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How to Create an Employee Volunteer Program

Employee volunteer or give-back programs are a low-cost way to bolster employee morale, increase community awareness of your business, and promote your company as an employer of choice. An excellent ROI for small businesses where the budget is tight and community awareness is just plain good for business. However, small business owners and micro-HR departments have limited time and resources to devote to creating such a program. To help you out, we’ve put together a simple guide for creating a program.

Is Creating an Employee Volunteer Program Worth It?

The short answer is yes. If you need convincing, here are just a few reasons why it’s a worthwhile investment:

  • Employee engagement and satisfaction. According to a 2023 survey conducted by Edge Research for Ares Management company, 79% of employees who volunteer through their employer are satisfied with their jobs, compared with just 55% who don’t participate in an employer-sponsored volunteer program.
  • Team building and collaboration. Team volunteering increases employee collaboration and communication, leading to a more cohesive and productive team.
  • Community awareness and local marketing. Having an employee volunteer program demonstrates your company’s commitment to the community, which can enhance your brand reputation, and build relationships with current and prospective customers.
  • Recruitment and retention. Offering volunteer opportunities makes your company more attractive to potential hires and improves employee retention by fostering a sense of purpose and belonging.

Have we convinced you yet? I sure hope so, now let’s dive into how you can make it happen with limited resources.

Steps to Build an Employee Volunteer Program

Most large companies have a sophisticated volunteer program with loads of employees and resources to support it. Small companies don’t have these luxuries, so keeping it simple, getting creative, and effectively promoting it is necessary to get the results you desire. Here’s a step-by-step process to get your program up and running.

#1 - Determine your budget

This can be just for this year, or it can be determining what you are willing to commit to spending each year for the foreseeable future. Ideally, if you can commit to a budget that you can reasonably repeat each year, you are better able to build repeatable programmatic efficiencies as well as document employment (i.e. employee handbook) and recruitment (i.e. job postings) resources and promote in marketing materials.

# 2 - narrow down your options

The list of causes out there and ways to support them are overwhelming. Here are our suggestions for finding and narrowing down to 3-5 options:

  • Focus on finding causes that are related to your products or services and have a local impact (e.g. a furniture store partnering with a local Sleep In Heavenly Peace chapter to provide beds for kids in need, or an insurance agency partnering with a local fire department to promote fire safety).
  • Talk to your employees. You may be surprised to learn about causes that are a great fit for your company that you have never heard of, that your employees are involved in, or have been impacted by. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate that you care and are listening to your employees.
  • Once you have narrowed down your causes, it’s time to think about scope and how you can provide support to each cause option. This depends on your budget and the cause itself. On the low-cost end, an option for the furniture store and Sleep In Heavenly Peace would be to have a “build day” and employees volunteer their time, or if you have funds to spend, you could provide the materials to build the bed(s).

#3 - select cause and activity

The best way to ensure your volunteer program fizzles before it even has a chance is to pick a cause without employee input. Large organizations will often have multiple options for employees to choose from with the idea that everyone has different interests and if an employee is interested in the cause, the more they get out of the experience. However, this is just not feasible for a small business owner or micro-HR department. Instead, start small by selecting one cause and activity. To make sure it’s a cause that employees are excited about, let them vote. Take your 3-5 options from step two and ask your employees to vote for their favorite. This can be as simple as having them write on a notecard and putting in a box, or if your employees are scattered across different locations, you could spend 10 minutes creating an online survey (lots of free options exist such as Google Forms and SurveyMonkey).

#4 - Delegate the execution

Delegation is magic and we highly recommend it, especially in this scenario. When you delegate, you are freeing up your time to focus on things that matter while at the same time providing a challenging, impactful, and safe opportunity for an employee to learn and demonstrate a new skill set. Perhaps you need to cultivate a solid backup for yourself or have an employee in mind to replace that manager who you know is planning to leave in a few months. It doesn’t always have to lead to a promotion or change in job, opportunities to learn and demonstrate new skills increase employees’ confidence, motivation, and overall job satisfaction. But you aren’t completely off the hook. Be sure to lead by example and participate in the volunteer work right along with your employees, doing so makes the program feel more authentic and increases employee participation.

#5 - Employment legalities to keep in mind

  • If you delegate the work to coordinate the program to a nonexempt (hourly) employee, their time must be compensated.
  • If the volunteering occurs during normal work hours and/or you require (either directly or implied) employees to participate, then it must be compensated.

#6 - Incentivize and acknowledge employee volunteers

To increase employee participation, you may want to consider incentivizing them.

  • Providing a special PTO bank for volunteer time is a great way to ensure you are following wage and hour laws by paying volunteer time during work hours. It also indirectly provides a limit on how much time they can spend away from work volunteering, helping to keep labor costs within budget. And lastly, you can add PTO for volunteering to your list of benefits for retention and recruitment purposes.
  • Acknowledge those employees who volunteered their time. Some low-cost ideas are: providing a catered lunch, hand-written thank-you notes, gift certificates, and internal or external shout-outs.

#7 - Toot your horn!

Don’t forget to share externally your employees’ accomplishments. Don’t be shy, sharing the good your company is doing for the community isn’t just good marketing, it’s a way to publicly acknowledge the work of your employees, and it helps bring awareness to the cause you’re supporting. So go ahead and post those pictures on your company’s social media page or decorate the walls of your business with your good deeds.

#8 - Reflect and document

When the project is complete, be sure to take time to reflect on what went well and what didn’t. Document your processes and communications so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel next year. If you decide to formalize PTO hours for volunteer time, be sure to add it to your Employee Handbook policies and to your list of employee benefits for recruitment purposes.

Regardless of your business size, there are so many benefits to creating an employee volunteer program. It doesn’t need to be complex to have an impact – simple programs are just as effective as the complex and elaborate programs at large corporations.

Are you looking for a partner you can trust to help you create a compliant and easy-to-administer volunteer program? MSquared clients can rely on us not only to help build the program but also to create customized workflows within their HCM software to automate the administrative tasks that go with running a successful program. We know you’re busy, so let us help free up your valuable time while adding value to your business.