5 Ways to Encourage Employees to Volunteer

Aug 16, 2023

One of my proudest work memories is not of a regular day on the job but of a service project I participated in. An hour or so into painting classroom walls, my supervisor pulled me aside.

“You draw, right?” she asked.

I said yes, and before I knew it, I was sketching the school mascot on the gym floor. Four years later, I still treasure the amount of responsibility I was given that day.

Volunteering can be a life-changing experience and an important chance for employees to build new skills. Plus, it’s a great way for your company to get involved in the communities where it does business. Not only can this activism demonstrably help community members and causes, but it can help the company’s social impact goals and potentially even its bottom line.

The data support the need for civic engagement and volunteerism in the workplace. According to Points of Light’s research on civic engagement, two-thirds of Americans believe companies should be involved in social issues. And more than half the public and 67% of small business owners agreed that small businesses should take a stand on social issues. Consumers expect companies to act directly rather than asking customers to take action, and they will gauge the selflessness of a company’s efforts by the way it treats its employees.

But how do companies encourage employees to volunteer their time? The key is to build a culture of giving. Demonstrate that civic engagement and social good are priorities for your company. Here are five excellent approaches that will further engage your staff in volunteer work.

encouraging employees to volunteer
Photo 217836561 © Kostiantyn Voitenko | Dreamstime.com

Tips to Encourage Employees to Volunteer

1. Provide paid time off for volunteering.

Not everyone can afford to volunteer off the clock, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to give back to their community. Including paid time off for volunteering – or the option to volunteer on company time – in your company’s benefit packages is a great way to show your staff that you care about them and the community.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2023 Employee Benefits Survey, 28% of employers offer paid time off (PTO) to volunteer. Eighty-two percent of companies that made it onto Points of Light’s 2023 Civic 50 – a recognition of the 50 most community-minded companies – also offered paid time off to volunteer. It’s clear: the more socially conscious companies tend to support their employees more in their social engagement efforts.

2. Communicate about volunteer opportunities.

If your employees aren’t volunteering, it may be because they don’t know where to start. Communication is the first step. Let your staff know if you offer paid time off for volunteering, and be sure to advertise upcoming service projects.

But think beyond bulletin boards and emails because different people consume information in different ways. Make announcements during meetings. Post opportunities on social media. Show videos of past service projects to get employees excited. Make signing up easy, and discuss carpooling or other transportation options that alleviate the burden of driving.

See how Daily Point of Light Awardee Danielle Williams helps match Bank of America employees for mentorship and support.

3. Assign leadership roles.

Volunteering is a great way to build skills and take on more responsibility. Plus, extra responsibility gives employees a sense of pride and ownership over their work.

Nominating a volunteer coordinator is a good place to start, but there are also ways to give volunteers leadership roles. Determine your employees’ strengths and draw from those skills for leadership opportunities. Here are just a few examples:

  • Ash draws cartoons in her spare time, so you invite them to create coloring pages for the after-school program with which your company partners.
  • Sebastian’s kids have food allergies, so you ask him to make a list of allergy-friendly suggestions for the company food drive.
  • Fatimah spent several years as a camp counselor, so you make her a team leader at your annual beach cleanup.

With a little creativity, almost anything can become a leadership opportunity

“Pressure and expectation for companies to be socially responsible has never been higher. Points of Light’s research offers some insights into those expectations and can help business leaders identify where to start as they align employee engagement and retention with CSR and talent development programs.”

— Katie Stearns, chief global corporate solutions officer at Points of Light

4. Offer a variety of options.

If all your company’s volunteer efforts focus on physical labor like painting or gardening, some workers are sure to be unable to take part. From reading with kids to coding websites, there’s a volunteer option for everyone. Employees can even partake in skills-based volunteering, using their accounting or translation skills to help a nonprofit organization or specific cause.

As you put together volunteer opportunities, it’s also important to consider employees’ different schedules. When planning volunteer events, include a balanced mix of daytime, evening and weekend events. And consider volunteer projects that can be completed in a day or over the course of several months. This approach can help your employees feel accomplished and motivated.

Check out Points of Light Engage to search hundreds of thousands of in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities around the globe.

5. Record and reward good deeds.

Don’t let your staff’s hard work go unrecognized. Tracking and rewarding volunteer hours is a great way to make volunteers feel appreciated and encourage other employees to join in.

Financial compensation is an obvious reward if your company has the means. Taking volunteerism into account when awarding raises, promotions and bonus pay will really demonstrate your company’s commitment to the community. You can also reward top volunteers by making a donation in their names to the nonprofits of their choice.

“We all know that what is celebrated is replicated, which is exactly why recognizing and celebrating your volunteers is key to inspiring other employees to get involved. A volunteer recognition strategy is a path to communicating impact, boosting participation, shining a spotlight on causes, and reinforcing your company’s commitment to community.”

— Katie Stearns, chief global corporate solutions officer at Points of Light

There are also plenty of low- and no-cost ways to recognize your employees’ volunteerism, such as:

  • Personal thanks: Handwritten thank-you cards or personalized emails with photos taken of them while volunteering can boost volunteer morale.
  • Public recognition: Designate a Volunteer of the Month spotlight or highlight your top volunteers’ accomplishments in the company newsletter or social media.
  • Special meals or outings: Host a special banquet, picnic or activity night for employees who volunteer.
  • Volunteer appreciation day: Dedicate a day to honoring the volunteers at your company. Set aside time to publicly award certificates or plaques to your top volunteers.
  • Nominations for external awards: For national recognition, you can nominate any outstanding employee volunteers for a Daily Point of Light Award or a President’s Volunteer Service Award.

Encouraging employees to volunteer may take some concerted effort, but the benefits to your company, staff and community are well worth it. Once you establish a culture of giving at your company, volunteering will become second nature to your employees, and your collective impact will support your community’s ability to flourish.

This post was originally written in 2016 by Sarah Landrum, founder of Punched Clocks, a site dedicated to sharing advice on navigating the work world, and has been updated by Points of Light to include new research and resources.

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