Creating volunteer opportunities to increase workplace giving and employee engagement

In today's episode, we discuss how employee volunteering can positively impact your employee engagement programs.

We explore how volunteering can be the gateway to increased workplace giving participation, the rise of virtual volunteering, how to encourage employee volunteering and partnerships with non-profit organizations.

Watch the episode:


Prefer to listen:

Read what we discussed:

Karl Yeh:

So today I'm joined by Janelle St. Omer, Regional Vice-President with Benevity. And today we're going to talk about volunteering and workplace giving.

So as someone new to this space, I keep sharing how volunteering is kind of like a gateway to workplace giving and also helping grow a CSR program. What do you make of that?

Janelle St. Omer:

Well, I think [00:01:00] in many cases, Karl, employees don't necessarily have a personal passion.

They don't have a cause already that they're aligned to.

So when they get out and they volunteer under a day of service or a week of service or a month of service, it gives them the opportunity to understand more about the organizations that are in their local community and that perhaps they can make a donation towards.

So it really helps, I would say, in a place to dip their toe in to really understand what's out there and the potential impact [00:01:30] that they can have.

What we often see as well is when an employee goes out and has a really, really positive volunteer experience, they get to understand more about the organization, hopefully learn a little bit about the impact of the organization and their operations, and then realizing that they can help do even more with their donor dollars towards that organization.

So that's where we see the connection, because it's one thing to go out and to volunteer one time or even on an ongoing basis, but the reality is nonprofits do need dollars.

So [00:02:00] if you see and you're passionate about an organization and you see the impact that your donor dollars can have, you are that much more likely to actually make a donation towards that cause if you've gone out and had a very positive volunteer experience.

Karl Yeh:

And obviously, in, I guess, the environment that we're in with pandemics and lockdowns, it's a little bit tougher to get someone out to actually do physical volunteering.

So what have you seen in terms of, I guess, online or virtual volunteering opportunities that have been used in CSR [00:02:30] programs to mobilize that and increase employee engagement?

Virtual volunteering opportunities to increase employee engagement?

Janelle St. Omer:

Well, many of the companies last year really did pivot everything towards virtual.

So many companies will offer an annual day of service, an annual week of service, an annual month of service.

And the inability for any of us to be in person at these organizations was quite limiting.

So what we saw was a lot of companies working with organizations that they either had funded from a grants perspective or they're those long-term strategic partners to [00:03:00] understand what kinds of needs they had and how those needs could then translate into a virtual volunteer opportunity.

So things that employees could do at home, on the computer, outside of the organization.

There are also a number of organizations that have these evergreen, virtual volunteering opportunities, which we saw a lot of companies promoting as well.

Expanding the definition of volunteering

But I think one of the biggest trends, one of the most interesting trends to me that we saw last year was companies expanding or redefining what it meant to be a volunteer.

So not looking at an actual [00:03:30] activity or action that happened on premises with an organization or even connected to a nonprofit organization, but perhaps looking at how I, Karl, am your neighbor and I'm going to buy you groceries, or really looking at what those random acts of kindness or random acts of goodness that also involve employee engagement could actually be.

So we're seeing a lot more of that expanded definition, even from a volunteer reward standpoint, rewarding those kinds of acts of goodness, acts of [00:04:00] kindness activities as well.

But I think any employee can volunteer from a virtual standpoint.

There are so many different opportunities with organizations that do exist, or even just thinking about small activities that you could potentially do in the privacy of your own home.

And I think a lot more organizations were thinking about skills-based volunteering as well.

So taking this time to really look at what are some of the perhaps strategic needs that an organization would have. Do [00:04:30] they need their websites to be redone?

Do they need their books looked at?

Do they need a refresh of their marketing materials? Is there a problem that they want to bring a small cohort of employees together to actually help to solve for a nonprofit?

This sort of virtual world really provided a great space for that level of a skills-based volunteering to happen as well, because we did have the opportunities to take a little bit more time and be a little bit more thoughtful and intentional about how employees were engaging with nonprofit organizations.

Karl Yeh:

And [00:05:00] I guess, is it something where an employee needs to volunteer once or twice and then they get into the flow?

Or is it always you continuously need to encourage those volunteer activities to ensure-

Janelle St. Omer:

It's a little bit of both. It's a little bit of both.

I think it all depends on the person.

So some folks can go out and they like to get involved and they like to be a part of the week of service every single year, and that's their volunteering for the year.

That makes [00:05:30] them happy.

They're satisfied.

Whereas other people, they will get involved in a certain activity. They'll recognize some of the benefits.

They'll see the impact that they can have.


They'll bond a little bit more with their colleagues, perhaps make connections with the organization, and they'll feel inspired and compelled to want to actually get involved in a more ongoing basis and to do even more.

So it really does depend.

There's a range [00:06:00].

And I think that any company who is thinking about both your volunteering and your workplace giving programs, you want to think about your employees along a spectrum of engagement and recognize that there's not a one-size-fits-all model for your employees.

Some people might want to come out and do one activity once a year and that's it.

Whereas you might have another employee who wants to volunteer every single Wednesday at the Boys and Girls Club, and everything in between.

And that's fine.

All Engagement is Good Engagement

I think that the story or the narrative that you want to create internally is that all engagement is good engagement.

It's important engagement because there's a way that we all can impact the world around us, big or small, and see ourself as that agent [00:06:30] of change.

And I think that that's the story that companies want to tell their employees is that they value, appreciate respect and encourage any engagement, whether that be from one hour of volunteering to $1 in terms of making a donation.

