Why Your Startup Should Embrace Employee Volunteer Programs


We can all relate to this feeling: We’ve just returned from a full day of volunteering in our community and we’re tired — but we feel great.

Volunteering has been linked with promoting good health, both mentally and physically. But did you know that volunteering is a healthy business practice, too?

“Over the past couple of decades volunteerism has taken on a stronger role in terms of what it means for businesses and what employees are demanding,” says Christy Reeves, vice president of regional government relations and community affairs at Ochsner Health System, who is a lifelong volunteer and team leader. “People are moving towards companies to help fill the gaps that the government or nonprofit sectors don’t meet.”

As you build your startup’s company culture, consider the three main benefits to adding an employee volunteer program that goes beyond community service.

Gain an Edge in Recruiting, Retention and Brand Awareness

In a tight job market, candidates are more selective about where they work. Younger candidates also tend to prefer to work for companies that serve a broader social mission. In fact, 64% of millennial candidates won’t move forward with a job unless the company has strong values supporting corporate social responsibility.

“The new generation of employees are looking for companies that lend their brand or resources to solving a problem,” Reeves explains. So offering volunteer opportunities is an excellent way to attract, retain and empower employees while giving back to your community.

Facilitating group volunteering projects also can create goodwill around your brand. For example, Reeves suggests providing company T-shirts for a volunteer day to rally your employees and provide brand visibility in your community. Photos and blog posts of volunteer events can showcase company values and differentiate your startup from competitors.

Build Relationships Inside and Outside the Office

Group volunteering can serve a social function within your startup. It gives your employees the chance to spend time together outside of the office and strengthens personal connections on the team.

“Volunteering nurtures relationships within the company, and can help improve empathy and awareness surrounding what their colleagues do for the startup,” Reeves says.

Helping your community creates valuable relationships beyond the office, too. Volunteering puts you and your employees in touch with like-minded charities and individuals. If your employee volunteer program is successful, employees will be asked to sit on local nonprofit boards, which develops them while they network with your community’s biggest influencers. And that leads me to the next business benefit of employee volunteer programs …

Give Employees the Chance to Lead and Innovate

As a startup, your opportunities to provide coaching and professional development to employees may be limited. However, employee volunteer programs are a low-cost way for your team to practice leadership and innovation skills.

“Leading volunteer projects gives you the opportunity to enhance your high-potential employees’ skill sets and allows them to see themselves in a different role,” Reeves says. “You can tap into your future leaders through these volunteer events.”

Volunteering also helps employees innovate as they find creative ways to give back despite time or budget constraints, Reeves explains. For example, if your employees don’t have the bandwidth to go out into the community, they can collect supplies and assemble packages for homeless shelters or underprivileged students. Employee volunteer programs can foster the skills your startup needs to thrive, all while making your community better.

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