Is Volunteering Good for Business?

Contributing to worthwhile causes goes hand in hand with running a genuinely good business, meaning one that actively benefits the local and global community and every person involved in their organization, client and employee alike. Every company, big and small, can benefit from encouraging their staff to give their time and energy to nonprofits and donate to charities themselves.

For any small business looking to establish volunteer opportunities for workers, first, remember that there are ethical practices to keep in mind. Know that requiring an employee to volunteer, whether during their work hours or at company-sponsored events or even in what would be their free time, means that you have to compensate them for their time and work. Employees dedicating themselves to your directives deserve compensation—and are owed it by law under the U.S. Department of Labor.

With legality out of the way, we can more closely examine whether or not it’s beneficial to incentivize employees to spend time volunteering. For clarity’s sake, this article refers to ‘volunteering’ exclusively related to the public good or charitable, nonprofit causes.

Why should you encourage volunteering?

Volunteering has three main, concrete benefits which positively affect your employees but also lead to great benefits for your company.

  • 1. Foster a better team dynamic.

Employees might spend every day together and regularly collaborate on work projects, but that doesn’t mean they’re truly getting to know one another. People can work together for years and still have an extremely superficial relationship when it comes to relating personally. By getting together outside of work, they can find common ground to connect on a deeper level; employees then bring this energy back into the workplace, creating a more positive company culture on the clock.

Volunteering, even isolated from other staff members, also connects employees to their broader community which tends to foster a desire to improve it. They’re also more likely to care about their employers as an extension of that impulse, because the good work the company encourages in its community reflects their internal values. This is especially true within companies that donate or host events for charitable causes because employees want to contribute; they’re proud to be part of the group and help make the business successful by increasing productivity and quality. A strong team is a successful team.

  • 2. Improve company morale.

Getting to know your coworkers makes work a better place to be, because you have friends there. Understanding, compassion and friendship for each other improves the workplace atmosphere, leading to better company culture, goodwill and contentment that feeds off itself.

Additionally, routines benefit from variety; people thrive with stimulation and new environments or tasks. Adding variance to what might be an otherwise monotonous position improves employees’ engagement when they’re back on the job because they can come back with a refreshed perspective. When people like their job and take pride in the company, they work harder. Happy employees breed happier employers.

  • 3. Worthwhile marketing.

We’re naturally socially conscious creatures. People, particularly customers, like to patronize brands that support similar causes to the ones that matter to them. Consumers find companies more relatable when they demonstrate care for the same social, environmental or political goal; and trying not to take sides can have the opposite effect than what’s intended. Consider, for example, the recent boycott against Starbucks after they told their employees that they couldn’t don clothing supporting Black Lives Matter in the store.

Employees value social responsibility just as much if not more than the average consumer, especially younger staff members. If they notice that your priorities and values align with theirs, they’re more likely to orient themselves with your business goals and work harder to help you reach them. Employees that believe in your moral compass and philanthropy will also believe in your vision.

How can you motivate employees?

Unfortunately, even when employees are driven to volunteer they rarely have the time or external motivation to do so. Your employees have a full time job, at least, or even multiple part-time jobs which doesn’t leave much time for extracurriculars outside work hours, even when they wish they could devote energy to a cause. Paying them more and working them less is one option.

Another is to provide adequate incentive for them to spend their precious free time working for no pay—and be sure to set systems in place to encourage and compensate that behavior. There are five tenets to remember when seeking to motivate employees to volunteer.

  • 1. Respect and communication.

First and foremost, employees need to be treated well. If they don’t feel respected on an individual level then they won’t feel inclined to let companies dictate how they spend their off-hours. Honesty, transparency and above all respect are the best ways to make them feel heard, understood and thus compelled to dedicate their time to worthwhile causes when their employer asks.

Communicate exactly why you want them to volunteer, and how it will benefit the business, their neighbors, and themselves. Accommodate their needs, which are just as important as what you want them to dedicate focus to. A little respect goes a long way.

  • 2. Encouragement.

Nobody does well without a reminder that what they’re doing is valued. It’s important to build employees’ spirits and continue letting them know that you see and appreciate what they’re doing. Incentives, which we’ll examine in more detail momentarily, are one great way to ensure they continue on this path.

One way to help employees work in sync is to encourage them to relax and work together through team building exercises. Icebreakers and group activities help build up morale which encourages them to connect and create a better workplace environment.

  • 3. Aligning them with the business’s goals.

Because of people’s propensity toward human connection and social consciousness, common ground motivates employees to work toward your volunteer goals. One approach is to find out what motivated them to come work for you in the first place and distill that core element into volunteer opportunities or organizations with similar needs or values.

Assess your company’s needs and those of the community to determine where employees are most needed and set them in that direction. You can even ask your employees what they think matters most right now, to gather more insight for a second opinion or even build opportunities that cater to their passions. By aligning the community’s needs, employees’ priorities and your own business objectives, you can then partner with local organizations who fit that niche and both benefit from each other’s hard work.

  • 4. Develop skills.

Who doesn’t want to become a better person? By encouraging employees to develop specific skills, they can get excited about building their character; volunteering provides a perfect opportunity to gain and improve skills like communication, critical thinking, problem solving and more which are incredibly valuable in most careers.

The ideal volunteer position will foster these skills as well as the desire to self-improve. Volunteer organizations, and even your own company, should act as mentors who actively encourage gaining valuable skills; employees will recognize and respect this, and want to do better at their job and in life as a result. Caring begets caring.

  • 5. Reward good behavior.

Encouragement has more power than people realize. It can come in all manner of ways: From money to prizes to some other sort of perk, people respond well to incentives. Since you can’t require volunteering, you should find ways to encourage it. These will look different for every business, because individuals’ needs and wants all vary.

Enforce behavior you want to see repeated. For some companies, this might look like a bonus for whoever has the most positive impact in the community; others might want to recognize staff achievements with group rewards like coupons or gift cards. Sometimes recognition is all that’s needed, commendation for hard work or something more physical like the employee of the month title. Whatever works to catalyze volunteer efforts in the community, find it and use it.

Every business can benefit from having employees who care about and give back to the communities where they live, play and work. From building a better team to curating a philanthropic reputation, encouraging your employees to volunteer will beget a happier and more productive workplace.

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