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 give back to the community.
How do you get employees to volunteer, though? They key is to build a culture of giving. Demonstrate that community service is a priority for your company. Here are five great ways to engage your staff in volunteer work.
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 benefit packages is a great way to show your staff that you care about them and the community.
This year, 21 percent of the companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management offered paid time off for volunteering as a benefit. Eighty-two percent of companies that made it onto Points of Light’s 2014 Civic 50 – a recognition of the 50 most community-minded companies – also offered paid time off to volunteer. (The application for this year's Civic 50 is open through March 1. Apply here.)
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.
Think beyond bulletin boards and emails, though — make announcements during meetings. Show slideshows or videos of past service projects to get everyone excited. Pass around sign-up sheets and arrange carpools while you have everyone in one place.
3. Assign leadership roles.
Volunteering is a great way to build skills and take on more responsibility. Younger workers in particular are always looking for ways to learn new skills and progress in their careers. Plus, the 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 countless 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 her 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!
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.
It’s also important to consider employees’ different schedules. When planning volunteer opportunities, include a healthy mix of daytime, evening and weekend events. And consider volunteer projects that can be done in a day, or completed over the course of several months.
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. Taking volunteerism into account when awarding raises, promotions and bonus pay will really demonstrate your company’s commitment to the community. In fact, 50 percent of companies on Points of Light’s 2014 Civic 50 list include community engagement work in performance reviews for at least some employees. You can also reward top volunteers by making a donation in their names to the nonprofits of their choice.
There are also plenty of low- and no-cost ways to recognize your employees’ volunteerism, such as:
- A personal thanks: Handwritten thank-you cards or personalized emails with photos taken of them while volunteering can really boost volunteer morale.
- Public recognition: Designate a Volunteer of the Month spotlight on your company wall or highlight your top volunteers’ accomplishments in the company newsletter or local media.
- Special meals or outings: Host a special banquet, picnic or bowling night for employees who volunteer.
- Volunteer appreciation day: Dedicate a day to honoring the volunteers at your company. Set aside time to publically award certificates or plaques to your top volunteers.
Encouraging employees to volunteer may seem like hard work at first, 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!