Employee Engagement

Employee Volunteer Program Basics: Benefits, Best Practices, And Company Examples

By
Rebecca Noori

Picture this: a bustling office filled with dedicated individuals working towards a common goal. But there's something remarkable about this workforce. It's not just their expertise and drive that sets them apart, but their unwavering commitment to making a difference in the world through their volunteer work. 

Volunteering escalated during the pandemic as more than half of people aged 16+ helped their neighbors informally, while 23% volunteered in formal programs. Since then, US Bureau and AmeriCorps research reveals that Americans continue to serve each other and their communities. This sentiment extends to the corporate world, where companies across industries have recognized the power of employee volunteer programs to create a positive impact.

Our guide dives into the benefits of employee volunteer programs and five company examples to be inspired by. We also share best practices for designing and implementing effective employee volunteer programs, ensuring they align with your company's values and goals.

What Is An Employee Volunteer Program (EVP)? 

An employee volunteer program enables employees to dedicate their time, resources, and skills toward a charitable cause. This corporate initiative is an effective way for businesses to show their commitment to supporting those in need and building a positive work culture. Some features of EVPs include:

Practical Volunteering 

Companies partner with nonprofit organizations or community projects that align with their values. Employees might get involved in environmental conservation, disaster relief, fundraising events, or offering pro bono services.

Skills-Based Volunteering

Some corporate volunteer programs lean on employees' professional skills and expertise. For example, a company may send a team of marketing professionals to assist a nonprofit organization in developing a marketing campaign or provide IT specialists to set up computer systems for a charity.

Volunteer Time-Off 

Employees in full-time employment can find it challenging to volunteer in their personal time. Companies overcome this by offering paid time off or flexible scheduling options which enable employees to volunteer during working hours.

Some companies decide to give employees time off to volunteer, two people planting a tree near a lake

Why Offer Volunteer Time? 

Corporate philanthropy initiatives are a win-win for everyone involved and go beyond altruism. Here are some of the reasons to connect your workforce with meaningful causes:

Appeal To Millennial Employees 

Millennials have a reputation for job-hopping, with Gallup reporting that six in ten are open to new job opportunities. This millennial turnover costs the US economy $30.5 billion annually.

But millennials are also passionate about corporate social responsibility and seek out companies prioritizing social impact. A whopping 90% of millennials genuinely believe someone like them can make a difference in the world. By offering volunteer programs, companies attract their attention, foster loyalty, and empower them to contribute to meaningful causes.

Give Back To Your Local Community 

Volunteering strengthens the company's relationship with the community and drives real social change. The value of volunteer time stands at $31.80 per hour on average across the US, an increase of 6.2% between 2021 and 2022. This value varies significantly depending on location, with each volunteer hour in the District of Columbia worth $50.

By investing time in volunteer programs, companies demonstrate their commitment to social impact, establish a positive presence, and create a lasting legacy within their community.

Spread Brand Awareness 

If you need a business case for employee volunteer programs, they're undoubtedly a positive way to advertise your brand and values. Your company may be featured in local media outlets, receive positive press coverage, and reach a wider network of potential customers who witness your impressive community work.

Achieve B Corps Status 

There are 4,800+ B Corp companies worldwide, each of which must continuously prove their commitment to social and environmental responsibility. The B Impact Assessment measures a company's impact on its governance, employees, community, environment, and customers. Companies actively engaged in employee volunteer programs could score higher marks within the assessment system.

Create A More Equitable Workplace 

Not everyone has the time or resources to volunteer in their spare time. Hannah Mackie, Volunteering and EDI manager at Aspire, explains why employee volunteerism levels the playing field, effectively acting as part of your company's DEI framework. 

"Volunteering shouldn't be limited to those with privilege. It's time to break down barriers and create opportunities for all to make a difference. Equitable volunteering ensures that everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances, can engage in meaningful volunteer work. Employee volunteering schemes are a fantastic way to break down barriers by providing employees with paid company time to get involved. This enables individuals who may face financial or time constraints to participate actively, empowering them to make a positive impact."

Build Relationships 

Cel Amade, Mindset and Confidence Keynote Speaker asserts, "Volunteering unlocks a special bond that goes beyond office duties and taps into our humanity."

