Make your company pay for volunteering
24 June 2008
by Tory Johnson

Think you don't have enough time to volunteer? The latest trend in giving back is to do it on your employer's clock.

More companies recognize the perks of enabling their workers to participate in community services. And those bottom-line benefits are available to organizations of all sizes -- from a three-person mom-and-pop shop to a 30- or 300-person company.

Companies have always supported the local little league team or donated money to various causes. Yet, this new wave of philanthropy goes a step further: Employees are encouraged to give their time while on company time.

Bosses aren't simply saying, "Hey, go volunteer while you're on our clock ... have fun!" They know it's a strategic decision with bottom-line business benefits, and that's why they're paying their people to perform community service work.

The benefits to the employer fall into two categories:

First, there's the feel-good benefit. The company gets recognized as a good corporate citizen, which is great PR in a community, and employees feel good when they're involved in giving back.

Then, there's the strategic benefit. Volunteering serves as leadership development when people with the most potential are put into challenging roles. Giving back builds business relationships, because companies want to do business with other companies that are good corporate citizens. And volunteering helps with recruiting and retention: When people are engaged and happy, they don't leave.

<form> </form>

Businesses of all sizes and in multiple industries are getting in on the action.

Gap and Target are just two retailers that allow employees to get paid while giving back. At Target, its store-level employees are engaged in the assembly of "comfort kits," which feature personal care items for disaster victims and first responders. Those kits, which are created before a nature disaster, have recently benefited people displaced by the tornadoes and floods that have ravaged areas of the country.

UPS, Pfizer and Ernst & Young are among the corporate giants that are focusing their efforts on an international scale. At Ernst & Young, for example, its Corporate Responsibility Fellows Program sends manager-level employees on three-month, fulltime assignments to work one-on-one with entrepreneurs in underserved markets in <st1:place>South America</st1:place>.

While most small and medium-sized companies can't afford to contribute time and resources on the same scale as a global powerhouse, every company has the ability to create a community service program and reap similar benefits. Start with four basic steps.

Determine goals. Have a broad discussion among your staff and colleagues about your company goals. Are you looking to enhance your company's reputation in your community to attract new customers? To attract employees? Are you looking for a way to retain current employees by giving them a meaningful opportunity to get involved in community service, especially if you're unable to give substantial raises? Maybe it's a combination of all of those things. If you could project six, 12 and even 24 months from now, what would you have hoped to accomplish? Focus on up to three final goals.

Pick a project. Use those goals to select a project and beneficiary. Target, for example, has committed to totally renovating 23 K-12 school libraries. Most businesses don't have the resources for such an effort, but you could adopt your local school and volunteer in a way that matches your expertise with their needs. Maybe you work for a landscaping company and your employees start and tend to a garden year-round at a high-profile school in your area. That effort not only beautifies the school, but it also reaches parents who could become potential customers. Your people feel great in the process and they take pride in ownership of the project. Other people who work in the landscaping field want to work for your nursery because they're impressed with these efforts. <form> </form>

Create a formal schedule. Determine what makes sense in terms of a commitment of time and resources for your company. Will this be something that every employee can do at the same time? Will you rotate participants? Will you give time or time and materials -- what is affordable for you? When, exactly, will this effort get done -- it could be one hour a month, or it could be two hours every week. It even could be a full week each year. The key is that employees are actively engaged in this service when they'd normally be working. Create a schedule that works best for your goals and the realities of your business needs.

Monitor and market the progress. Establish milestones for how you'll measure the success and impact of the program. Is it simply smiling faces of employees? Is it an increase in applicants to work for you? Is it new customers? Is it media coverage? Take photographs, keep a video diary and ask for testimonials from the participating employees and the project beneficiaries. Then market your efforts on your company Web site, to your business partners, to all employees, to the local media in your area, and even through signage within your office or store for visitors to see. Don't assume your efforts will go noticed unless you market them. There's no reason to be shy about letting people know what you're doing and how you're making a difference.

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor for ABC's "Good Morning <st1:country-region><st1:place>America</st1:place></st1:country-region>," and the CEO of Women For Hire.

© ABC News

This page can found at: