NONPROFIT: Volunteering is Good for Business

Column by Joyce Schlose

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By Joyce Schlose
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With a limping economy and employees having to do more with less, now more than ever businesses should be searching out new ways to enhance employee productivity and morale. More than that, corporate community engagement is an excellent way to enhance your company's public image by aligning with a respected charity. While sponsoring charitable events is important, one of the most impactful ways your business can help the community and help itself is by volunteering.

With potentially hundreds of company employees chipping in to complete a charity project, corporate volunteering takes community involvement to another level. Those few hours of employee time result in both an enhanced public image and brand, and improved employee morale and satisfaction for your company. If you choose to publicize your company's efforts, stories in the media can be another benefit.

We find that employees who volunteer feel good about aligning with a cause in which they feel passionate, and they are proud to be making a difference. That translates to a positive feeling about their company that it's invested in its community and making a difference. The end result is employee loyalty and retention, along with company ambassadors who will share their volunteer experiences with friends, family and business associates.

So where to begin? The first step is making a commitment to making a difference in your community. You must decide to make community engagement and volunteering a part of the company culture. Managers should encourage their employees to volunteer both during their personal time and for a set amount of hours during the paid work week. Nothing boosts productivity like a little time away from the office. You can simply allow your employees to pick their own causes and give a set amount of time each month or each year when they volunteer during business hours. Maybe companywide volunteer team building days or projects are just what your company needs.

Over the years, Goodwill has had the good fortune of working with many companies that have brainstormed creative ways to get the entire staff involved, from hosting annual donation drives to volunteering with our Youth Services program or in our classrooms.

One of my favorite group volunteer projects was when a local bank adopted a class taught by a Goodwill facilitator at a nearby school. The class was English as second language, and the bank employees were all bi-lingual. The employees volunteered throughout the school year to help students improve their English and learn Goodwill's career development curriculum. Not just classroom helpers, those employees acted as mentors to these students who learned about their own future possibilities as bi-lingual community members.

Once you've set your corporate volunteering policy, then the fun begins -- choosing your charity. Every community has hundreds of nonprofits that serve specific groups. When possible, it's nice to involve your employees in the process. This creates buy-in, enhanced volunteer dedication and, often, long-term loyalty to the charity. Consider creating an employee committee to research local charities and to develop the criteria the company will use in choosing the charity, whether working with homeless or youth, seniors or animals or another charity.

You might decide you want to "date" a few charities before marrying your company to just one. Organizations like Metro Volunteers, United Way, Denver Volunteers, Volunteers of America and the Colorado Nonprofit Association are excellent resources for finding volunteer opportunities across a few organizations serving different segments of the community. There are many volunteer activities hosted by nonprofits that your company can hop onto.

Whether you choose to organize one-off volunteer opportunities to benefit a variety of nonprofits or choose to partner with one, there are many ways to do it. First your community involvement committee will need to decide what kind of impact your company wants to make in the community or with a specific charity, offering time, talent, cash donations or all three.

Beyond rolling up sleeves and digging into a physical activity, your company employee base may include unique expertise or talents that could be offered up to a nonprofit on a project or ongoing basis. Do you have a top-notch web design team? Do your social media efforts beat out all your competitors? Or perhaps your company recently instated a zero-waste policy that you can help a nonprofit organization implement. The ways you can help a nonprofit organization enhance its marketing, management or programs are endless.

After your company has completed its day, project or year of activity with a nonprofit, it's always a good idea to circle back with the volunteer committee or the entire company to discuss whether they feel like the volunteer projects were beneficial to the charity and to the company in terms of whether you accomplished the goals you set at the beginning of the process. Do the same with the charity.

If developing and organizing a company volunteer program is just not possible right now, don't worry. Charities can use any help you can give in a time when many of the services they provide are more vital than ever. Nonprofits provide services government cannot, and Goodwill alone is receiving many more requests for help right now from people in the community. And absolutely, sponsorship of charitable events, or any amount of cash donations are always welcome and are vitally important to the health of any nonprofit. It just takes a decision to get started.

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