Practice what you preach. While you can't expect to choose an organization that means the most to every single employee at your company, you can use volunteering as an opportunity to back up your company's overall values. If housing is important to your company, volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. If you're passionate about empowering women in the workplace, try Dress for Success. If you work with a bunch of animal lovers, arrange for teams to volunteer together at local shelters. You can, of course, work with multiple organizations, but you should choose to donate your time to groups that excite your employees and connect to your company's mission, if possible.
Volunteering allows people to come out of their everyday roles and get creative, says Rhonda Meadows, Senior HR Business Partner at Xenium HR and founder of nonprofit organizations Project Lemonade and Bridge Meadows. It allows your team to express the gifts they have beyond number–crunching, gifts that often go unnoticed in corporate settings.
While preparing for volunteer events, Meadows says employees regularly offer skills she'd never have expected, like singing lessons and woodworking. Employees often welcome the chance to show different sides of themselves, as being recognized for their unique skills helps them feel like they matter to the company. This also allows employees to get to know each other better.
Don't feel guilty for showing off how you give back. According to a 2013 report from Cone Communications and Echo Research, 82 percent of consumers consider corporate social responsibility when they're deciding what to buy and where to shop. If you are giving back to your community, you should be celebrating that publicly. People are more likely to feel an affinity for a brand or company that's connected to their community.
“Publicize it, promote it, because that's what the consumer wants,” Meadows says. “If that's what consumers want, then that's what you do, but it's not just about the money or sales. It's still about what's in your heart, what employees care about, and ways that they can give back.”
When you consider what is important to your employees, and listen to the purposes they want to serve, they're more likely to stick with you. Giving back instills loyalty in your team because it shows them the company isn't only concerned about the bottom line. Your employees are more likely to support you vocally if they feel like they're working for a company that cares.
Many of us have given back monetarily, written checks to organizations that matter to us. But time is a more limited resource, and as a result, it's generally what smaller organizations lack. Plus, when you give your time, it's easier to see your direct impact. “There was an older man that was volunteering at Project Lemonade, and when he left one night, he said, ‘Rhonda, Project Lemonade is the paycheck for my soul.'” Meadows says. “And that has totally stuck with me, because writing a check, putting numbers on a piece of paper, there's no meaning behind that. When you see kids' faces, when you see the happiness in their eyes, you feel good all over. It's a lasting impression.”
This applies to every other point on this list. Giving your employees a chance to be creative, engaging them beyond their workplace duties, providing a sense of meaning and accomplishment—all of that improves morale, Meadows says. “When people are happy about what they do and about the company they work for, they're going to work harder and smarter. The more you can engage and interact with your people about what they're passionate about, about their mission to give back to the community, and take that on as an organization, you're going to have happier people. You're going to have more productive people.”
So many people want to start volunteering but don't know where to look, she adds. Providing the opportunity as a company helps narrow down the sea of choices and gives your employees a broader sense of purpose.
If you're ready to start a volunteer project at your company, Meadows says your first step is to decide whether you're offering paid time to participate. More and more companies are including volunteer time in benefits packages, and you should consider how much the project is worth to you—and to your staff—when making this decision. Remember that more people are likely to take part in a volunteer event if they're considered on the clock while chipping in and if it occurs during normal work hours
Then, Meadows suggests opening a dialogue with your employees and asking how they want to help the community. To be truly meaningful, and to get higher attendance at these events, volunteer efforts must grow from company–wide support.