Giving back to the community continues to be a priority for companies. A volunteering program is a key part of corporate citizenship, alongside corporate giving and other corporate social responsibility initiatives. As corporate volunteer efforts grow in profile, I wanted to share some of the best practices that we at CIT have used as part of our employee volunteering program, which this year celebrates its 10-year anniversary, so you can consider implementing them in your new or existing volunteer program. Here they are:
Have a defined time frame. Here at CIT, our
Employee Volunteer Program (EVP) takes place during a specified time of the year. Having a defined beginning and ending for your volunteer program enables you to raise as much visibility as possible for the program among employees and the community. It also helps drive excitement and engagement among employees and gives volunteer efforts a focus. Watercooler chat revolves around what projects people have done and what happened at the projects. That helps drive new volunteers to sign up.
Set goals. To measure the success of your program, you need an achievable goal. It could be total number of hours volunteered by employees, the rate of employee participation, the number of office locations participating, or something entirely different. The most important thing is to create a goal, announce it to the company and then exceed it.
Go to the community to learn their needs. Don't pick your volunteer opportunities based on popularity or trending issues. Go to the community to learn what they need from your organization. An organization that builds houses might be a great partner in one location, but housing might not be as much of a need in another part of the country, where filling empty food banks could be the priority. Skills-based volunteering, product donations, and pro bono services related to your employees' daily work are some of things your company may have to offer, so be open to discussions on ways to make volunteering valuable for both the non-profit and your employees.
Give time off. If you want to make volunteering a priority for your company, it's critical that company policies align with the rhetoric. Here at CIT, we give employees eight hours (one business day) off each year to participate in a volunteer project during EVP. Putting this policy in writing and publicizing it makes clear that the company supports volunteerism and values employees' time.
Make senior leadership's endorsement and expectations clear. A strong, public endorsement of the volunteer program from a senior leader makes the priority of the program clear and helps encourage other levels of management to also set the tone. It's also great for senior leaders to come to a volunteer event and work alongside other employees.
Offer employees the opportunity to volunteer in keeping with their abilities. Employees will have different skills, interests, abilities and time allotments for projects. Talk to the community organizations to ensure that as many volunteers as possible are accommodated within your program. For instance, we have volunteer opportunities that take place on-site at our offices for those who can only get away for a few hours. We also work to provide opportunities for those with limited mobility or other physical challenges. Our priority is inclusion and service at all levels from everyone interested.
Choose an organization that will be an effective volunteering partner. Non-profit organizations have different strengths and levels of organization. Be sure to partner with a non-profit that has expectations that match your own regarding volunteer opportunities. The non-profit should also be able to effectively manage your volunteers on the day of the event and provide your volunteers with meaningful, engaging work.
Consider making a donation. If supplies are required to make the volunteer opportunity possible - such as tools, paint, or pantry items - it's common for the non-profit organization to ask for a cash or an in-kind contribution from the company providing the volunteers to cover these costs. Often times, it's a minimal amount that covers the materials for the task your volunteers will complete. Be a full-service partner by helping out as much as you can.
Of course, we are always learning and trying new things with our volunteer program. But these best practices will continue to guide us, and I hope they will be helpful for you as well.
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