Compliments of Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

Volunteering is on the rise, with an estimated 60 percent of companies offering paid time off (PTO) days to workers who perform community outreach.

Some examples include Solstice, which offers its employees a Ferris Buehler’s Day Off (FBDO), or extra PTO day where employees pair to perform works of philanthropy– something “epic” that gives back to community. The  Solstice motto is: “We exist to prove what humanity is capable of.” Increasingly, firms are realizing that they do not exist in a bubble, and they are expected to be good citizens in a larger global community.

Other companies (like Nissan), partner with schools and colleges to host STEM demonstrations that groom the next generation of technical workers. International Business Machines (I.B.M.) takes volunteering to a new level by its allowing employees, as part of their Corporate Service Corps, to apply for volunteering opportunities that improve operations in the developing world.

People who volunteer report greater job satisfaction, engagement at work, organizational commitment, along with satisfaction with their employer. If employees are engaged they exert greater effort, which can result in better employee retention/corporate reputation, improved customer relations, more productive employees, and overall better employee health. A bonus is that workers who are placed in leadership positions (at their volunteer assignments) not only hone an important skill set, but they augment their professional expertise and learn to develop rapport —an ability to hear and accurately perceive and deliver on client requests.

The Status of the American Workforce Report suggests volunteers perform more organizational citizenship, or a willingness to contribute outside their job role and less soldiering–or stealing from their company (either through wasting time away from their desk or through Internet surfing). According to a 2020 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, companies that are actively engaged within their community, ones that make a difference, are especially important to millennial workers who place a premium on organizational impact and involvement.

Organizations and employees can benefit from volunteering. But what about the residual impact on its recipients—on the non-profit organizations themselves? Sending employees to “volunteer” without a plan of how to best meet the nonprofit’s needs may do a disservice both to the nonprofit, that has people from corporate doing things it doesn’t need (one nonprofit in England reported giving away chickens to its clientele, when it was clear that target population was tired of eating them). In addition, it may fail to hone the skills of employee volunteers who could benefit from a more specific use of their expertise.

Deloitte suggests the following skill sets may be needed at nonprofits: strategic planning, finance, auditing, law, human resource management, and marketing/communications. What is typically missing in a corporate volunteering effort is a “needs assessment” that captures the objectives a company is trying to fulfill, and what specific needs a nonprofit has—and how these intersect. Without a strategic approach at matching employees to nonprofits, companies may fail to capitalize on the experience for their employees and to fulfill the underlying nonprofit needs.

Both the non-profit AND the volunteering organization should have an employee who speaks the language of both parties. At corporate, this could entail a full-time liaison who assesses the needs of the non-profit, then assigns workers to projects that are mutually beneficial “. . . having your team help a non-profit solve organizational or operational challenges and/or deliver specialized resources to the population served by the nonprofit.” The nonprofit liaison could assess what needs of theirs might benefit from a volunteer effort, then communicate these to corporate.

Bengston (2020) suggests aligning organizational objectives with outcomes that are important to the non-profit. If diversity management is a priority for example, the company should assign a team to a non-profit seeking to diversity its workforce. The skill building from strategic needs assessment and assignment may benefit the volunteers, who can behave as a team in a diversity think tank or cultural overhaul to value differences. In her Harvard Business Review article, Bengston (2020) suggests that employees who behave in a consulting role develop, as part of their nonprofit experience, presentational skills and negotiating prowess.

Ninety-two percent of surveyed human resource professionals agreed that volunteering can be an effective way to develop workers. In addition, volunteering as a group can result in benefits similar to outdoor excursions because people have the opportunity to see one another in a different setting and to develop deeper bonding/friendships from the camaraderie. Employees who believe their company’s mission aligns with corporate goals report they are thirteen times happier about coming to work each day.

The above arguments beg the question: how can firms entice workers to volunteer? Research suggests that volunteering occurs when employees perceive their company has a people centered climate. The article “Multi-level Antecedents of Company Support for Employee Volunteering” defines humanistic culture as “supportive, helpful behaviors” where employees are “interested in the suggestions and ideas of others.” The authors report that managers who receive training in corporate social responsibility (CSR) are better able to communicate the impact of volunteering, and to positively affect the rates at which employees volunteer. “Shared objectives” and a “strengthened infrastructure framework” are key to a win-win-win outcome in terms of supply, demand, and fulfilling the desires of nonprofits with their constituents. Consultant firms can bridge the gap that exists between nonprofit needs and corporate objectives/expertise.

Employees in organizations with a “shared perception regarding the extent to which employees volunteer through their corporate volunteering programs” report higher intentions to volunteer. Companies can foster a volunteering climate through:

  • Providing paid time off;
  • Allowing employees to craft their own solutions to client needs and then submit these to in-house or third-party entities/liaisons for approval;
  • Setting aside days where groups of employees can volunteer together;
  • Making volunteering an integral activity that consists of each layer of the organization–with management role models;
  • Assigning top leadership to discuss what the company does within community, why it’s important, and the resulting impact;
  • Evaluating volunteering efforts post completion, then surveying employees, the non-profit, and their clientele so that adjustments can occur.

Volunteering can spur workers to think more about “meaning engagement” as opposed to material want. In The Progress Paradox, author Gregg Easterbrook suggests people have focused their attention in the wrong place. Although the size of housing has doubled since the 1950s (and our lives have become easier via gadgets and technology), he indicates the level of unipolar depression has increased ten-fold since that time. Activities like volunteering that shift focus from ourselves can fill the meaning void, as the film An Experiment in Gratitude: The Science of Happiness illustrates. People who wrote letters to someone who made a difference in their lives described the joy this activity brought them. Volunteering can thus become a portal to discovering what is truly important.


Related links:

Bob Chapman

Workplace Transformation Part V: Policies to Promote Pay Equity

Workplace Transformation Part IV: Diversity Training

Workplace Transformation Part III: Democratic Management

Workplace Transformation Part II: Creating a Culture of Inclusion

Workplace Transformation Part I: The Communication Audit


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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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