3 Reasons To Start A Skills-Based Employee Volunteer Program

If your company hasn’t explored skills-based volunteering, you could be missing a major employee-engagement and CSR opportunity.  When you think about an employee volunteer program, what comes to mind immediately? A bunch of your staff wearing matching t-shirts and cleaning up a beach or local park? A few team members here or there volunteering once a year at a food bank or animal shelter? While all of those cause are noble – and the need for volunteer help is real – there is another major opportunity that can help your business while you’re doing good.

What is skills-based volunteering? While nonprofits and charities in your community have a need for bodies to stuff boxes and envelopes or hand out supplies, they also have the same needs that your business does. Every day nonprofits struggle with marketing themselves to reach more people with their services. They have issues with their websites and IT, need help designing flyers, and could use advice around how to invest their grant dollars or manage their limited budgets.

Now think about your team members around the office, and the unique skills and business know how they have to offer, and you see where this is going. Skills-based volunteering puts to use people’s skills and experience to help charities build and sustain their capacity to bring real solutions to our most pressing social problems.

According to Nielsen, 28% of U.S. adults volunteer each year. Many, many more people want to volunteer but feel like they don’t have the time in their week. That’s why finding ways to match a person’s unique skills with a cause they believe in – while giving them time during their work day to do it – can create real goodwill and community impact while also enriching your employee’s work lives.

Below are three reasons to consider starting a skills-based volunteer program at your company.

Drive employee engagement and retention

Having a formal volunteer program at your company can bring your people together around a purpose in their work, instill pride in your company, and increase their conviction that your company is doing something worthwhile in the world. Your employees are the engine that makes your company hum, sure, but they’re also members of the community you’re based in. And while it’s nice to see your company’s logo on a little league shirt, your staff will be much more devoted to your company if your company is helping them give back to their own neighborhoods in meaningful ways.

75% of employees rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important, according to VolunteerMatch. Employee volunteer programs help to create new avenues for shared experiences and collaboration. It also fosters something you might not have realized: leadership. Building a (core?) of employees who are successfully able to lead is—according to Josh Bersin, an expert on talent development—the most critical indicator of a corporation’s future performance.

According to Stanford Social Innovation Review, through service learning, today’s corporate volunteers are becoming tomorrow’s corporate leaders—with companies like PepsiCo, IBM, Medtronic, and others sending employees into the field and into communities they might not naturally be a part of. The more diverse their experience, the more they’re able to see your company, and their own work, in settings beyond their own lived personal experience.

Align your volunteerism with your company’s mission and bottom line

Salesforce is one of the best known tech companies in the nonprofit community, for a simple reason: Salesforce employees volunteer pro bono hours en masse to help nonprofits and charities set up and use the technology to meet their missions and perform their services more effectively. Salesforce employees have donated close to one million hours of time working with nonprofits and charities to get their IT systems working right – and nonprofits notice.

Nonprofits are the third-largest chunk of the American economy, and there are over 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the U.S.  By focusing your employees’ skills into volunteerism, you can register an enormous amount of goodwill and name recognition among a million potential customers. And that logic goes beyond just nonprofits, to offering skills-based volunteers to work with small businesses – especially those who are creating jobs in lower-income areas. While VolunteerMatch, Catchafire, and Taproot are great organizations to help you offer skills-based volunteering to nonprofits, BusinessAdvising.org is the go-to for matching your employees with skills-based mentoring opportunities at small businesses in underserved areas.

The vast majority of Americans work at a small business – particularly in low-wealth communities, and they’re linked to higher income growth, lower levels of poverty, and strengthen local economies. In the last two years, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees have added an average of 76,000 hires a month – 40% higher than big employers. In addition, a study by ICIC of some of the nation’s largest distressed inner cities found that in four out of the five cities studied a majority of the inner city workforce (64%-74%) was employed by local small businesses. 

And yet small business owners – and particularly diverse small business owners – face challenges that make it hard for their businesses to grow. Many often want help in areas less familiar to them but don’t have access to affordable advisors or networks that can help them. For example, nearly half of women and one-third of minority small business owners lack available mentors — yet approximately 70% of new businesses with a mentor survive beyond five years — double that of non-mentored businesses.

Your employees could be part of that solution, and making a real difference to your community across a number of front.

Create a unique local impact in your local community

By offering skills-based volunteering to your employees at both nonprofits and job-creating local businesses, you can build enormous amounts of goodwill while also creating real opportunities across multiple front.

It’s fairly easy to see the benefits that a nonprofit or charity is having right in your community. For small businesses it’s often a halo of impact. According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, places with a high density of locally-owned businesses experience higher incomes and employment growth, and less poverty. If we help empower small business owners to increase their competitiveness while at the same time creating quality jobs with better wages, then every community in America benefits. The following things may sound idyllic, but they're facts:

  • Small and independent businesses employ more people directly per dollar of revenue, and they’re the customers of local printers, accountants, wholesalers, farms, attorneys, etc., expanding opportunities for local entrepreneurship.
  • They also generate more tax revenue per sales dollar, so a greater percentage of local independent businesses keeps your taxes lower.
  • Small businesses donate more than twice as much per sales dollar to local nonprofits, events, and youth sports teams compared to big businesses

There are many more reasons to favor local small businesses over national chains and multinational companies. Small and independent businesses bring stability and renewed energy to deteriorating neighborhoods, and help revitalize poor inner city, suburban and rural areas. And, studies have found that a community’s level of social capital and well-being is positively related to the share of its local economy held by local businesses. Even more striking: median incomes rise faster in places with more small businesses compared to those dominated by chains.

Give it a try!

If skills-based volunteering sounds like something that you’d like to try at your company, we encourage you to start your search on BusinessAdvising.org. We can help you come up with a test a free or low-cost pilot, and we think everyone at your company has something to offer. We’re looking for professionals who have experience in HR, leadership, marketing, sales, IT, finance (and much more) to contribute just 5 hours of mentoring per month over the phone, email or Skype.

Consider the easier and more engaging way to volunteer—because chances are, skills-based volunteering will enable you and your staff to volunteer more often, and create real community impact and business benefit. And really, what’s better than that? 

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