Want to Boost Employee Engagement? Try Company Volunteer Programs

Want to Boost Employee Engagement? Try Company Volunteer Programs Employee engagement is one of the principle concerns among business leaders around the country who aim to create an effective and satisfied workforce.  In fact, according to Gallup’s most recent U.S. employee engagement survey, employee engagement is closely correlated with business conditions essential to an organization’s financial success, such as productivity, profitability and customer engagement.

In short, engaged employees are more committed to the company they work for and are invested in its success by driving the innovation, growth and revenue their employers rely on to stay ahead of the competition.  For employers, investing in their most important assets – their employees – can have a transformational impact on overall business outcomes.

The real question is, how can an organization create a culture of engagement and what employee benefits drive the highest levels of engagement and employee satisfaction?  Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

In today’s war for talent, attracting and retaining the best employees are more important than ever.  As the U.S. workforce continues to shift in demographics, employers need to consider embracing a host of new benefits that appeal to a multi-generational workforce.  Among the many benefits options available, volunteer programs should not be overlooked.

According to a Deloitte Millennial study, 75 percent of the workforce will consist of millennials (those who were born after 1982) by 2025.  As more young people enter the workforce, they bring with them a new set of priorities.  In fact, a study from the Intelligence Group found that 64 percent of millennials said they would take a lower-paying job that they found fulfilling over a job that they didn’t enjoy, even if they had the opportunity to earn more than twice as much in an unfulfilling job.

Millennials care about diversity, company ethics and the opportunity to give back to their communities.  These priorities are essentially creating an entirely new workplace model for employers, one in which a company’s moral compass is just as valuable as its bottom line.

When executed properly, volunteerism and charitable giving can be strong morale boosters.  Companies implementing an employee volunteer program should consider the following key steps to ensure success:

  1. Commitment is key. Demonstrate company executives’ commitment to volunteerism and charitable giving.  Share a clear vision for the program and examples of milestones and long-term goals.  A recent GreenBiz study found that millennial employees prefer working for leaders they admire in companies that exemplify strong values that underscore their corporate social responsibility.
  1. Understand employee passions. Ensure the program focuses on one or more issues that truly engage employees on a personal level by soliciting their input upfront.  Survey employees to determine the community issues or causes most critical to them today and in the near future.  Are they passionate about addressing homelessness, bridging a local opportunity gap or improving community parks?  Understanding the issues of greatest importance to employees will empower companies to deliver more engaging volunteer programs.
  1. Go social. Create opportunities for employees to connect with each other about their employee volunteer efforts.  These initiatives could range from creating a company-only internal blog platform where employees can share experiences and photos with one another, to kicking off a company e-newsletter highlighting employees’ charitable efforts or even promoting the company’s volunteer efforts on the company’s Facebook or Twitter profiles.  It’s important to remember that charitable efforts can also create excellent team-building and leadership opportunities for employees.
  1. Think beyond monetary commitments. Donation-matching programs and other fundraising initiatives are a great start, but it’s also important to consider alternative avenues for employees to offer their time and talents to causes important to them.  According to America’s Charities’ Snapshot 2015, nearly 60 percent of companies offer paid time off for employees to volunteer.  This same survey shows a growing expectation among employees that employers will provide volunteer opportunities for teams of their colleagues – 82 percent said employees want the opportunity to volunteer with peers in company-supported events.

Creating a comprehensive employee volunteer program as part of an organization’s overall employee engagement strategy can help companies attract and retain top talent.  They can result in stronger relationships with the surrounding local community, an enhanced public image, and a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

Pro Bono Volunteer Programs – A Valuable Resource To Tap Into

Tips to Setting Up a Volunteer ProgramEvery nonprofit works hard to be a good steward of donor dollars. As donor expectations continue to increase, all nonprofits are confronted with new (and often expensive) challenges—expectations of better operations, more transparent reporting, outcome measurement and better technology.

As nonprofits seek funding to manage these new expectations, the challenges mount. Some funders, enthralled with the overhead myth, stipulate their gifts must be targeted toward specific program budgets leaving few resources for the fundamental building blocks of running an organization. An increasing number of nonprofits compete for the limited number of capacity building or technology grants offered.

