Volunteering with election polls isn't what usually comes to mind when we think of corporate volunteering.
But why not?
Part of community impact is engaging in the civic life of communities, and that starts with electing national and local leaders. Holding elections hinges on the help of volunteers, so this area is one that's ripe for employee involvement.
While many companies shy away from the political sphere, encouraging employees to take part in civic life isn't about taking partisan sides. It's about engaging in the process that undergirds our country's democracy.
And with 2016 being a presidential election year, companies will find a host of benefits from supporting employee participation as Election Day volunteers (poll workers):
- Employee engagement. Your employees are already aware of and talking about political issues in the headlines, particularly in a presidential year. Creating a civic engagement program gives them the appropriate avenues to do this during working hours.
- Millennial appeal. While employees of all generations may be attracted to election volunteering, millennials are particularly interested in connecting with their peers. Participating in local elections creates an opportunity to build upon their social networks through the banner of your company.
- Leadership and skills building. Getting involved in civic life affords myriad opportunities for personal and professional development. Companies often shell out hundreds if not thousands of dollars per employee for the same kind of leadership training and skills building that you can replicate for free through volunteering as a poll worker.
- Community building. You know that your employees are your best brand ambassadors. Encouraging them to engage in the community in ways that they're passionate about helps bridge relationships that can connect back to your company in unexpected ways. The more involved your employees are in the community, the more your company is, too.
With the presidential primaries underway, many jurisdictions across the country are actively registering voters and recruiting Election Day volunteers. In San Francisco, for example, the San Francisco Department of Elections participates in a variety of events - from street fairs targeting local neighborhoods, to cultural festivals, to Nerd Night, with the goal of reaching eligible voters to register, update their registration, and to become a poll worker.
"Poll workers operate polling places on Election Day and assist voters in many parts of the voting process," explains Yelena Kravtsova, who works with the Election Day Support Division at the San Francisco Department of Elections. She notes that some poll workers have volunteered during every election for decades. "Poll workers include high school students learning on-the job civics lessons, retirees, and hundreds of people who take a day off from their regular lives to be of service to voters," says Kravtsova. "People who are bilingual are highly encouraged to apply!"
Companies can show their support for Election Day volunteering in several ways:
- Give employees paid time off to volunteer as poll workers, either on Election Day or in the lead-up to Election Day.
- If an employee is interested in volunteering for a particular candidate, allow them some paid time off for this purpose as well.
- Demonstrate your company's own engagement with the political process by hosting "debate parties," streaming the presidential debates on office TVs during working hours.
- Without endorsing any party or candidate, help educate employees on issues that affect your industry. If your company is taking a particular stand on an issue, offer information that explains why, and provide voter guides to show where the candidates stand on those issues. Just make sure your employees feel free to vote as they wish.
- Encourage employees to vote, and wear those "I voted!" stickers with pride at the office.
Voting is the signature method in which we demonstrate our citizenship, an act which is often memorable and meaningful. "The upcoming presidential primary and general election is a great time to become a poll worker," says Kravtsova. "It's a chance to be a part of history, and to start a tradition of helping people= make memories as they cast their vote."
Having your company support employee volunteering during this important time will be appreciated by your employees and communities alike. Your country benefits from this civic service, and your corporate culture is enriched by a more civically engaged workforce.