The Problems With Corporate Volunteer Programs and How To Avoid Them
Why Corporate Volunteering Programs Are Often Ineffective
The concept of corporate volunteering is one of the fair-haired darlings of the corporate social responsibility conversation. Corporations who are looking to give back to the community in a meaningful way often turn to corporate volunteer programs as an easy win-win that provides benefits for everyone involved.
The proponents of corporate volunteerism tout it as an effective way to communicate company values, cement teams and boost employee engagement and loyalty, while improving relations with local organizations and community, all wrapped up in a neat “socially responsible” bow. While those benefits are real, companies that set out to build corporate volunteer programs often overlook the other side of these widely used programs.
If you’re seriously considering a volunteer program for your business, it’s important to weigh the benefits against the work you need to do to create and manage an effective, engaging program that works for your company, your employees and the causes you support.
What Goes Into a Successful Corporate Volunteer Program?
Running a successful, effective volunteer program within your company is a lot of work, and the work starts well in advance of the launch.
Volunteer Hub, which provides software for managing an employee volunteer program (EVP), lists eight steps to launching a successful EVP, each of them time consuming but essential to success.
A couple of key steps highlight some of the most common pitfalls these companies encounter.
Assess Community Needs and Employee Interest
Far too often, companies start an EVP because someone in the company leadership saw a cool idea and thought it would be a good fit for their company. They launch into it without taking the time to research the community needs or consulting employees for ideas and interest. The end result can be a program with low employee engagement that is a headache for the causes they hope to promote and support.
Partner with the Right Organizations
If part of your incentive in creating an EVP is to raise your profile in the community, it’s important to choose organizations that align with your business’s objectives and values. Ideally, those will be causes or charities that resonate with your employees, but that might not be the case for all of them. Programs that focus narrowly on one or two organizations risk shutting out some employees who may have other priorities for their volunteer time.
Assess and Quantify Impact
Record-keeping and assessment are an essential part of managing a successful, ongoing EVP. Collecting and managing the info — especially if your EVP includes paid time off or volunteer stipends — is an additional, time-consuming burden on your HR department.
Publicize Your Program
Marketing your EVP has two main targets: your employees and the community. In both cases, it requires time, effort and expense on the part of your company and those who are managing it.
The Pitfalls of Corporate Volunteer Programs
While the benefits of employee volunteer programs are widely known, there’s not as much conversation about the problems that often arise in running and managing them. Beyond the time and expense involved in managing an EVP, companies may run into one or more of these issues that diminish the impact it might have.
What Employees Say
Recent research into employee motivations and lived experience of employee volunteer programs highlighted some of the challenges and negative outcomes they experienced. Some of the issues included:
- The pressure to volunteer makes some employees feel that they are being judged or evaluated for their commitment to the company, especially if they aren’t connected to the volunteer work.
- Many employees felt that they didn’t have enough time to do volunteer work and still keep up with the demands of their job.
- Volunteer programs may inadvertently shut some employees out of participation. For example, volunteer activities that involve physical activity, such as building houses or fundraising walks, may be difficult for employees with mobility problems. A single parent may find it difficult to participate in activities that happen outside working hours because they don’t have child care.
- When volunteer programs limit opportunities to one or two events, some employees may find nothing that interests them.
- Many employees want more control over their volunteer opportunities, from choosing causes to support to planning activities for the team.
What Nonprofits Say
Volunteer management is a specialized skill in the nonprofit world, and many larger organizations that depend on volunteers for their operations have staff dedicated specifically to that task. That’s not always the case.
In fact, some corporate volunteer programs can make extra work for a nonprofit without a tangible gain. These are some of the issues highlighted by nonprofits who accept corporate volunteers.
- A mismatch between employee skills and nonprofit needs.
- Employee volunteers who don’t understand the aims and philosophy of the nonprofit and/or its clients.
- The need to train and supervise volunteers.
- A lopsided power dynamic between the company and the nonprofit, especially if volunteerism is connected to a monetary donation.
In short, an EVP that isn’t planned and coordinated with a nonprofit partner, and focused on filling their needs rather than those of the corporation, can be a drain on the nonprofit’s resources.
Practical Alternatives to Corporate Volunteer Programs
The challenges described in the previous section often result when programs are conceived, planned and executed from the top down, without considering the other stakeholders — the employees and the nonprofits — they’re intended to benefit. Many of these can be alleviated by following specific best practices, including:
- Involve employees in the planning from the start.
- Engage in meaningful assessment with potential nonprofit partners to assess their needs and capacity.
- Tailor volunteer activities to the needs of the nonprofit and your employees.
- Provide wider choices in corporate volunteer program activities.
- Measure the impact of your program periodically and make adjustments where needed.
What if, after doing the research and evaluating your capacity, you realize that typical corporate volunteer programs aren’t the best fit for your company and your employees? There are some practical alternatives to consider, alternatives that give your employees more choice and autonomy while still allowing your company to support them and the causes most important to them.
Give Them More Money To Donate
The one thing that every nonprofit always needs is more money. While volunteering feels good, nonprofits can often make better use of cash donations that they can apply to their own needs.
Expand Your Definition of Volunteering
If you offer paid time off for volunteering, expand your definition to include the informal volunteering that many people do as a matter of course. Paying employees for the time they spend supporting the causes most important to them sends a powerful message that your company values them.
Empower Employees To Donate in the Ways That Are Most Meaningful to Them
Employee giving programs — including employee volunteer programs — are most effective when they empower employees to support the causes and charities that are most important to them. By removing barriers to giving and volunteering, your company can provide the opportunity and means for your employees — and your business — to make a difference in the world.
The Groundswell Difference
Groundswell makes it easy to get an employee giving program up and running with a minimum of effort on your part. It’s designed to empower employees to support the causes and charities that are most important to them, while respecting and supporting each of their diverse perspectives. You choose how and when your company disburses funds into your employee giving accounts — such as paid time for volunteering — and they choose when and how they donate those funds.
To learn more about how Groundswell can help power your corporate giving strategy and empower your employees to make an impact, contact us and ask about the benefits of an equitable, inclusive employee giving program.