approach, Meet and Greet.  Get to know the leading nonprofit organizations in your communities.  A leading organization is one that is tackling a challenge identified as a critical “must overcome” for the future success of the community.  What are the capacity, financial, facility or equipment needs of the organization?  What access and influence do they have relating to community leaders you just identified?  Who else supports the organization, how do they provide support and how much?  Invite the organization’s leadership over for regularly scheduled relaxed luncheons and exclusive corporate events.

Step 3:     Data Mine / Employee Placements.  Identify specific current, future and past leaders from your company who can fulfill the organization’s intellectual needs.  Ask these people to serve as volunteers at the organization.  It’s preferable that the person(s) is sympathetic to the organization’s cause and a strong champion of the corporation.

Step 4:     Reward, Recognize and Highlight.  Be sure to reward the volunteers for their service.  Find a way to offset their office workload in relation to their time spent volunteering.  Provide a financial or in-kind (or both) contribution to the organization in addition to the intellectual one being provided.  Be sure to tell the community what your employees are up to and create marketing and other materials that highlight the partnership.

Benefits to this approach:

  • The company is now positioned in front of trusted community leaders as a friend of the community.  As the company is demonstrating trust, it gains trustworthiness, thus resulting in a long-term benefit for the company within the community.
  • Since there isn’t a volunteer binge-day taking place, there is minimal disruption to the organization and company.  In fact, one could argue that the opposite is now true: the company and organization are both more productive than without the relationship.
  • Minimal coordination necessary.  Your company simply needs to have someone (a volunteer, perhaps) develop an internal database to house the data gathered in Step 1.  Then, make the database accessible to all employees to then self-manage.  All employees should have equal access to the needs list and ability to apply their skills to organizations of their choosing.  Additionally, all organizations should feel comfortable in refusing support.  Finally, no one should feel constrained by distance or priority.  Does it really matter if the employee wants to support an organization in Mexico, yet he lives in Alaska?  The important thing is that the company looks good to the Mexican community and the employee feels like he’s making a difference.
  • Much better use of time and corporate resources for continual presence in front of community leaders than a once-per-year volunteer binge-day.

Sure, you don’t get the one-day headline news splash (buried on page 6 of the local paper that no one reads anymore, by the way), because your employees didn’t repaint a classroom that didn’t need repainting… But hey, if you want to hang the corporation’s reputation in your strategically important communities on that one day once per year activity, I won’t stop you.  I do have to.  Its ineffectiveness does it for me.  And for those of you wondering, the annual employee survey won’t reflect if you did or didn’t do the binge-day event.  The survey takes place in December, while the binge-day takes place in May – even your own employees have forgotten about it by survey time.

But, why not do both?  Easy: the 80 / 20 rule.  If given the opportunity to have an on-going 80% favorable rating among community leaders while conducting a corporate volunteer program that marginally disrupts just 20% of your workforce, you should do it without question.  Conversely, if a binge-day of volunteering disrupts 80% of your workforce and provides you a 20% once-per-year favorable bump in approval from the general community – and maybe a few hours of pleasure from employees, then it’s a poor use of corporate resources.  As a shareholder in your company, I’d demand you to rethink how you’re using corporate resources.

About the Author

Leith Robotham HeadShotLeith Robotham is a global corporate community engagement specialist, assisting companies large and small to improve corporate image, brand and reputation among multiple stakeholders. Currently, Leith directs the corporate services and engagement activities of Kordant Philanthropy Advisors. Previously, he established Caterpillar Foundation’s international grants program.