13 Ideas for Driving Employee Volunteerism
By: Erica Woods | Updated: 2021-11-25 | Comments | Related: More > Professional Development Career
Giving back is in style, and rightfully so! Employees want to work for companies who care. Employees want to make meaningful contributions that are professionally and personally fulfilling. They want to work for people, and with people, who have shared interests, and one of the interests trending in popularity is employee volunteerism and giving.
This should be exciting for companies and managers; you get to do more good for your community, make a stronger impact on the world / your little slice of it!
We've found that many managers, individual contributors, and organizations want to do more, but struggle with identifying ways to help their employees give back in an efficient, effective and meaningful way, while still preserving one of their most important resources - time.
Endless opportunities. That's how you should view the idea of employee volunteerism, philanthropy and corporate social responsibility for your team. There are many ways to give back, many organizations to support, and many different formats this can look like, along with a variety of tools and programs to utilize!
As an individual contributor or a manager, what can you do to promote a culture of giving back and provide opportunities for your employees/peers to do something meaningful? Here are some of our favorite suggestions:
1 - Encourage team to share knowledge
Have you, or has anyone on your team, presented at a local user group or Meetup? Contributed to a podcast? Been a guest speaker at a local STEM nonprofit such as 'Girls Who Code' or their children's school? Have you ever inquired in a team meeting "who has shared knowledge in the last year outside our organization?" Encouraging your teams to simply find a channel/program to share knowledge and tips for career success is one of the easiest things you can do! Amplify the team building impact by encouraging groups of 2-3 individuals to work together to put together a presentation, or offer to be a panel, for a local group/association/STEM nonprofit! I recently participated on a panel for a Friday one-hour guest speaking engagement with a fellow Apex-er and one of our Technology Directors, and a month later they're still talking about how meaningful it was for them.
2 - Host relevant events/Meetups
Odds are that there is a local technology group in need of a venue to periodically host their events. This is a triple win, as you're doing a deed that's very helpful to the Organizers and all the members of that group, it gives your current employees who are interested in more technology knowledge and/or a community an easy opportunity to attend, AND it gives you access to a potential pool of recruits! As an Organizer for two Tech4Good Meetups, and a member of 15+ other technology groups during my time in Baltimore and now in Tampa, I can tell you that venue hosts is typically in the top 3 needs of tech groups, along with speakers and sponsors.
3 - Advertise local groups, events, and volunteer opportunities
Do you have periodic team meetings? Is there time to add a 5 minute segment around 'Causes We Care About' or 'Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities,' where employees can share the details of any organizations they are involved in, and any volunteer needs or upcoming events they would like to share with the team? I love all the companies who have virtual 'Volunteer Boards' and/or segments in their company/team newsletters advertising volunteer opportunities or great nonprofits to support. You can also do an 'Employee Spotlight' that highlights an employee who is doing great things for the community, which recognizes them and also provides example ways other interested team members could give back.
4 - Philanthropy steering committee
When you have something formal like a committee, with dedicated people taking accountability and ownership of a specific area, an idea or goal is more likely to get traction. The majority of our teams have specific committees, including culture and philanthropy committees (for many teams, they have one committee for both areas). We have two goals for our philanthropy committees: share/evangelize our corporate philanthropy events/campaigns and plan at least two "give back" opportunities throughout the year that are optional for your teams to participate in! At a national level, we host two philanthropy calls a year, in February and September, to highlight what teams are doing and sharing ideas.
5 - PTO for volunteering
I love companies who offer time off for volunteering! While our company offers 1 day of PTO a year for philanthropy/volunteering, there are a lot of companies that offer a week. It's a smart move for companies, since CSR and philanthropy can be a tool to both attract and retain top talent!
6 - Periodic volunteer team buildings
One of my favorite "philanthropy moves" we made as a company was around our philanthropic team building addition. Our teams do a quarterly team building. While many teams did something philanthropic, like spend a day at a Habitat for Humanity site or spend 3-4 hours helping at a local Ronald McDonald House or Hope Lodge, not all teams had a set plan to dedicate a team building towards giving back. Now, all of our teams are expected to spend one of their four team buildings throughout the year volunteering! Whether it's doing a beach/park/road clean-up, organizing food at a food pantry, or helping at a shelter, our teams have said their favorite team buildings are often the ones where they're doing something good for others.
7 - Plan a corporate or team campaign/annual event
Over the last year, I've helped organize a number of company philanthropic events/campaigns, including: 6 Gamers vs. Cancer charity video game tournaments, an Earth Day clean-up, Charity Improv Night, Denim Days campaign to support breast cancer, and Story Time. We also just launched our 8th 'Quarter of Caring' campaign, where the goal is for each of our teams to do one philanthropic event throughout Q4!
My personal favorite campaign, which probably only took 2-3 hours of time, was our virtual Earth Day campaign. We set up registration via Event Brite, where we captured a few key pieces of information, including the # of participants and # of bags of trash picked up. We then made a corporate donation, with $5 donated per bag of trash, split amongst two environmental organizations. It was so easy to set up, easy for employees to participate in, and something everyone could do individually or with a neighbor, friend or loved one! The pictures of our employees picking up trash in their neighborhood or at their local lake with their kids were especially touching.
