In recent years, employers have extended corporate community investment programs beyond chequebook philanthropy and adopted robust volunteer programs that meet the demands of employees, customers and the community.
Many Canadian companies have established formal employee volunteer programs rooted in the philosophy that community involvement is a corporate concern and should be considered a measure of an organization’s social responsibility.
Corporate community involvement is growing in popularity as prospective employees are increasingly attracted to companies with formal volunteering programs. In Canada, two-thirds of volunteers are employed and most of them work full time. And more than three-quarters (79 per cent) of Canadian companies have community involvement programs, according to a 2006 survey of 990 employers conducted by the University of Lethbridge in Alberta and Imagine Canada. More than three-quarters (78 per cent) allowed staff to adjust work schedules for volunteering, 71 per cent allowed them time off without pay and 29 per cent gave time off with pay to volunteer.
Benefits of employer-supported volunteer programs
Corporate community involvement programs offer tangible benefits to companies and employees alike. They have a positive impact on workforce morale, skill development, productivity, job satisfaction and employee retention.
Supporting volunteering as a professional development activity can reap benefits for employers by helping employees achieve performance objectives and build skills.
This focus on skill development allows employees to choose a volunteer experience that’s different from their professional work but also builds transferable skills that can help in their day jobs.
Strong corporate community involvement programs can also drive the bottom line. Companies with engaged employees see 26 per cent higher revenue per employee, 13 per cent higher total returns to shareholders and a 50 per cent higher market premium, according to Towers Watson’s 2008-09 WorkUSA Report that surveyed more than 13,000 full-time workers in the United States. At the same time, corporate community involvement benefits non-profit organizations and the community as a whole by contributing time and skills to important community causes.
There are a range of community involvement options. For example, one-day volunteer events hosted by companies are great for team-building and staff morale, while ongoing programs and special projects satisfy employees’ interests in developing skills. Developing a community involvement program that is meaningful to employees and integrates their interests is vital to developing a robust corporate community investment strategy.
Many companies see the value in corporate community involvement programs and are working together to further develop the practice. Volunteer Canada’s Corporate Council on Volunteering, for example, encourages collaboration and innovation among companies. It is comprised of more than 20 corporations from across Canada that collaborate and inform best practices in corporate citizenship.
Motivations for employee volunteering
Employees have a range of motivations for volunteering, the most popular being to make an impact in the community and improve professional skills, according to a 2010 report by Volunteer Canada, in partnership with Manulife Financial.
Workers often see volunteering as a way to balance work and life, learn new skills and contribute to a cause or organization they care about. Employee focus group participants also described volunteering as a personal duty, where employees can contribute their skills and talents for a common purpose, found Bridging the Gap — Enriching the Volunteer Experience to Build a Better Future for Our Communities.
Though motivations for volunteering are personal, many employees who volunteer share common reasons for getting involved. Specifically, workplace volunteers look for volunteer opportunities where:
•they can learn new skills that are valued both by the employee as well as the company
•they do not perform the same job for a volunteer organization as they do for their employer
•there is the administrative and HR support to efficiently run the volunteer program and ensure timely followup when volunteer offers are made
•the traditional, rigid hierarchies of the workplace are avoided and all volunteers are treated equally.
HR practices for employee volunteer involvement
A company’s HR department should support employees in their search for meaningful volunteer opportunities within the community involvement program. It is also important employers undertake appropriate followup and assessment practices to measure both satisfaction and the impact of the volunteer program.
Ultimately, connecting to the values of the workplace culture and the causes employees care about is key to a meaningful volunteer engagement strategy. This connection is essential as it forms the basis for creating a broader community investment strategy within the company.
Organizations would be much more effective at matching volunteers in their programs if they treated the volunteer applications in a similar manner as a job application, found Bridging the Gap. To this end, it is recommended organizations have volunteer job descriptions and clearly defined expectations and time frames.
Both corporations and organizations need to be supportive of employees’ volunteer activities and there should be flexibility so employees are able to maintain a healthy balance between volunteer involvement and paid work.
Developing a robust community involvement strategy that fits the values of a company and its employees is vital for successfully integrating a community involvement program. Workplace volunteering drives a corporation’s bottom line by developing new employee skills, building office relationships and boosting employee morale.
Ruth MacKenzie is president and CEO of Volunteer Canada in Ottawa. For more information, visit www.volunteer.ca.
Match skills, opportunities
Volunteer Canada’s Skills-Plus tool identifies hard skills required for certain occupations, as well as the core competencies that enable people to be highly effective employees.
Skills-Plus matches the experience gained from volunteer opportunities with key competencies required in a range of careers. Employees and managers can use the tool to assess the career-development benefits of volunteering. Organizations can also use it to design volunteer opportunities with skill development in mind.
The tool aims to build a linkage between volunteer experience and occupational core competencies to benefit employees, companies and non-profit organizations. It provides HR professionals with an understanding of how firms can support employee volunteers to meet the goals of both the community and the company.
Skills-Plus also serves as a measurement tool for both companies and non-profit organizations as it allows them to define and measure the value and return on investment of employer-supported volunteer programs.
The tool can be found at www.getvolunteering.ca.