Getting Employees to Volunteer and Give

Cultivating employee philanthropy can be good for your business. Here's how to make giving back a part of your culture.

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By Gwen Moran

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Volunteerism may be good for your employees and your business. A 2013 survey by UnitedHealth Group found that people who volunteer feel healthier (76 percent) and experience better moods (94 percent). Eighty-one percent of employed volunteers who volunteered through their workplace found that it strengthened their relationships with colleagues.

With this host of benefits, in addition to the goodwill employee volunteerism creates in the community and among customers, it may be time to start an employee-volunteer program in your organization, says Susan Stoga, founder of Schaumberg, Ill.-based Carson Stoga Communications, which creates cause-related marketing programs. Stoga also ran Hyatt Hotels' employee volunteer program. Here are her tips to making employee volunteerism part of your company's culture.

Focus on participation. Employees get the benefits of volunteering when they're doing something more so than when they just give money, Stoga says. Create opportunities for your team members to participate or take action in some way. That also takes the pressure off of them to give when money might be tight or when they prefer to support their own causes with their financial contributions.

"Make it about walking in a walk-a-thon together and seeing who can get the most sponsors or collecting food for a food bank. That sort of hands-on event where employees do something together toward a common goal is going to help them connect," she says.

Related: Richard Branson on the Value of Volunteering

Get input. Before you launch your company-sponsored project, get feedback from your employees, she says. You'll have greater success if your team is enthusiastic about the effort rather than if they feel like they have to support the boss' pet project. You'll likely get more creative ideas to help make your effort successful if employees have a chance to share their input from the beginning, she says.

Mix it up. It can be tough for people from all levels of your company to take time to volunteer together, but Stoga says people get more excited when senior managers and company owners are participating side-by-side with everyone else. If you're not participating, employees might feel like you've recruited them to support your cause, and the bonding benefit may evaporate.

"A culture of volunteerism starts at the top. The owners and managers have to be out there participating," she says.

Communicate. Stoga says that creating awareness and enthusiasm about volunteerism takes regular communication. Let people know months in advance if an event is coming up and repeat the communication regularly through employee newsletters, email messages, and flyers in the office. Highlight employee volunteer efforts so team members are recognized for their philanthropy. Create ways for employees to give you feedback and ideas about new projects. You might even consider creating an employee volunteerism panel that includes a cross-section of employees from different areas of the company who meet regularly to discuss potential volunteer efforts, she says.

Related: Making Gratitude Part of Your Company Culture

Gwen Moran

Writer and Author, Specializing in Business and Finance

GWEN MORAN is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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