Perhaps no key function at nonprofits gets neglected more than technology. In fact, research from the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), which works to improve nonprofits’ use of technology, indicates that the median IT budget at nonprofit organizations may be as low as one percent of the overall operating budget. With so little money earmarked for technology, not only is the cost of business applications far beyond the financial reach of many nonprofits, but top-flight technical talent is also difficult to attract and not always possible to develop internally.

Fortunately, a growing number of technology vendors — NetSuite included — have made it a standard practice to donate technology products to nonprofits. While some product donations are ready to go out of the box, many require tech talent to oversee implementation and make these valuable gifts work for the organization receiving the donation. An unintended consequence of free technology is it often doesn’t solve the resource constraint problem – nonprofits still need the resources to purchase consulting and other services.

One answer that benefits nonprofit and company alike is pro bono volunteering. And while enabling employees to volunteer as project consultants on the technology rollouts at nonprofits sounds like a good idea on so many levels, it’s surprising to learn that it simply doesn’t happen very often. In fact, pro bono volunteering is an untapped resource on all fronts, not just when it comes to technology. According to the Taproot Foundation, which works to help match nonprofits with pro bono skills, just three percent of nonprofits say they have access to the pro bono support they need.

NetSuite realized that, for our technology donations to have a transformational impact on nonprofit operations, we had to pair them with pro bono services. Along the way, we’ve learned that a pro bono volunteer program not only helps our nonprofit customers thrive, it also strengthens our business by giving us more insight into the needs of an important customer constituency, deepens and develops the way nonprofits use our software, and provides our employees with invaluable on-the-job training and an opportunity to give back by offering their professional skills.

Along those lines, according to research from True Impact, a consultancy that helps organizations measure the social, financial and environmental return on investment (ROI) of their programs and operations, employees are three times as likely to gain material job skills via pro bono volunteering as they are with traditional volunteering. In other words, giving away employees’ time in the form of pro bono volunteering effectively injects them with additional value to the company.

Tons of Nonprofit ResourcesWhile it sounds great on paper, nonprofits shouldn’t rush into accepting pro bono help from companies. It’s important to think through the following tips before you apply for or enter into a pro bono relationship:

  1. Find the right partner: Free help from professionals sounds great – but you should strategically decide when taking on pro bono help makes sense, and from whom you will get it. Someone offering to do a social media plan pro bono might not be a good fit if your organization doesn’t have a communications department or a process to put the plan to action. The best bet is to identify what you need help with and determine which companies are experts in that field. Some of your existing corporate partners might be the perfect pro bono partners, provided that they have expertise in the area you want to improve.
  2. Have a clear scope of work: What are your goals for this project? What is the outcome you want to achieve? Identifying what the specific deliverables will be as well as what is in-scope and out-of-scope is a critical piece of working with pro bono volunteers. Will the volunteers be providing training, product support, consulting or something else? Outlining the expected deliverables and timelines up front will help you feel better about the time and effort your organization and volunteers are investing in a project.
  3. Treat this like a professional engagement: Would you pay a consultant to take on a project and not devote staff time and resources to manage that project? Of course not. The same should be the case for pro bono: budget the time and internal talent you’ll need for a project, meet with your volunteers, and stay on track to receive the deliverables at the end of the engagement.
  4. Connect it to the Mission: Connecting project need with social impact will help to get volunteers engaged and excited about the work they will be taking on. Sure, writing a script to make a report auto-generate might not feel core to your mission, but automating that process might free up your staff and volunteer resources for other mission-critical work. Making that correlation for the volunteers will help them see the impact of the project they are taking on.

Every company approaches pro bono differently, and many have not yet started a program, although thanks to campaigns like ‘A Billion+Change’ the move to provide pro bono support is gaining momentum. At NetSuite, we formally launched our NetSuite.org SuiteVolunteer Pro Bono program in 2013 with a commitment to take on a significant number of pro bono projects each quarter.  We have been seeing the fruits of our labors ever since, with employees gaining invaluable on-the-job training and many of our nonprofit software users emerging as stronger users of the platform.

Our employees desire to donate pro bono time is evident in the program’s growth: since it launched, more than 700 NetSuite employees have given nearly $1.5 million worth of their time to more than 260 nonprofits. In 2015 alone, more than 300 SuiteVolunteers donated 4,694 pro bono consulting hours, worth more than $700,000 using the industry standard valuation.

One of the keys to the SuiteVolunteer program’s success has been a focus on small, digestible projects that begin and end within a quarter. We assemble our pro bono project teams during the first month of each quarter, and each team completes its project over the ensuing two months. Generally speaking, each quarter now features about 100 employees working on 30 to 40 projects. This distributed approach has enabled us to get more employees involved on more projects, thus impacting more nonprofits. These projects also act as building blocks for our nonprofit partners. We aren’t trying to take on all of their challenges at once, but instead are looking for small, incremental ways to improve their operational success.

The bottom line of all these efforts is the power that comes from sharing talent. Every company has incredibly talented employees in its ranks, many of whom want to use their skills to make a positive social impact. Nonprofits and corporations that are able to harness the skills of these passionate employees will find that the benefits of pro bono contributions run deep. What’s more, taking a strategic approach to choosing a pro bono partner and thoroughly outlining the need you’re addressing can ensure a successful project.

For corporations, providing pro bono opportunities for your employees will not only engage your employees and strengthen your business, but can inspire your customers and partners to develop similar programs, thus exponentially driving change in the social sector.

Pro bono help, once thought of as only something lawyers provide, is growing more prevalent across business sectors. By effectively tapping pro bono volunteer skills and corporate pro bono programs, you will gain access to a new pool of resources that can help build capacity and fund those often overlooked “overhead” projects.

For businesses, their employees and the nonprofits they serve, pro bono volunteering can be the ultimate win-win-win.

5 Ways to Build a Rockstar Volunteer Base with Quality Communications

Creating a Volunteer ProgramWhether they are raising awareness, picking up trash or engaging with those in need, volunteers are one of the largest and most valuable assets to nonprofit organizations. With limited manpower and tight budgets, we’re grateful for the time volunteers donate and usually assume that is all they want to offer. In reality, they have much more potential.

A loyal, committed and engaged volunteer group takes their work as seriously as paid employees and will benefit both your nonprofit’s cause, and the lives of those involved. One key to building a rockstar volunteer base is communicating the right way. How you communicate with volunteers defines your organization’s volunteering culture and determines how your volunteers feel about the work they accomplish.

These five tips will ensure your nonprofit organization is on the right track to building a volunteer dream team:

1. Building John Doe Volunteer

Trying to communicate with everyone at your organization all at once creates a generic, boring message that doesn’t resonate effectively. Since our minds are designed to communicate with people one-on-one, a great way to fix the barrier is by creating a volunteer character profile.

Take some time to identify the characteristics that best fit the majority of your volunteers or the volunteers you want to connect with the most. How old are they? What are their interests? Are they in school? Are they retired? What do they do on the weekends? Why do they like your organization and want to volunteer?

Example: Mike (John Doe) is a young professional that just got out college and wants to spend his years doing good for his community and having fun before settling into a nine to five job and starting a family. He is tall, brown hair and really likes working with children and the outdoors.

From there, print your character profile’s face and name with his description on paper. Talk to this character every time you craft an email, social media post or flyer. Your message will resonate with the lives of your volunteer base and grab their attention.

Extra Tip: Don’t assume a lawyer that is volunteering will want to do legal work for your organization. Don’t pigeon hole your volunteers in their career skills because chances are they’ll volunteer more if you give them a vacation from their day job, not an extra shift.

2. Crafting the Right Message to Motivate Volunteers

The reason your volunteers take action and the reason they support your cause are often very different. In many cases, you can assume your volunteer base already supports your organization philosophically. To maximize results, focus on what motivates your John Doe volunteers to spend their free time coming to your event and supporting your organization.

For our character profile example, Mike, he may see this volunteer group as an opportunity for socializing. In this case, instead of an email headline for a beach cleanup stating, “The ocean needs your help!” try, “Get some sun, make friends and make a difference.”

