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Five tips to creating a meaningful volunteer program

Corporate volunteer programs used to be considered too costly and time consuming for many businesses. Yet, they can be one of the strongest opportunities for attracting talent, building loyalty and encouraging employee engagement. Today’s workforce makes the case for corporate volunteerism even more powerful. Research shows that millennials will comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2030 and almost 70 percent of them say giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities. That makes creating a culture of volunteerism one of an organization’s strongest assets.

At Umpqua Bank, community engagement is the heart of our culture. Through our Connect Volunteer Network, associates receive 40 hours of paid time off to volunteer every year. The approach works — 67 percent of our associates volunteered in 2015, more than double the international average (30 percent) of corporate volunteer rates.

As we approach the end of April volunteer month, perhaps this is the perfect time to enhance an existing program and empower employees to help your community. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

▪  Crystalize your core values: Pride creates loyalty within an organization, and most of us want to work for a company that identifies with our values. A formalized volunteer program starts with identifying your organization’s core values. Think about how you can invite employees to identify their passions and interests by getting out and trying new things.

▪  Open the door to engagement: Volunteer programs create a more connected, engaged and fulfilled workforce. Especially during times of change, empowering associates to engage in their community is an important reminder of what matters outside your company and provides opportunities for growth.

▪  Create the right opportunities: Continuing education through volunteerism is an effective way to keep employees engaged. Volunteering can help improve overall job satisfaction by offering a platform to learn new skills and to deepen their expertise by applying existing skills (accounting, human resources) in new ways.

▪  Identify the right model (paid vs. unpaid): Because of the countless benefits employee volunteering brings to an organization, many companies offer paid volunteer programs to ensure employees can afford to participate. The actual costs of these kinds of programs can and should be minimal.

▪  Measurement — how will you measure success?: If, as many studies have shown, the bottom line isn’t the only sign of a thriving business… what is? Across industries, a company’s culture has been proven to be a leading indicator of a company’s health and ability to attract and retain top talent. Younger generations are putting a high premium on culture so it’s more important than ever to promote a volunteer program.

As business leaders, it’s our job to understand the impact volunteerism has on company culture, employee engagement and productivity. Our organizations have the power to help employees identify, explore and pursue their passions, and with a little work and executive buy-in, the possibilities are endless. By taking volunteer programs to the next level, we have an opportunity to invest in the future of our communities, our employees and our businesses.

Susan Raymond is Community Manager at Umpqua Bank in Boise.

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