New research shows that companies are increasingly focusing on volunteerism as a central component of broader employee engagement strategies, leading to a range of benefits for all key stakeholders—including customers, workers, companies and the nonprofits they partner with.
The research, conducted by America’s Charities, shows a major shift in employee giving programs from just two years ago, when the organization issued the first of its Snapshot reports. In Snapshot 2013, companies indicated their employee giving models focused on corporate-branded campaigns matched with a time-limited fall campaign, with heavy reliance on technology to drive workplace giving.
Snapshot 2015, however, shows a much greater emphasis on employee volunteerism, and in particular:
- Year-round volunteering opportunities.
- Giving and volunteering as central components of employee engagement programs.
- Connecting employees to causes they care about, in addition to corporate-supported causes.
Volunteerism “is now the core around which companies are building employee engagement strategies and programs,” the group found. Not only does it serve as a catalyzing force within companies, but it is also what the group called an “on-ramp to full employee engagement” and deepening partnerships with nonprofit organizations.
A well-developed volunteer program is also seen as key to employee recruitment and retention, the report said. Specifically, prospective employees expect companies to provide opportunities to connect with causes they care about; allow them to volunteer during company time; and conduct an effective volunteer and giving program that is engaging and empowering.
Per the report, the most common elements of employee volunteer strategies include:
- Company-sponsored volunteer projects and projects that encourage employees to team with their peers.
- Dollars-for-doers-type programs. Today nearly 27 percent of companies offer financial grants in recognition of individual volunteer service, and an additional 30 percent of companies plan to offer these within the next two years.
- Skills-based opportunities. Nearly 50 percent of companies offer pro bono and skills-based opportunities, and nearly 30 percent plan to offer these over the next two years.
- Mentoring. A growing number of companies plan to introduce mentor programs that team employees with the beneficiary of a nonprofit organization.
- Paid volunteer time. Nearly 60 percent of companies offer paid time off for employees to volunteer, and an additional 21 percent plan to offer release time in the next two years.
- Professional development. About 25 percent of companies tie skills-based volunteering to an employee’s professional development plan, but 21 percent say they plan to make this tie-in in the future.
Employees are also looking for an expanded universe of volunteer opportunities. While company-supported events remain popular—cited by 82 percent of employees—some 70 percent want the ability to organize their own volunteer events, and 60 percent want to be able to recruit peers to support their giving and volunteer efforts, the report said.
However, support from leadership throughout the organization appears to be key to effective employee engagement, the report said. Employees are “keenly aware” if leadership at all levels is authentically involved or not. It’s not enough to just say that giving of time, money and skills is important. Leadership must be involved in each of these areas, the group said, and the importance of community engagement to the company and its stakeholders should be explained and well-understood throughout the company.
The growing emphasis on employee volunteerism can present challenges for nonprofit partners, however. As noted in the report, nonprofits have struggled in the past to make effective use of volunteer labor—especially skills-based and pro bono service, which is often highly specialized. There is a need on both sides to think creatively in developing ways in which employee volunteerism can be used effectively to the benefit of companies and nonprofits alike.
Based on Snapshot 2015’s findings, America’s Charities made the following recommendations:
- Ensure that company leadership is authentic and senior officers are actively involved in community engagement.
- Align employee engagement strategies and nonprofit partnerships with business values and mission, reinforcing the business benefits of these programs.
- Engage in a dialogue with key nonprofit partners to ensure engagement is strategic and mutually beneficial.
- Involve and empower employees to support corporate signature programs in addition to the causes they care about.
- Identify opportunities to recruit and retain the best talent by connecting employee engagement to professional development and recruitment strategies.
For more information, or to access the report in full, go to www.charities.org.