Volunteering as a Benefit Learn how some companies are offering employee volunteer programs that are motivating and retaining current employees, and attracting new ones.

Today's job seekers are looking for more than stock options and 401(k) plans. If recruiting and retaining employees is on your priority list in 2008, you may want to consider expanding your company's benefits to include employee volunteer programs.

"Companies both large and small are interested in being good corporate citizens," says Corinn Price, manager of community involvement at Administaff, a professional employer organization. "Not only does the company benefit, so does the employee and the community." Price says the benefits of company volunteer programs include improved relations with the surrounding community, an enhanced public image and a cohesive, motivated workforce. The programs also help employees strengthen their leadership and interpersonal skills and increase interaction between different departments.

Volunteering continues to grow in popularity, recently reaching a 30-year high, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates more than 60 million Americans volunteer each year.

In addition, research by Deloitte & Touche USA suggests that companies offering volunteer opportunities to employees could have an advantage in recruiting Generation Y talent. In the firm's 2007 Volunteer IMPACT survey, 62 percent of Gen Y respondents said they would prefer to work for companies that give them opportunities to contribute their talents to nonprofit organizations.

Customer information management company Acxiom understands the potential of a strong employee volunteer program. The Little Rock, Arkansas-based company allows employees to contribute their time and money through the Acxiom Cares program. After seven years of operation, the program is working, says Kelley Bass, Acxiom's corporate publicist and leader of the community outreach program.

The company's largest location in Conway, Arkansas, has about 2,000 employees and is the largest contributor to United Way in Faulkner County. Office volunteers also participate in Toad Suck Daze, an annual event that raises money for higher education in the county. In Little Rock, more than 275 employees have volunteered for Riverfest, a popular community event. The company, which likes to match physical volunteer assistance with corporate contributions, is a sponsor of both events.

The Acxiom Cares program is implemented in each of Acxiom's 15 U.S. offices and four U.K. offices. Each chapter initiates campaigns, often quarterly, that engage employees in a variety of fundraising and community outreach efforts. Bass says employees have told him how rewarding their Acxiom experience has been since they've become more engaged in their community.

Employee volunteer programs don't have to be as large as Acxiom's to make a difference. Osprey Packs, an outdoor company specializing in technical packs and travel gear, has 33 team members. Its Volunteer Incentive Program has become an important part of Osprey's benefits package. In 2007, each employee was given one day to spend volunteering with a charity of their choice. The program, managed by the HR team, also offers organized volunteer opportunities, ranging from trail restorations to river clean-ups.

In 2007, the program had 100 percent participation, totaling 160 community service hours, says Tom Barney, CEO of the Cortez, Colorado-based company. Barney and his team are currently reviewing the program to consider improvements, like adding additional service hours.

A Tustin, California PR firm, WunderMarx, also proves how simple--yet effective--an employee volunteer program can be. When Cara Good and her husband, Jonathan, founded WunderMarx in 2002, they wanted to integrate social entrepreneurship into their company. The result is their internal mantra, "Be Wunderful." The firm donates professional services to nonprofit organizations and social causes. At least 10 percent of the staff's professional time goes to charities that need PR, special events, web and marketing assistance.

Because the office is small, Good says employees must first make sure their service time doesn't interfere with any deadlines. Otherwise, they have free reign in deciding how to spend their volunteer hours. Good says one of her employees uses his time to participate in political activities. Another lends her artistic abilities to the Sumba Foundation, which supports the Indonesian island's inhabitants.

Like Acxiom, WunderMarx is also discovering how important their volunteer program is to the younger workforce. One employee, who came to WunderMarx straight from college at the age of 23, said she picked the agency because she was looking for something bigger than the position itself. "She chose us because she thought she could mix her own values into the work she does here," Good says. "She wanted an employer who put their money where their mouth is."

Managing volunteer programs requires a commitment from the employer and involves tracking volunteer hours and promoting volunteer events, in addition to setting guidelines for employees to follow. If you need help developing your own program, you can consult Boston College's Carroll School of Management's Center for Corporate Citizenship. Another valuable resource is VolunteerMatch, an online community that helps employees find places to volunteer. The site's web-based tools can help you manage employee volunteer hours and measure the impact of your programs in the community.

Bass says volunteer programs are worth the effort because they show employees and the community what the company is all about. "[These programs] offer proof to our employees that our company cares about more than making a profit," he says. "They give our employees outlets to make a difference and to gain satisfaction outside the work they do on our clients' behalf."

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