8 - Internal or community hackathon
Since 2012, I've had the opportunity to plan and/or participate in charity or civic hackathons that created solutions for nonprofits or helped nonprofits with website improvements, setting up a CRM/database, and other technical solutions. Many cities host their own civic/social good/charity hackathons that you can encourage participation. There are also dedicated groups like local 'Code for America' chapters/Meetup groups or TechSoup TechConnect/Tech4Good groups. I've been a Co-Organizer for the Baltimore 'Techies for Good' Meetup and the Tampa 'Tech4Good' Meetup for years, and we try to host one charity hackathon each year to help nonprofits.
If nothing already exists in your community, and you have interest from enough technical folks at your organization, you could consider planning your own company hackathon! I know some companies who have partnered with Computer Science programs at a local college or with a local coding school, and used as a hybrid philanthropic and recruiting event. As someone who has helped plan at least 10 charity hackathons, I'd suggest having at least four people who'd help own the planning and be committed to it, as it is a bit of work, but incredibly rewarding!
9 - Employer matching/contributions
Which organizations does your employer contribute to? Do they have any programs where you can nominate a nonprofit for consideration for corporate sponsorship? Do they offer any matching to causes/nonprofits you're donating to? If they don't, consider suggesting this to the individuals in the organization who could help make it happen, such as Human Resources, Philanthropy or Corporate Social Responsibility team, etc. You could also share the idea via an annual survey, digital suggestion box, employee hotline, etc.).
10 - Partner with organizations
Over my 16+ years in technology, I've partnered with over 15 organizations on technical charity events and/or mentorship or guest speaking opportunities. In the past few months, I've been a panelist or presenter for Year Up, Wounded Warrior Project, Women Who Code Tampa, Tech Career Advice Meetup, and a few coding schools. There is such an abundance of STEM programs/nonprofits and Meetup groups where you can contribute. Many of our largest technology associations have built out philanthropic educational arms to upskill individuals and help them launch technology careers. CompTIA alone has 4+ programs now as part of their 'Creating IT Futures' arm, including their Tech Academy. Whether it is being a guest speaker once a year, or offering to volunteer to help with events like mock interviews or resume reviews, there are a variety of easy ways to give back that don't consume a large portion of time!
11 - Plan a Tech Volunteer Fair
One of my favorite technical community events I remember attending, put on by a Tech Meetup in partnership with a Nonprofit Association, was a 'Tech Volunteer Fair' where 20+ nonprofits had a table and technology professionals interested in volunteering could walk around at their leisure. Visiting each table, individuals learned about the nonprofit, the good work they do, and what their current technology needs were. Our company once held a Volunteer Fair that invited employees to learn about several different causes. This concept could also be done virtually, hosting over a platform like Remo or Zoom breakout rooms.
As part of this event, you can also invite a nonprofit association, such as Central Way, to give employees visibility of local nonprofits who are looking for individuals to join their board.
12 - Set up an employee giving campaign or tool
As our philanthropy leader, I've had a chance to demo some really wonderful giving platforms like Millie and Daymaker. I recently evaluated the Microsoft Smash.gg platform for our 'Gamers vs. Cancer' tournaments too. Does your company have a giving tool/platform already established and in use? If not, could you make this suggestion to your team? For a few thousand dollars, you can set up a virtual giving tool that allows your employees to participate in seasonal giving campaigns like 'Sponsor a Kid for the Holidays' or 'Back to School Supplies,' where they can sponsor the same under-privileged kid for 3+ years.
13 - Employer organized mission trips
One of my most memorable life experiences was a 6-week volunteer trip I took to Costa Rica, where I volunteered about 22 hours a week, and the rest was self-guided travel and an immersive cultural experience that the organization, Cross-Cultural Solutions, put on. I was delighted to see families and employees from certain organizations volunteering. I will always be grateful for my company, Apex Systems, for giving me that time off work to do something so rewarding (I used two weeks of PTO and four weeks unpaid leave). Some organizations give employees time off work and suggest mission trips and provide recommendations on potential organizations that offer 1-2+ week trips. Other organizations might plan an annual mission trip that is a week in length and provide slots for a certain number of employees. This is also something you could put in place for tenured employees once they hit a specific employment milestone!
There are so many ways to give back, and opportunities we can create for our peers/teams/companies to give back to our communities! We'd encourage you to:
- Do an audit of what your company/team is doing now. Have you searched for a philanthropy/volunteerism page on your intranet? Re-visited any paperwork from when you started around this topic? Sought out to see if there's someone dedicated to Philanthropy and/or Corporate Social Responsibility? Do some discovery to understand all the current offerings/programs/resources.
- Identify your favorite 2-3 ideas from the above, from additional research on this topic, and/or from starting a dialogue with a peer who might be interested in giving back more. Outline your ideas for your team/group/company into a mini 'Philanthropy Proposal.'
- Pitch your ideas to your boss, and determine what you can do.
- Put your plan in motion, track progress/results, and report back to your team on the impact you're collectively making!
- Per the last suggestion in #9 above, consider making suggestions via your company's survey, directly to anyone who might own this function for your team/group/company, or share with your boss and ask them to funnel up.
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Article Last Updated: 2021-11-25