Creating Effective Employee Volunteer Programs

By: ITA Group
employees volunteering at food bank

Volunteer opportunities and community give-back programs—a nice to have? Think again.

A strategically designed volunteer program is something employers need to have.  

When done right, volunteer programs are a big win by boosting social connections with team members, reducing stress levels, improving moods, helping people stay active, giving them a sense of purpose, and creating a strong bond between employees and your brand. 

Related: [White Paper] Employees are now evaluating organizations’ commitments to environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts when it comes to where they want to work. Gain several ideas on how to revitalize your ESG goals and give employees a sense of purpose and pride in their work.

94% of people who volunteer say [it] improves their mood. —Forbes

employee participating in animal rescue volunteering

5 Considerations When Designing Corporate Volunteer Programs

You know that feeling when you accomplish something you set out to do? When you achieve it, your body releases endorphins, creating a feeling of exhilaration followed by calm.  

Giving back has the same impact. It creates a positive impact on employees’ social, mental and physical wellness that they’ll associate with your brand, increasing job satisfaction and boosting morale. 

Whether you have a program in place or are thinking about starting one, here are five best practices to incorporate.

1. Make Volunteering Personal to Employees

In recent years, there’s been more focus on how companies care for their people and the environment. Employees demand choice and want to be part of socially responsible efforts. Consumers, particularly younger ones, make decisions based on a brand’s value, integrity and doing good for the world. 

HR teams are adapting by finding creative ways to support employees differently to match their needs, which is especially helpful when developing engaging volunteer programs. To get genuine participation from employees, you have to:

  • Conduct an employee assessment to understand passion areas and organizations meaningful to employees
  • Provide activities associated with employees’ interests to make the program meaningful and inclusive to all employees no matter where they work
  • Offer a variety of opportunities, including ones that connect to the organization’s brand and mission, for an ideal mix
  • Measure the impact at an event or annual level to show employees they were part of something bigger for the world/community

2. Create Give-Back Options Tied to Your Brand Mission & Purpose

Consider not only offering opportunities that support employees’ personal interests, but also creating large group activities that tie back to the brand’s mission and purpose. Individual activities work well for deskless and remote workers, while large group activities benefit those in the office.

3. Keep Community Focus at the Forefront

Authentically show up to support needs in your community. Many programs encourage volunteering as a way to uplift their brand in the community where they work. That focus on the brand’s reputation unintentionally forms a belief with employees that giving back is only about brand perception and not about increasing employee engagement.

This creates a disjointed purpose for why team members should volunteer. Instead, understand community needs, find give-back opportunities to solve for those needs and see the true impact volunteering can make.

“The most innovative companies make it easy, convenient, integrated and inclusive for employees, customers and partners to [give back] in relation to the issues they care about the most, and not just what is strategic for the brand.” —Forbes

employees assemble bikes at a volunteer event

4. Provide Employees Time to Give Back

One of employees’ biggest barriers to volunteering is work. A successful volunteer program needs to allow people to take part during the workday. Tap into employees’ passions and remove the barriers that limit them from being able to participate.  

Find ways to encourage employees to volunteer during work hours (e.g.; through matching donations, flex time or a recognition program). By giving employees permission to step away and give back to their communities, your organization shows you genuinely care about the health of your community and well-being of your employees.  

5. Consider the Global Volunteer Component

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requires publicly traded companies to show shareholder value beyond financial numbers. Organizations must identify what is significant to their business and focus efforts on areas that most impact the environment and their culture/people. For example, if your organization cares about clean water initiatives, offer group activities where employees can directly impact cleaner, sustainable water sources. 

Also recognize that volunteering is not universally valued. For example, in Africa, it’s mostly done informally. Approach your program differently to care for the cultural and regional differences of your people.

70% of the world’s volunteerism is informal like helping a colleague with a program and caring for family or friends. —United Nations State of the World’s Volunteerism Report

Taking time out of workdays to give time, money and energy to those in need creates a special bond between employees and the community they’re serving. 

Connect with your employees on a personal level by going beyond surface-level volunteer programs and ESG. See how in our white paper, Stay True to Your ESG Strategy: How Employee Perceptions on Organization Mission, Values & Culture Affect Success.”

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ITA Group

ITA Group custom-crafts engagement solutions that motivate and inspire your people. ITA Group infuses strategies that fuel advocacy and drive business results for some of the world’s biggest brands.