Motivation Detective

Doing a little research around employee ethos can drive participation in volunteer programs.

By Howard Breindel 
Why do employees get involved in corporate responsibility activities? Is it the opportunity to “do good”? Or maybe the chance to make a positive impression on company management? Perhaps just to get a day off from work?
The answer isn’t always obvious. Sometimes it’s personal: To honor a colleague or a loved one. Or perhaps it’s to grow professionally by learning a new skill. In fact, the reason can even vary from year to year, depending on organization, activity, or even geography.
A few years ago, our firm was asked to create a communications platform for a client’s volunteer program. Participation had been holding steady at 70 percent for several years, but the company wanted to bolster it.
In the past, communications around the program focused on the social importance of the work done by the volunteers through images of employees visiting senior centers, cleaning urban parks, and painting school buildings. But when we asked employees in informal focus groups why they participated, it wasn’t always the “doing good” part that motivated them. Instead, the most common feedback was the opportunity to step out of their day-to-day routine. And this didn’t mean a day out of the office—most activities took place on weekends.
It boiled down to the chance to do something different:
• A hard-charging young finance executive coaching soccer for a day.
• A marketing director with grown children spending time at a
daycare center.
• A senior executive working in the community, painting a
schoolyard wall.
We used these insights to create a recruitment campaign built around the notion of stepping into someone else’s shoes to be someone different for a day. Communications featured bold headlines: Be a painter. Be a coach. Be a landscaper. And sure enough, employee participation reached a record high within the first year.

The lesson from this experience is simple and clear: Find out what motivates employees to get involved, and build your communication campaign around that.
As with any aspect of branding or communications, information is key. You need to do the research to find out what drives your employees to volunteer. The motivators that you discover can then be used to develop key messaging and a value proposition for your employee engagement campaign.
What’s the best way to uncover these insights? An effective research approach is creating an online survey to gauge employees’ interest in volunteering. Keep the survey short and encourage participation by sending out a company-wide email asking employees to fill out the survey. Use posters or announcements on TV screens to direct employees to the survey. You can even offer an incentive to survey respondents.
Focus groups are another effective method to learn what motivates employees to volunteer. Keep these groups small and informal and be sure they represent a cross section of departments, seniority levels, and geographies. To get the insights you want, participating employees must feel comfortable and engaged.
Keep in mind that determining why employees choose not to get involved is also important to boosting participation. Motivations vary from company to company, depending on the type of business, organizational morale, and the types of volunteer programs.
The key is to acquire these insights before you start planning the communications campaign, and then use them to build key messaging and a value proposition around your engagement campaign.
We are continually surprised by the real reasons employees get involved in volunteerism activities. Fortunately, our experience has been that they are more than willing to share their motivations if you just ask them. This type of upfront research can significantly enhance your ability to deliver a communications campaign that generates excitement and increases participation.
Howard BreIndel is a partner at DeSantis Breindel, a corporate branding and marketing communications firm.

Tags: Consultants & Advisors, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

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