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Creating an Employee Volunteer Program can yield many benefits

More and more business owners and managers find themselves “telling the story” of their company. Not only do the public and our customers want to know what we’re about, but so do our prospective employees. In fact, a recent Nielsen survey found that almost 50 percent said they’d reward companies with their money if those companies are giving back to society. This shifting paradigm encourages corporations to be more vocal and upfront about their support of good causes in the community. Businesses of all size are finding themselves creating Corporate Responsibility policies. 

In the past, it was common for companies to support good causes with their own dollars. But our shifting demographics have more people working and less people available to volunteer. As a result, more companies are recognizing the need to go beyond writing a check, and are developing an Employee Volunteer Program (EVP). They are learning that encouraging and supporting employee volunteerism is good PR, good for the bottom line, and good for the employees.

Before developing an EVP, you should consider the mission and vision of your company. What types of nonprofits blend with your company’s goals and brand? What do your clients care about? Identify your company’s strengths and resources and consider what nonprofits intersect with those.

The second step is to talk with your employees. By ascertaining their level of interest and passion for causes, you can merge your company’s goals with your employees’ interests. Your program will not succeed if your employees don’t have buy-in. And don’t underestimate the importance of support and involvement by the senior management team. 

The last step is to identify the needs in the community. There are many resources that can assist you with this, from the local Chamber or service club, to established nonprofits such as the United Way.

Your company’s EVP can take many different forms, depending on your business model and resources. It can vary from putting on a one-day event, such as the Day of Caring, to giving employees paid time off to volunteer. It’s important that it suits your needs, matches your employees’ interests, and addresses a community need.

Skills-based micro-volunteering has become very popular. This involves performing small tasks or projects utilizing existing skills. For instance, the annual Seattle Give Camp is a weekend event for coders and web developers. They spend the weekend creating and updating websites for nonprofit organizations. The volunteers have the opportunity to use their professional skills, network with like-minded peers, and make a big difference in a small amount of time. 

Dollars for Doers is another avenue. These programs offer company contributions to nonprofits for which an employee is volunteering. It can be a grant type of application that an employee submits for a certain amount of money, or could be tied to the hours an employee gives. For example, some companies offer an employer contribution of $10 per hour for each hour an employee volunteers, with a maximum amount set. 

Many companies that can afford it allow employees to do some volunteer work on company time. If you decide this is something you’d like to do, create a policy so employees understand the parameters. Your policy should establish that volunteering must be done at times when it least impacts the business, state how many hours per year an employee can have, and describe which employees are eligible. Considerations can be made for full-time vs. part-time employees, those that are in good standing in their jobs, and volunteer activities that support the company’s mission and vision. 

A variation on volunteer paid time off is to implement a volunteer flex time policy. A flex time policy allows employees to alter their work schedule in order to accommodate volunteer activities. A third option is to have a company volunteer day, wherein company employees spend their workday in a volunteer activity together.

A good program includes an element of recognition. You can promote employees’ volunteer activities on your website, in your newsletter, and in company staff meetings. Honoring a Volunteer of the Quarter or Year could come with a donation to their nonprofit of choice. Don’t forget that your company deserves recognition as well for supporting your employee volunteers. Our customers want to do business with corporations with a conscience. Be sure you give yourself a public pat on the back as well.

Some companies have been especially good at this. Who isn’t familiar with Ben & Jerry’s Community Action Teams and commitment to making a difference in the world? If you’re a member of the 12th Man, you are no doubt proud of Russell Wilson’s regular visits to Seattle Children’s Hospital. And Washington companies, like Starbucks, are known for their generosity of time and money in their communities.

A BLS study showed that a little more than 25 percent of employed Americans volunteer at some time during the year. But a study by United Healthcare showed that 84 percent said they would volunteer if their employer encouraged and supported it. We can only imagine what a difference our businesses could make in our community with a small change like adding an Employee Volunteer Program!


• Julie Tappero is the president and owner of West Sound Workforce, a professional staffing and recruiting company based in Poulsbo and Gig Harbor. She can be reached at julie [at] westsoundworkforce [dot] com

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