Colleagues working toward a shared cause is an important team building activity that strengthens peer bonds. Employees also gain a sense of shared purpose, which enhances their feeling of belonging and makes them more likely to stay with your company for the longer term. 

We recently surveyed 800 full-time US workers to understand how important these workplace connections are to employee satisfaction, with the following results: 

  • 77.63% of employees consider workplace connection important or very important in achieving a great company culture.
  • 69.5% of employees would be happier if they had deeper connections with work colleagues.
  • 76.13% have at least one strong friendship in the workplace.


Improve Employee Health 

A surprising benefit of incorporating volunteer time into your company culture is that it can enhance your employee’s physical and mental health. Research reveals that adults who volunteer can benefit from:

  • Lower risk of mortality.
  • Higher rates of physical activity.
  • Improved sense of employee wellbeing.

Volunteering improves health and gives workers an improved sense of wellbeing, a worker doing yoga


5 Examples Of Companies With Employee Volunteer Programs 

Companies of all sizes, from large corporations to small businesses, can make a difference by setting up employee volunteering programs. Here's how five companies approach volunteering:

Matillion 

Data productivity company Matillion offers its employees five fully-paid days each year to volunteer. Its careers page states, "We are collaborative, passionate, honorable, and genuinely care about each other and the communities in which we work." Mel Mortin is a Talent Acquisition Specialist at Matillion, who explained how she spends her volunteer leave and why it means so much to work for a company that cares: 

“On Friday, I took a Volunteer Day to go litter picking in my local area. I love where I live, a stone's throw from the beach, and somewhere I walk several times a week at lunchtimes and weekends, so I was shocked at how much rubbish there was! It was very therapeutic to be out in nature, doing something good (although my arm and feet were killing me the next day!)
Fortunate to work for a company that offers five volunteer days a year on top of our generous annual leave allowance to allow us to give back to our communities."

Accenture 

Global technology company Accenture offers one to five volunteering days per year—a popular initiative with its employees. 100% of Accenture New Zealand's employees volunteer, with Business and Integration Architecture Manager Phil Davies setting up Kiwi Community Assistance to reduce inequality in the local area. 

Similarly, Accenture software engineer Paul McMurray used his technical skills in the UK to create Donation Genie. This software platform displays essential items local food banks require so donors know which groceries or toiletries are most in demand.

PPG 

PPG, an industrial paint and advanced coating provider, offers its Colorful Communities program. This year, Diane Kappas, Vice President of Global Sustainability, explains how PPG provides a highly practical way for employees to pick up their paint brushes and revamp 25+ schools worldwide. 

“As a special part of the Colorful Communities program, "New Paint for a New Start" aims to protect and beautify schools and local communities we call home. We've identified educational spaces around the world in need of a bright and beautiful refresh. Now it's time for PPG employees to pick up their paint brushes with colors specifically selected to enhance learning and create vibrant and engaging learning spaces, with a color palette inspired by the influences of nature to help foster creativity and increase positivity. I'm excited to join our volunteers this year as we complete projects in new markets, team up with our customer partners, and find ways to bring elements of sustainability into many projects.”

Salesforce

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is known for being an "activist CEO," taking a stance against homelessness in San Francisco by backing a large corporation tax and committing 1% of Salesforce's equity, products, and employee time for philanthropy.

So, it’s no surprise that Salesforce offers its employees a generous seven paid days of volunteer time off each year. Workers are encouraged to use this VTO in ways that are personal to them, which might include virtual volunteering like mentoring, giving time to a local school, or using their technical or professional skills to support organizations.

Patagonia 

Patagonia, an outdoor apparel company, has actively promoted environmental activism through its volunteer program for almost 30 years. With a strong commitment to saving the planet, Patagonia provides approximately 3,000 employees with the opportunity to volunteer by offering up to 18 hours of paid time off annually.

Patagonia also offers a paid, longer-term environmental internship program. Employees worldwide can step away from their regular jobs for up to two months and work as interns for environmental nonprofits of their choice. This program allows employees to actively contribute to environmental initiatives and gain valuable experience in the field.

Patagonia Action Works helps a variety of grassroots activists working to find solutions to the environmental crisis.

