74This post was featured in Forbes.com.

No matter how much a company praises the corporate volunteering efforts of its employees, it can seem like so much hot air without making a commitment of its own. A photo-op or feature in a company newsletter is one thing, but with the growing importance and visibility of corporate social responsibility efforts globally, smart companies are doing more than just patting employees on the back for their charitable efforts.

Enter Volunteer Grants (Dollars for Doers) programs, which match employee volunteerism with corporate donations. Unlike amatching gifts program, which matches an employee’s donations with corporate dollars, these programs match employee volunteer efforts with company dollars.  If you’re looking for ways to promote employee volunteer work, better integrate your company into the community, and help attract and retain socially-minded professionals, it might be time to create or expand such a program of your own.

Here’s a look at three companies that have embraced Dollars for Doers and are doing it well:

Campbell’s Soup Company

A surprise for this list? Maybe. Though not always mentioned in the same breath as some of the majorcorporate philanthropy heavyweights, Campbell’s Soup Company has developed an effective and still-growing Dollars for Doers program worthy of attention.

Campbell’s donates $500 to community nonprofits for every 25 hours of an employee’s volunteer time, coming out to $20 for each hour of service. And the company offers its matching gifts to time spent volunteering during the actual workday in addition to off-hours, so employees aren’t forced to choose between time spent with families and time spent serving their favorite charity.

All this combined to generate more than 23,000 hours of service from Campbell’s employees throughout the U.S. and Canada in 2011, a 25% increase over its 2010 mark. The company’s Dollars for Doers program hit a new record of $233,500 in volunteer grants (up over 50% from its 2010 levels), supporting the work of over 2,000 service-minded employees.

IBM

IBM has created a volunteer grant program that not only rewards its employees for serving, but offers an extra incentive when employees do so together.

Through its IBM Services Grants program, the company gives volunteer teams the chance to request up to $7,500 in donated equipment and services to build the capacity and IT infrastructure of their chosen organizations. This team volunteer grant can have a great impact for eligible schools and nonprofits and it motivates IBMs employees to join together in service to their communities.

The company also offers individual volunteer grants, with an emphasis on sustained service commitments. Employees who volunteer a minimum of eight hours a month for five months out of each year can earn $3,500 in equipment and services or $1,000 in cash for their non-profits.

As an added benefit, IBM retirees remain eligible for the company’s volunteer grant programs, which reached a value of $10 million in 2011.

Exxon Mobil

Granted, corporate giving isn’t overly burdensome when you hold the number one ranking on the Fortune 500 list and generate annual revenue to the tune of some $486 billion, but credit should still be given where credit is due. Exxon Mobil has put together a well-structured, well-run Dollars for Doers initiative through its Volunteer Involvement Program.

For starters, they keep their program pretty open to those with a calling to volunteer. Not only can active Exxon Mobil employees take part, but company retirees, spouses, dependent children, and even surviving spouses of deceased employees and retirees are all eligible. In short, the company’s Volunteer Involvement Program fosters a sense of family through its service efforts – a great way to promote employee engagement.

The program awards a $500 grant for every 20 hours served, offering a leading rate of $25 per volunteer hour, and individuals can apply for volunteer grants up to four times each year. In 2010, the company contributed more than $8.5 million to over 4,300 nonprofits in support of its employee volunteer efforts.

As these companies can attest, a Dollars for Doers program encourages your employees to increase their community impact and is a smart move to strengthen your CSR standing. But the benefit doesn’t stop there.  These programs also foster a sense of engagement and connection among employees that can factor directly into personnel recruitment and employee retention success, not to mention on-the-job performance. By encouraging your employees to get out and volunteer – particularly if you urge them to get out and volunteer as teams — and letting them know you’re right behind them with corporate giving, you’re taking a strong step towards building a more engaged and emotionally invested staff.  It shows you care about what they care about, and gives employees an empowering ability to help shape where and how a company shares its wealth.

Related articles:

What is Dollars for Doers (aka Volunteer Grants)?

Matching Gift Program Definition (Matching Grant)

Matching Gift Program: A Compensation Benefit That Improves Retention?