Employee volunteering programs have to face a new challenge: when given the chance, the majority of employees choose not to participate in their corporate volunteering programs.
Let's review some data from recent times - as of 2021, 89 percent of surveyed companies have an employee volunteering program, according to the most recent CECP Giving in Numbers Report. But according to the same survey, only 17% of people participate in these programs. Compare these statistics to a study by Deloitte, which discovered that 77% of employees believed that volunteering was crucial for employee wellbeing.
Employees think it is a good idea to volunteer. But the majority aren't participating. This has become a paradoxical problem that we will address in the article along with a few tips to combat the situation.
A crucial aspect of a company's mission and employee development that is frequently overlooked is meaningful volunteer opportunities. Organizations frequently attempt to create volunteer programs for employees as a sort of optional leisure time activity and not as a program that employees can incorporate into their daily work lives.
This is one of the major reasons why there is such a disparity between the number of employees who want to be involved in the company’s employee-giving strategies. Business leaders fail to take into account the entire end-to-end experience from the viewpoint of the employees, by including the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of volunteering.
It's important to meet employees where they are, remove any obstacles in their way of getting involved, and establish a foundation for serious discussion when developing an effective employee volunteering program. Here's how you can construct (or redesign) your program to allow for a real change and increased employee engagement.
Taking a transformational approach to your employee engagement programs
To begin with, Chris Jarvis, co-founder, and chief strategy officer of Realized Worth, proposes that corporates switch to a transformative approach as opposed to the traditional transactional one being used. What distinguishes a transformative volunteer experience from a transactional one? The goal of the transformative approach, according to Jarvis, is to provide participants with "an experience that they carry with them for the rest of their lives."
- Transactional volunteer experience would mean:
When you design your volunteer programs based on a transactional approach, your employees might render their volunteer work no different from their regular jobs. This is because their tasks are quantitative and dependent on the output generated. For eg., the number of articles written or the number of hours worked.
Here the employee is prompted to focus on completing the task rather than diving deep into how their work is helping the organization they are volunteering for. There is no learning involved but just a task being performed routinely, thus, the employees don't feel connected to the cause and we don't see any personal growth among those who are volunteering. This observation may discourage others from taking part in the program.
- Transformational volunteer experience would mean:
A transformative approach would be where the primary goal of the program is not just about completing the tasks at hand but understanding the impact the project will generate and for whom. These questions when answered will allow employees to rethink their approach to life and how they might want to live it.
To drive home what your employees have learned during their journey as a volunteer, Jarvis suggests posing these questions to them upon completion of their projects:
- What did you experience?
- Was it what you expected?
To increase the impact of your program, allow your volunteers to have a dialogue with those they are helping. A real-time understanding of the hardships these beneficiaries face and the value that their work is adding to their lives can be a great way to motivate your employees. Don't be surprised if they go above and beyond in their volunteer work.
As a result of a transformative volunteer program, many employees return to their workplace with a fresh feeling of purpose and a more compassionate attitude toward their coworkers and clients after seeing this new perspective.
How to create a transformation-supporting employee volunteer program in 6 simple steps
Creating a successful employee volunteer program involves giving participants the mechanism and incentive they need to grow if they so want. Some folks won't. However, the impact can be significant for those that do. Here’s how you can set up a transformative volunteer program:
- Keep your employees in mind
The fact of the matter is that your employees are the ones who will be participating in the program regardless of who designs the employee volunteer program. So, if your employees do not feel connected to it, they might not want to be involved.
Communicate with employees before developing your program. let them contribute ideas, you can host a live or online forum, conduct an anonymous survey, or both. Not only will this increase employee engagement, but also hearing their opinions will enable you to design a program that focuses on their objectives.
- Keep your communication visible and crisp
Your employee volunteer program should communicate all the crucial details of the program to the volunteers. Information such as:
- The duration of the project.
- A brief description of the project, the organization that has posted the project, and the beneficiaries of their aid.
- In case there are specific skills involved, what they might be, and if there is a qualifying criterion for a specific project.
- A road map from start to finish will give the volunteers a better understanding of what's required of them.
Make sure the placement of this information is clear and visible. Have posters communicating the event or send out announcements on your internal communication channels.
- Involve your employees
You will likely lose participants to your volunteer program even before you launch it if your employees feel that it is just another top-down campaign that ignores their opinions. Democratizing the experience not only boosts participation but also enables you to make use of any existing connections your employees may have with NGOs. Let's say one of your employees already lends a helping hand at a nearby shelter. Allow them to submit a volunteer project that makes use of the rapport they have established with the organization. Additionally, they can send out direct invitations to their coworkers to join them, providing a social component that could raise program engagement.
- Answer the ‘Why’
As a volunteer, what they do, such as packing meals or designing posters might not matter as much as why they are doing those tasks. You must organize your corporate volunteer program in such a way that it answers the question of ‘why’. Volunteers would be way more active when they know the reason behind the work they are doing and the impact their actions will have. This way they will have a clear purpose and will feel much more connected to the cause.
Make time to discuss how volunteer work benefits certain individuals. Statistics can be used to emphasize a point. By doing this, you can capitalize on the feel-good effects of helping others, or the "helper's high."
- Set up the right tool
Select a platform for volunteering that is interesting and simple to use. Employees should be able to access one location to view available opportunities, sign up, obtain the crucial information they require and monitor their VTO. They are much less likely to remain involved if they have to sift through email threads or switch between HR platforms and spreadsheets.
Integrating technology into your volunteer program will not only make it easy for your employees but also for you. You can manage all your employee's activities from one place and keep updated about their progress.
- Gather feedback
At the end of the day, schedule some time for reflection. Inquire about what your employees found surprising or difficult about volunteering. Additionally, you might take this time to ask them for their opinions on the procedure. If they could change anything, what would it be? Try your best to address any issues they raise and include practical solutions. Employee commitment and engagement are far more likely to remain high if your program is receptive to feedback.
As a business leader, one of the major requirements that all your stakeholders, employees, and customer segments alike have is for you to have a CSR program. But having a corporate volunteering program and none of your employees participating won't serve your purpose. By implementing the above-mentioned methods of creating a transformational employee volunteer program, you will be creating a space for your employees to go through exciting and life-changing experiences should they choose to.
Chezuba is a corporate volunteering platform that allows for such transformational volunteering programs. You can avail of customized dashboards that capture all the necessary data, along with Gamified, personalized, and diverse volunteering opportunities for your team. Book a free demo to learn more.