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Rewarding Employee Volunteers

Research from Benevity finds that corporate volunteerism is 50% higher in companies that offer rewards as an incentive for participating, yet just 60% of organizations utilize this as a feature.

By Maggie Mancini

Employee volunteerism has surged over the past several years, according to recent research from Benevity. From park clean-ups to charitable organizing, employees are looking for ways to make a difference in their communities, and HR leaders are seizing the opportunity to leverage volunteerism to improve employee connection, company culture, and keep the workforce engaged in a hybrid work environment. 

When employee engagement programs align to volunteerism, the end result is an increased connection to the community and company, says Janeen Speer, chief people officer at Benevity. Since volunteers are much more likely to stick around when they feel valued, companies who offer this benefit as part of their employee engagement programs can drive more participation to take advantage of those opportunities, she says. 

When it comes to encouraging employees to take advantage of employee volunteering offerings, the report finds that the average hours per volunteer is 50% higher in companies that offer rewards as an incentive for participating, yet just 60% of companies utilize rewards as a feature of their volunteering program.  

“By emphasizing the positive impact of volunteering on employees’ well-being, productivity, and engagement, HR teams can correlate these benefits with the rewards offered, thus creating a more compelling incentive to volunteer,” Speer says. “Integrating rewards and volunteering seamlessly into the company culture is key, making it a celebrated aspect that contributes to employee satisfaction and engagement.”  

Companies can implement a matching reward system for employees who are passionate about specific charities and nonprofits and provide a flexible time-off policy for those who value dedicated time for volunteering, Speer suggests. By taking a holistic approach, organizations show they understand unique employee preferences and can foster a positive workplace culture focused on giving back and making a difference.  

If volunteering is part of a company’s culture, it’s important for HR leaders to support participation and offering rewards is a way to do that. Speer suggests several examples below.  

  • Leverage donation funds to encourage workers to participate in company or employee-led opportunities. Rewards programs like “Dollars for Doers” recognize individual contributions and provide them with financial incentives that they can use to support causes of their choice.  
  • Offer points when employees track volunteer time. Not all rewards need to involve donations. HR leaders can encourage employees to track their volunteer time by offering points and then rewarding top participants with a prize. For example, employees can turn in their points for existing items in the company’s reward system.  
  • Make flexible time off available to volunteers. Volunteer time off (VTO) can be offered to employees so they can participate during work hours. This, Speer says, can be a powerful way to include those employees who would pass due to other responsibilities outside of work hours.  
  • Give grants to organizations that employees are passionate about. As part of their community investment efforts, some companies provide grants to charities or nonprofits after a group of employees volunteer with them.  
  • Incorporate volunteerism into the company’s employee recognition program. Acknowledging top volunteers as part of a company’s recognition program can help motivate all workers and boost engagement. This strategy also provides a tangible incentive for employees to continue volunteering in the long-term, Speer says.  

Speer says that implementing employer-matching donations can also improve motivation and show employees that their company supports their commitment to social responsibility. For example, Microsoft’s employees—combined with the company’s charitable match program—donated $255 million to more than 32,000 nonprofits in 2022.  

Employee participation is 12 times more likely at companies that allow both company-created and employee-initiated volunteer opportunities, the report finds. Speer explains that the recent surge in volunteering provides an opportunity for purpose-driven organizations to position themselves for long-term impact.  

“There are several strategies that HR leaders can use to enhance employee engagement in supporting causes and elevate the organization’s purpose programs,” Speer says. “Employee-initiated programs allow employees to select volunteering opportunities aligned with their passions, fostering individualized engagement, while company-created initiatives provide organized opportunities, catering to various causes and allowing employees to choose how they participate.”  

By encouraging employees to propose and organize volunteering initiatives, HR leaders can empower them to contribute to the organization’s social responsibility efforts. Most important, Speer says, is creating a recognition program that acknowledges employees for their involvement.  

“Our research on stakeholder philanthropy shows that 85% of employees agree that the more a business engages its employees in charitable giving decisions, the more trust employees have in that business,” Speer says. “By celebrating their contributions and enabling them to support the causes they care about with year-round open-choice donation matching campaigns, companies can truly act as a force for good by showing they care about their people.”  

Speer explains that many companies have utilized rewards and recognition to improve their volunteering rates. Principal Financial redesigned its employee engagement program in 2022 and saw a 197% increase in volunteer rewards within three months. Their previous program was more restrictive, with time requirements and a lack of variety in organizations eligible for matching, Speer says. The company was able to replace its 25-hour requirement with a $25 per hour reward for volunteering, generating $2.6 million in donations to 2,450 causes in four months.  

Ciena used the pandemic as a “catalyst for change,” Speer says. The company pivoted its volunteer programming during that time, removing the cap on volunteer hours matching and introducing VTO to encourage employees to participate. This contributed to a year-over-year increase in volunteering with a 95% increase in hours and 367% increase in volunteering rewards.  

“Participating in corporate social responsibility programs, specifically volunteering, teaches employees valuable leadership skills, and their participation in these programs directly correlates with business outcomes like increased retention and productivity, heightened promotions, and more,” Speer says.  

By adding rewards and recognition of top participants to an existing volunteer program, Speer says that HR leaders can promote further engagement and show their employees that they have made volunteering a priority. 

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