Ask a CSR Friend: Launching an Employee Volunteer Recognition Strategy

Apr 2, 2024

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Hear from our experts right here in our Ask a CSR Friend monthly column. Have questions about employee community engagement? Submit your question and it may be featured in a future post.

Dear CSR Friend,

I lead my employer’s employee volunteer program and, while we do some great spontaneous recognition of employee volunteers, we’ve never put together something that formally honors their dedication to showing up and going above and beyond. Plus, I’ve heard from a few of my peers that other companies use recognition strategies to accelerate growth and interest in employee volunteering. I think 2024 is the year we start putting plans in place, but I’m not sure where to begin. Can you give me some advice?

Ready to Recognize Volunteers in Rome

Dear Ready to Recognize,

There’s no time like the present, and I commend you for seeing the need for improvement in the way you celebrate and lift up employee volunteers and volunteer leaders. I’ve put together some questions to guide your journey in developing a formal recognition strategy. Let me know how it turns out.

Determine Readiness

Is your organization and program prepared to integrate a recognition strategy? Is now the right time to begin formalizing your plan and tactics? Knowing that it will take time to develop and approve a strategy, begin with an assessment of current capacity and upcoming milestones while surveying your key stakeholders for their thoughts on timing.

Set the Stage

  • What are the overall objectives underlying your recognition strategy? Set goals around what’s important to you, the program and your senior staff. Think about setting goals around increased awareness internally or externally, increased participation, increased volunteer satisfaction and retention, increased understanding of volunteer guidelines and so forth. Then, create a plan for data collection.
  • Who should be included in the program’s development? Gather feedback from employees (whether they volunteer or not) on how they’d like to be recognized and include them, as well as other key stakeholders, in the process of designing the strategy.
  • What kind of budget will you have access to year over year? To sustain momentum and avoid inconsistency, a formal recognition program must be consistently well-funded and administered. Can you take advantage of enterprise-wide recognition tactics already in place to defray your need for a sizeable budget? If you’re working for a small organization or haven’t yet been able to set aside funding for recognition, understand those limitations and focus on what you can accomplish in that environment.
  • How can the recognition program help meet the volunteer program’s objectives and overall company or employee development goals? When you are celebrating someone’s actions, you are also lifting them up as a role model. Consider aligning your tactics with certain leadership competencies important to your company.
  • Do you have a solid understanding of cultural nuances that may affect localizing a company-wide volunteer recognition strategy across all markets? While corporate culture may override local culture in some instances, ask your in-country teammates for direction. For example, in some countries emphasis is placed on productivity so a celebratory event that takes employees away from their workday may not fit. Employees in China have a deep respect for authority, so engagement with and acknowledgment from senior leaders is key. And your European co-workers may feel uncomfortable being recognized formally for their participation and may balk when asked to report their volunteer time.

Design the Right Approach

  • How can recognition for — and from — different types of volunteers be integrated into the strategy (e.g., project leaders, executive sponsors, champions or committee members, etc.)? Evidence shows that when recognition is shared and peers can add their own congratulations, it is more impactful and amplifies your investment.
  • Will your strategy be 100% digital and virtual, solely events-based, or a mix of both? Will you give symbolic awards, financial rewards, some or all of these? Many of these decisions will be based on capacity, resources, corporate culture and goals along with how your colleagues want to be recognized.
  • What will the reward criteria and eligibility rules include? Who will judge nominations if needed? Are there company assets or resources that can be leveraged as rewards? Ensure rules and criteria are specific and in line with the achievement and the degree of effort they represent. To be impactful, recognition must be specific and call out exactly what was so remarkable. Make sure your strategy is fair and objective and appears that way to participants; every employee volunteer who meets criteria should be eligible.
  • How and when will the volunteer award(s) be announced? What communication vehicles currently exist to promote the award internally and externally? Are there corporate milestones to which you can align the planning process and/or announcement(s)? Make sure award presentations are timely. Once a year may not be enough for the volume of your program. Create a steady drumbeat of communications around recognition, even if your budget only allows for an annual company-wide opportunity.

Implement and Administer

  • How much staff time can be devoted to administering the recognition program? Will it be administered from the company’s headquarters or local offices? You may decide that everyone has access to informal recognition tactics, while the more formal, enterprise-wide strategy is led by your team with input and support from champions or staff in other markets.
  • What resources will you need to develop to reinforce and support the program? Write guidelines and make them readily accessible in different languages so that all employees and especially your volunteers know: eligibility requirements, approval/decision-making processes, types of awards provided, frequency of award presentations, performance goals or behaviors or desired outcomes that will be measured, as well as thresholds for awards. Senior leaders and managers may need communication materials like talking points, templates or training to deliver volunteer rewards.
  • Are there core functions of the program that should be outsourced? Should external counsel and expertise be sought to help develop this volunteer recognition program? There are organizations (including Points of Light!) readily available to help design a strategy or provide technology platforms to manage your recognition activities. U.S. employers should also consult with their legal, employee relations and tax teams to fully understand their tax obligations and how rewards could affect employees.

Evaluate and Evolve

  • What plans can be implemented to ensure the recognition strategy is regularly evaluated? As the volunteer program evolves, so should your recognition efforts. Add a disclaimer to your guidelines that reminds employees the company has the right to re-evaluate the recognition program at any time.
  • How can the recognition strategy inform future program enhancements or support other business functions? Companies measure what matters. Keep track of who is being rewarded as those trends and data can be useful in the future or when your HR team or senior leaders are looking for high performers to lead a significant business effort.

Until Next Month,

Your CSR Friend

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