Other volunteers may be looking to develop skills, build their resume or try new things. If they already support your cause, speak to these needs first and watch your attendance rise.

3. Build a Volunteer Tribe

The best volunteers not only feel connected to your cause, but also to staff members and fellow volunteers. Your volunteers need to see everyone as a friend rather than an acquaintance. Ensuring your volunteers feel comfortable is key to getting them excited, returning more often, sharing ideas and going above and beyond.

To build a sense of camaraderie, you can create t-shirts, get-togethers and happy hours after volunteer events. For your most loyal volunteers, invite them to staff brainstorms and bonding activities. Incorporating the personality of organization and staff members into your communications will help them feel like they are part of the tribe.

Extra Tip: Team up with other like-minded nonprofit groups to host volunteer gatherings and events and create a larger, united team. You’ll offer your volunteers more opportunities to get involved and extend the reach of your communications.

4. Cohesive Message in All Channels

People learn through repetition. Once you have perfected your message to resonate with the right people, standardize it across all of your media channels and re-use your content. With repetition, your brand’s message will become its identity.

It will also save you valuable time and money and ensure your message is of the same caliber, whether it’s your executive director or your social media intern broadcasting it.

For example, my client, San Diego Coastkeeper, regularly produces flyers, event information, environmental tips and press releases. All have the organization’s logo and mission statement, “protecting and restoring fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County,” on all content.

5. Following Up

All communications professionals will tell you, follow up is key! Whether this is the first time the volunteer showed to get their hands dirty, or a volunteer you have a relationship with because they continue to return—follow up and make them feel important.

Following up can be as simple as a personal email or thank you card. Thank them for their time and let them know how they impacted your organization and the community. Honors and awards also keep volunteers motivated. Award a new volunteer as “Volunteer of the Month.” Display this award in a high-traffic area and share across social media channels to motivate other volunteers and reinforce their value.







5 Ways To Turn Volunteer Work Into A Paid Job

We all know that in terms of the current job market – times are pretty tough to say the least. The news is swamped each day with figures of how unemployment is on the rise and how thousands of jobs are getting slashed.

What many people do is assume that this means that there are no jobs available. To be honest everyone does it as it makes perfect sense. If jobs are getting cut why would there be any decent jobs still available?

“As one door closes another door opens”

I am sure that you will have come across this quote at some point or another. What I am trying to put across is that there are still plenty of job opportunities that are opening all the time.

What the main problem is when applying for jobs is that they are all looking for work experience and due to the current job climate many people are without experience. It’s a frustrating experience and seems like a never ending cycle. You are without a job, but in order to get a job you need a job.

But what many people don’t consider is that volunteering is a great way to get work experience and can be used as a platform for landing some paid work. If you don’t know how to turn unpaid volunteer work to paid work then I suggest that you read on.

Here are 5 easy ways to turn volunteer work into a paid job:

Use It In Order To Get The Right Skills – Ultimately you are volunteering to increase your chances of landing a paid job. So always choose volunteer work that will allow you to get the skills that you need so that you can be in the best position for getting the job you want.

Use It To Network – You should always try networking whether you are in paid work or not as it is a great way to make good contacts that will benefit you in the future. It’s not well known that in the current job climate it’s more of a case of who you know over what you know. As bad as it sounds it’s the truth.

Choose The Position That You Want – If you have X career in mind, every choice that you make should help you to get closer to it. The environment in volunteer work is more like “what do you want to do?” rather than “this is what you will be doing”, which is great as you can really take advantage of it. You can do this by choosing the position you want.

Always Leave On A Good Note – Volunteering is a really great way to get yourself some really positive references for you CV. So you should always make sure that you leave volunteer work on a good note and tie up any loose ends. You will be amazed at what a good reference can do for you.

Embrace Extra Responsibilities – You should never go about volunteering half heartedly, if you are going to do it then give it your all. If you accept responsibilities whilst volunteering it can really enhance your future careers prospects. You can get yourself in a position where you really can put across that you would be valuable to a prospective employer. You can do this by showing that you are innovative and that you brought about real changes to the place where you volunteered at.

By author Richard Orban, on behalf of Probono which is a social enterprise, grouping together non profit organisations in Australia.

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