This post was featured in Forbes.com.
We all know that doing good is good for business. That’s why many companies that practice corporate social responsibility have established corporate volunteer programs; it allows them to leverage their human capital, their best “goods” of all. Best of all, these programs can produce amazing real-life stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to impact their communities.
If you need a primer on how to engage employees, employee volunteer programs give employees an opportunity to step outside of their nine-to-five boxes and, in the process, become more engaged with their jobs. When workers feel challenged to use different skills and develop new competencies, they feel more satisfied and productive and are more likely to stay. This could explain why, according to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, 89% of leading companies offer a corporate volunteer program.
So if you're lookig for employee engagement ideas, we know these programs are a great solution. But what do they look like in practice? I took a peek at several “reality shows” - great individual stories from companies that pride themselves on their volunteer programs. I thought I’d share what I found:
For her first time out of the U.S., 22-year-old Dow employee Ashley Crandall flew to Bangalore, India to participate in Citizen Service Corps, Dow’s international corporate volunteer program. This skills-based volunteer program sends Dow employees to do pro bono work with NGOs and social entrepreneurs in emerging countries. Ashley, an electrical apprentice, worked for four weeks with the local community and a team of fellow Dow employee volunteers on improving the manufacturing process of Sustaintech, a local clean cookstove producer. Despite the cultural shock and language barriers, this project taught Ashley and her co-workers important skills that sometimes takes years to develop, including leadership, problem solving and out-of-the-box thinking. Ashley returned home to East Michigan energized about her future with Dow, hoping to one day become a senior manager with the company.
An avid fisherman, Patagonia employee Ari Zolonz jumped at the chance to volunteer with the Native Fish Society through Patagonia’s environmental internship program. In this program, employee salaries and benefits are paid for one month while 20 employees are sent into the field to volunteer with nonprofit environmental groups around the world. The Native Fish Society is devoted to the conservation of wild native fish in the Pacific Northwest, so Ari’s work ranged from helping scientists with a study on the Molalla River, to chucking hundreds of salmon carcasses in order to feed the ecosystem, to speaking to visiting groups about river entomology and the lifecycles of salmon and steelhead. Proud of working for a business that supports environmentalism, Ari acted as a company spokesperson and talked about Patagonia’s environmental work and how it aligns with the company’s values, ultimately helping to promote its brand.
When a non-profit staff is small, it helps to have volunteers whose hearts are big. Employee volunteers from the Atlanta office of ad agency Team One take over for the staff of the Atlanta Children's Shelter one day each month and look after the shelter's resident children so the staff can hold its monthly meetings. The Atlanta office’s dedication to the Children's Center extends beyond these monthly babysitting days to include other projects like decorating classrooms and providing creative projects for the children. Account Coordinator Amanda Page feels that through this volunteer experience, she now has a deeper understanding of the advertising industry and the role of corporate philanthropy. Amanda attributes her professional development to Team One’s employee volunteer program; through working with the community, Amanda has gained valuable skills in working with her colleagues and the company’s clients.
In each of these stories, workers were enriched personally and professionally by volunteer experiences which served in essence as employee engagement programs. The employee volunteers returned to their jobs happier, more knowledgeable and bursting with pride about their companies. Just a few examples of what happens when businesses invest in their people as well as their products; they get to facilitate the best kind of reality show.