Running Your Business

Employee Volunteer Programs for Small Businesses

staff participating in employee volunteer programs
Posted by March 13, 2017

As a small business, you aim to be active in your local community, but what’s the best way to get involved? While donating money is certainly helpful, creating employee volunteer programs in your organization allows for even more benefits. Why? Not only does your community get the help it deserves but your employees, and your business, reap the many benefits of volunteering.

Plan Before Implementing Employee Volunteer Programs

Before structuring your volunteer program, keep in mind your size, and what you can afford, in terms of lost productivity and payroll costs.

If you’re a small business, you might not be able to sponsor the construction of a new playground or give your employees a whole week’s worth of leave time to use for their own volunteer projects. However, you may be able to give them one day of leave that they can either use all at once or in smaller increments. Similarly, you could “close” the business for one day during your downtime and join your entire staff for a group project.

Choosing How to Volunteer Time

As a small business owner, finding the right causes to support for your employee volunteer programs is of the utmost importance. Since you care about your community, you may want to support as many programs as possible but realistically, you can’t help them all. Will you be the one to determine which causes to support in your employee volunteer programs or will you let your employees choose?

If you’ve chosen a charity to help, consider how scheduling will impact involvement. Let’s say you volunteer your company to support a small, local 5K charity run on a Saturday morning. If your normal work schedule is Monday through Friday, you can’t expect or require staff to volunteer on a day off.

However, this may be a cause close to your heart and you’re hoping for greater involvement from your employees. If so, consider allowing your staff to swap in-office hours for volunteer time or higher engagement. If your employee works three hours at the charity race, allow her to leave work three hours early one day in the following work week.

Another way to motivate your staff to participate is to let them choose the causes they’d like to support. Your employees may be involved in the community already, so creating a volunteer program allows them more opportunity to help others and feel good about their contributions. By letting your employees choose how they’ll use their volunteer hours, you can trust they’ll pick something important to them.

For example, one employee might set aside time to weed the field of the little league for which he coaches. Another may put in classroom hours in her child’s school or volunteer to work the bake sale versus sending in store-bought cookies she picked up on the way to school. A third employee may join their church’s fundraising effort to support local families in need during the holiday season.

What Benefit Does Volunteering Offer Your Business?

When you volunteer with your small business, your community wins. Since you’re already doing it to be helpful, being strategic with your employee volunteer programs can only benefit your business as well.

By being active in your community, you’re able to network with new people—who may even become potential customers. For example, if you’re a dentist, you might consider cosponsoring a kid’s day in your community with other complementary businesses. Your staff can participate by manning the face painting and arts-and-craft booths, but consider also inviting the tooth fairy to come and read a book to the children. Remember to hand out child-size toothbrushes with your business information on them.

If attracting new leads isn’t part of your volunteering strategy, being active in your community still helps to build your brand in a positive light. Your name will become more recognizable, and your business will be viewed as socially responsible. A construction or landscaping company who donates time working on small projects at schools will likely be able to put up a sign advertising their work. A printing company can offer to design or print the programs for a high-school theater company, and put a small ad on the final page. A mechanic could volunteer to change the oil or do a tune-up of a local senior group’s transportation throughout the year and ask to place his company bumper sticker on the van.

Small volunteering jobs can have just as much impact as large ones. Your company logo could visibly adorn a school gymnasium, or it could be attached to many smaller projects, that more people are likely to see.

Creating a volunteer program is also important in the human-resource aspect of your business. Being a socially involved organization helps attract top quality candidates, and your current employees will feel more committed to your business as well. UnitedHealth Group’s 2013 Health and Volunteering Study found that “64 percent of employees who currently volunteer said that volunteering with work colleagues has strengthened their relationships.” Even the best-run business can get overwhelming at times, and staff can get burnt out. Create opportunities for staff to put their work aside and do something good with coworkers.

Also, 92 percent of respondents to Deloitte’s 2016 Volunteer IMPACT Survey reported that “volunteering improves employees’ broader professional skill sets” and “volunteering is an effective way to improve leadership skills.” By creating a volunteering program, you’re not only assisting the community when they need it most—you’re also giving your employees the tools they need to grow in their careers as well.

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