Karl Yeh:

In a previous video, we talked about how brands sometimes partner with other organizations, and then they leverage that partnership to encourage some volunteering activities, I think T-Mobile and Feeding America. [00:07:00]

Is that something that you encourage CSR professionals to actually look for, like partnering with either nonprofits or organizations that would help encourage that volunteering activity?

Partnerships with non-profits to encourage employee volunteering?

Janelle St. Omer:

Yes and no.

Yes, in that there are usually means from a nonprofit standpoint in terms of having space for volunteers within their organization, whether that be one-time volunteerism, more ongoing volunteerism, or even skills-based [00:07:30] or pro bono volunteerism.

But I think the challenge a lot of companies face is having that expectation that when you partner with a nonprofit, they automatically will have stuff that's available for your employees.

And that's an unfair expectation to have, because some organizations are simply not set up to facilitate volunteerism, workplace volunteerism, particularly those large numbers that companies are often asking for for their weeks of service or months of service.

And I think you're doing a bit of a disservice to the nonprofit organizations [00:08:00] in those cases, because in many cases they're spending time creating volunteer opportunities for the corporations that they're partnering with, but it's not actually meeting the needs of their organization.

It's taking them off their mission.

Perhaps it's taking them more time or even in resources in some cases to create these.

Partnership is wonderful.

I think when corporations and nonprofit organizations can come together in a very meaningful way to understand how both sides can really [00:08:30] bring value to the conversation and to really look at the impact that can be had.

And I think to look at it in terms of equity as well, and not this deficit in that a company's going to help the poor nonprofit and such.

But really thinking about what that partnership could look like, I think that that's really where the beauty can happen.

And yes, volunteer opportunities can certainly come from that in some cases.

So it does require a bit of a retraining of the brain, because historically that's not how funder-fundee relationships have really worked, but I do see more and more [00:09:30] companies approaching their partnerships that way.

And I think that that's lending to greater success.

Karl Yeh:

And it goes to the point where sometimes it feels forced or like, well, we partnered with this company and we're kind of making them create these opportunities that they really never had.

Instead of trying to find those organizations that actually truly need the activities that our employees can provide.

Janelle St. Omer:

Exactly. Exactly.

I think that that is that forcing that is a challenge, because it then becomes labor- [00:10:00] intensive on the nonprofit organization.

They have to sit here and design a day of service for a company that they might be working with.

And the reason that charities do is because they are fearful in some cases of not then receiving the dollars in terms of the partnership.

So that's why really understanding what those needs of the organization actually are and figuring out what a partnership that's advantageous to both sides would actually look like is really where companies and nonprofits need to start.

And yes, if there are [00:10:30] volunteer needs, absolutely. For a charity to partner with an organization, bring some of their volunteers in.

But I think too, even in that case, even if they do have a volunteer program, it's really understanding the mechanics of that volunteer program.

Is it perhaps more skills-based? Is it perhaps they only need one to two volunteers a month, but it's not ever that they're going to have the need for this great big day of service?

You need to really think about that.

And I think if that's what a company wants to do, there are ways to think about how we [00:11:00] can essentially have a charity be a recipient of their day of service without facilitating their day of service.

So, as an example, if you're working with a small homeless shelter, as an example, and they don't have the opportunity for 50 employees to come in, you could do a kit packing onsite at your office, or facilitate employees doing a kit packing at home where they're then building hygiene kits with toothpaste and toothbrush and socks and combs and brushes and all those kinds of things.

And then [00:11:30] you can donate all of those items to the nonprofit organization. So it's something that you can do en masse with a larger number of employees, but you're not requiring that organization to facilitate the planning for you.

So there are different ways that you can really think about it, and I do encourage companies to think a little bit differently about your needs as it relates to employee engagement and these large volunteer days and the needs of the organizations that you're working with and how you can actually meet those needs without creating even more tension.

Karl Yeh:

So Janelle, do you have anything else to add in terms of volunteering and growing your CSR program?

Janelle St. Omer:

Yeah. I think volunteering is a really critical part of CSR overall.

I think from that employee engagement lens, I think volunteering allows employees to [00:12:30] get a better sense of what's out there in terms of need, understanding the things that are shaping their community, understanding of organizations that perhaps might be in their localized area.

And I think from a employee engagement standpoint and looking at what companies are trying to do, infusing that culture of purpose and inspiring that employee action, volunteering really does help to do that.


It can help to build teams, really cohesive teams.

It can help to break down silos within an organization. [00:13:00]

So perhaps you actually have volunteer opportunities that will happen across different business units within your company.

So there's a lot of benefits to volunteering overall as part of the strategic part of your CSR program.

And it really can fuel things like your workplace giving.

In some cases, it can help with your sustainability if you're looking at how your employees are involved in green activities.

It also can drive your diversity, equity and inclusion activities as well, whether that be volunteering with your employee resource groups or volunteering with particular organizations [00:13:30] that will serve a diverse population.

So there's so many ways that volunteering can really help.

And there's even been studies to say in volunteering is linked to employee health, employee retention, employee performance, employee absenteeism.

So from a company standpoint, there's a lot of benefits to volunteering.

From an employee standpoint, there's a lot of benefits to volunteering as well.

And then from a charitable standpoint, really having a volunteer program that is designed to meet their needs, volunteers really can help to provide a lot of capacity [00:14:00] to charities and really help them to do more with less if done well, if done right, and really focused on the need of that organization and their service recipients.

Karl Yeh:

And remember, if you want to learn more about other workplace giving strategies and tactics, check out this playlist here, as well as this playlist for other strategies on growing your CSR program.

Thank you very much for watching. We'll catch you in our next episode.

Question of the day

Have you run any volunteer campaigns or activities in your organization? And how have you maximized participation and get employees involved? Let us know in the comment section below.

Connect with Janelle St. Omer on LinkedIn