It's A Given

Making It Happen

A successful employee volunteer program should reflect your company's culture and values. Think about where you want your community involvement to be in five years, how you can shape your image through volunteer work, and the role employees can play. Here are some tips for making it happen:

Find out what's going on. What projects are critical in your com-munity or state? Find out through your local chapter of United Way or your mayor's office, or through one of the 450 Points of Light CVC Vol-unteers Centers (800-VOLUNTEER) around the country. Knowing what issues are in your backyard could not only help you select projects and give your employees more reason to volunteer but will also put your company on the cutting edge of what's happening in your town. With luck and planning, you might even be able to align yourself with larger companies in your area that are doing similar projects, creating net-working opportunities and increased media attention.

Discuss it. Ask employees which volunteer projects they would participate in if they had the time. If you survey your employees and find that certain volunteer projects stand out-literacy or working with disadvantaged youth, for example-you can see if there's a fit between community needs and your employees' interests. Ellis suggests putting a whiteboard in the breakroom where employees can post community service projects they've heard about. Set some time aside to discuss the issue with them. Maybe someone on staff would like to act as a volunteer coordinator or as a liaison with community organizations.

Create a mix of individual and group projects. You can't get the benefits of team building from individual projects. Adding in a staffwide community project now and then can get everyone working together. Give the whole group a larger perspective about what their participation means for the company and the community. Recognize your employees who volunteer; get clued into what they're doing and what they're learning.

In the end, promoting volunteerism in your company is simply a matter of making it a priority, the earlier the better. As your company expands, you can consider dollar-matching options for employee volunteer work. But for now, incorporate volunteerism into your company's mission statement and formal business plan. "If you build it in early," says Hough, "it becomes the foundation on which the company grows."

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog,

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This article was originally published in the September 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: It's A Given.

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