10 Best Practices For Your Corporate Volunteer Program

A successful corporate volunteer program should be rewarding and engaging, with clear objectives and measurable results. Here are ten best practices to get you started:

1. Create Goals For Your Volunteer Program 

Your volunteer program should be unique to your organization and your company values. In an HBR article on "Volunteer Programs Employees That Can Get Excited About," Jessica Rodell from the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business highlights the importance of not copying other companies' EVPs. She advises avoiding the trap of assuming another organization's volunteering strategy must be beneficial or effective.

Instead, customize a volunteer program based on SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Some examples include:

  • We want 75% of our employees to take time off to volunteer this year.
  • We want to complete 1,000 volunteer hours in the community this year.
  • We want to increase employee retention by X% by offering an engaging volunteer program.

2. Align Volunteering Activities With Your Company’s Mission

One way to create relevant goals for your volunteering initiative is to connect them to your company's purpose. We spoke to Michael Alexis, CEO of teambuilding.com, who recommends:   

“Make the activity meaningful and relevant to the company’s mission. For example, if a company manufactures medical implants, it could sponsor employees to volunteer with organizations that serve people with physical disabilities or facilitate medical research.”

3. Gain Buy-In From Company Leadership 

Normalize volunteering by involving people at the top and ensuring the habit trickles down throughout your organization. With executive buy-in, individual contributors feel permitted to plunge their time and skills into external charity work.

In his book, “Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine A Better Future for Everyone,” Satya Nadella explains why leaders must take the reins and give back to society for the greater good: 

"We business leaders need to take seriously our responsibilities as change leaders. I don't say this for purposes of so-called corporate social responsibility, which is important but can also serve as little more than good PR. I say it because a better world is better for business. It's important to be dedicated to creating great products, serving customers, and earning profits for our investors—but it's not sufficient. We also need to think about the impact of our actions on the world and its citizens long into the future."

4. Communicate Your Volunteer Plan 

Determine how to convey your corporate volunteering program to your employees and anticipate their questions. In your communication plan, cover the following:

  • Clarify what constitutes as volunteering: Highlight the type of activities you expect your employees to be involved in.
  • What employees will gain: Outline the skills they could build or connections they could make.
  • List the criteria for employee participation: Who can take part? How much time off do they need? Do they get paid?
  • Explain any incentives: You might set up a leadership board for volunteer hours completed or the number of funds raised, then reward the top employees.

Choose how to communicate your program details through newsletters, email campaigns, meetings, or social media platforms.

Communicate your volunteering program, an employee presenting while a colleague sits at a computer typing

5. Identify And Address Participation Issues 

Participation is a common problem with volunteering programs. Some employees may be eager to get involved, others more dubious about the benefits and time commitment.

Companies sometimes force participation with mandatory volunteering. But research by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan shows that when people are forced to do something, they lose their intrinsic motivation. This means that employees are likely to remain passive in their volunteer activities instead of being passionate about making a difference.

Instead of mandatory volunteering, allow employees to consider various volunteering options and anticipate any roadblocks they have about getting involved. We spoke to Jarir Mallah, Human Resources Manager at Ling App, who explained how he would approach a participation problem caused by someone not having their own vehicle or easy access to public transport. 

“Before encouraging employees to partake in any volunteer programs, it's best to conduct a survey to uncover any impediments. If a lack of transport is a deterrent to participation, the company should consider providing transport or offering to cover costs.”

6. Provide Volunteer Resources For Your Employees 

Employees may be keen to offer support but can't identify the best places to get involved. If they don't have a charity in mind, you could provide them with volunteering resources, such as lists of community partners, nonprofits, or charitable organizations who need assistance. Here are some lists to get you started:

Local Community Initiatives

Any community organizations offering:

  • Food pantries and soup kitchens
  • Homeless shelters
  • Animal shelters and rescue organizations
  • Community gardens or urban farming projects
  • Youth mentoring programs
  • Environmental clean-up initiatives
  • Local schools or educational institutions seeking volunteers
  • Elderly care centers or nursing homes

National Charities

Charities, nonprofits, and other national organizations focused on:

  • Cancer research, support, and awareness
  • Specific medical conditions, disabilities, or diseases
  • Mental health issues, addiction, or promoting wellbeing
  • Social justice, equality, and civil rights on a national scale

Global Organizations Tackling Social Issues

International humanitarian, conservation, or advocacy groups focused on:

  • Hunger relief and food security
  • Access to education and children's wellbeing globally
  • Disaster relief and emergency assistance
  • Building affordable homes 
  • Delivering healthcare in underserved areas or crisis zones
  • Human rights, social justice, and equality
  • Environmental protection and sustainability

