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Seeking engagement and purpose, corporate employees turn to workplace volunteering

Written on Jun 18, 2024

Employees increasingly find that robust workplace volunteer programs meet their desires for in-person connections, professional growth and altruistically inclined employers — career objectives that might be missing in conventional corporate atmospheres. 

The surge in interest came out of the pandemic-era shutdowns that forced many Americans to reevaluate their commitments to their communities led to more corporate partners, volunteer hours and active participants in 2023 than ever before, according to Benevity, a platform that helps companies manage such programs. 

More than 60% of respondents reported increased participation last year in employee volunteer activities, according to an Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals survey of 149 companies. 

Even employees who don’t volunteer themselves feel better about working somewhere with strong public-spirited cultures. Regardless of their own individual volunteer commitments, they feel proud about their affiliation with a socially conscious company, according to Jessica Rodell, a University of Georgia management professor who studies worker psychology. 

Companies with robust volunteer programs tend to also have lower turnover rates, she said. 

“Volunteering can be one tool in a company’s toolbox to help employees invest of themselves enough in the company to perform well, and then want to stay there instead of going somewhere else,” Rodell said. 

It can be an especially good tool for instilling social purpose among frontline employees who tend to derive a sense of meaning from work but report detachment from their company’s mission. 

But flexibility is key. Business management experts note that employees must have the freedom to choose their volunteer activities, nonprofit partners and time commitments for fruitful bonds to actually develop. 

Not just any slapdash activity will do, experts say. These service days are not necessarily circled on office-wide calendars as afternoons of matching tees and on-site photo opportunities. Some companies set aside regular work hours for months at a time so employees can build websites or develop business strategies for local charities. 

Executives might think that a lighthearted, social effort — filling backpacks at a happy hour, for example — is necessary to turn out their fun-loving employees. But Rodell, the management professor, said that more time-intensive, meaningful programs have greater resonance with volunteers. 

Best practices include following employees’ leads and meeting them where they’re at.  

Integrating giving into the volunteer programs is another way to engage busier, seasoned employees with less time to serve but deeper pocketbooks.  

Volunteering can be a gateway to relationships beyond the otherwise costly, behind-the-scenes help provided by employees. The long-term partnerships in turn introduce budget-constrained nonprofits to new pools of donors. 

Now is an especially good time to forge those connections given that Gen Z is forecast to overtake Baby Boomers in the workforce this year, said Blackbaud Giving Fund. Over three-fifths of charitable donors recently volunteered with the organization they supported, according to a Fidelity Charitable report. As younger employees increase their earnings, well-formed bonds can become especially lucrative for nonprofits. 

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