Skill-Based Volunteering Opportunities

The types of skills or services your employees might offer:

  • Pro bono consulting or specialized technical or professional assistance for nonprofits
  • Mentoring or tutoring opportunities for students in need of educational support
  • Legal aid clinics or volunteering legal services to those who cannot afford representation

Volunteer Matching Platforms 

List volunteer resources such as:

  • Online platforms connecting volunteers with local community initiatives
  • Websites or portals that publish volunteer opportunities based on location and interests (For example, VolunteerMatch)
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) teams within the company 
  • Local community centers, libraries, or government agencies providing volunteer information

7. Respect Employee Preferences 

Successful volunteering is based on authenticity and shouldn't be a chore. Encourage your purpose-driven employees to choose a charity that aligns with their beliefs rather than pushing them to commit to something that doesn't resonate with them. Martin Potocki, CEO at Jobera, told us:

“When establishing an employee volunteer program, it's crucial to center employee choice. In our own company, we've had success by allowing team members to select which programs they want to engage in and determine their level of involvement. This respects their individual interests and circumstances, leading to a more authentic and well-received initiative.
Emphasize that participation is entirely voluntary to respect individual preferences and commitments. Ultimately, a successful volunteer program is not just about community engagement, but also about creating an environment where employees feel valued and empowered. This approach fosters a more inclusive and understanding workplace culture.”

Respect employee preferences for volunteering, a group of employees working on a project

8. Appoint Volunteer Internal Champions 

A dedicated team of internal volunteers is a valuable resource for your volunteer program. Consider asking your most passionate employees to serve as volunteer champions or ambassadors to:

  • Promote volunteer programs internally by sharing information and updates about initiatives.
  • Brainstorm new ideas to increase participation in the program.
  • Provide support for fellow employees to ensure their volunteer experiences are successful.
  • Connect with local charities to explore new volunteer opportunities.
  • Provide internal feedback and recommendations for improvement.

Volunteer champions play an important role in aligning your company's program with your employee's needs, interests, and preferences. Provide adequate training to ensure they're fully informed about your company's volunteer program and its objectives. You can further incentivize your champions by offering them additional PTO or giving them a bonus for their participation.

9. Spread Awareness Of Your Volunteer Program 

Providing your employees with regular communication about your volunteer program is vital because it:

  • Motivates peers to join in.
  • Recognizes and rewards current participants.
  • Sends a signal to potential candidates that you're a responsible company. 
  • Supports the charities you're working with by spreading the word about their initiatives.

There are numerous ways to raise awareness of your volunteer work, including:

  • Posting on social media encouraging others to join in.
  • Taking pictures of volunteers wearing branded company swag.
  • Publishing stories and updates about your program.
  • Blogging about any successes, struggles, or challenges you've encountered in the program host.
  • Sharing news in a mass email blast, newsletter, or internal wiki.

10. Challenge Employees To Participate In Volunteering 

While we don't advocate for mandatory volunteering, we support challenging employees to foster a culture of philanthropy through fun and engaging activities. 

Nectar’s Challenge feature enables companies to set up creative and practical ways for employees to give back to society. For example, you might challenge team members to:

  • Volunteer at their child's school.
  • Pick up litter in the local park.
  • Spend time working at a soup kitchen.
  • Visit residents of a care home.
  • Organize a virtual fundraiser for their local animal shelter.

You could also create a general volunteering challenge that employees could claim once they've completed a certain number of volunteer hours.

With Nectar, it's easy to adapt your team's challenges to suit your specific volunteer program and the initiatives available in your local community. Don't be afraid to explore different challenge ideas to see which ones attract your employees.

Create a culture people won't want to leave with Nectar

Celebrate Your Employee Volunteers With Nectar 

Your volunteer program is only as successful as the employees who give their time and expertise to get involved. Reward volunteer program participation by giving points to your committed employee volunteers. Next, integrate Nectar with Amazon's product catalog so people can redeem their points against an extensive list of rewards. Alternatively, they can opt for a gift card, company swag, or even custom-created prizes your company fulfills.

Are you ready to recognize your employees' volunteer efforts, show appreciation for their contributions, and inspire a culture of giving? Take Nectar for a spin by booking a free Nectar demo today.

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