Interested in volunteering in your community, but feeling pressed for time as it is? You may be able to give back during your regular workday — if you know how to convince your boss to implement an employee volunteer program.
You’ve heard of friends being able to take time off from their “real job” to volunteer, but you have no idea how they managed it. A bleeding-heart boss? A slack office environment? Deception?
It might be hard to imagine, but companies care: about their communities, their brand perception (duh), and their employees. Retaining employees (and recruiting new talent) is becoming more important for offices across America, which is why many of them, big or small, look to build out an employee volunteer program — or as some call it, “corporate social responsibility.”
As Peter Parker was once told, with great power comes great responsibility. If you’re looking to hop on the volunteering bandwagon, here’s what you need to know about these programs — and tips from the experts on how to convince your boss to set one up at your office.
What are volunteer programs?
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) can mean many things — anything from giving a bunch of money to a cherished cause to donating a pair of shoes for every pair bought by a customer. But right now, we’re talking about how you can use paid working hours to support your community.
Volunteer programs have taken shape at companies around the world, whether as a yearly team-building exercise or employees permitted a certain percentage of their time to volunteer. There are hundreds of amazing examples to look up to. If you’re hoping to sell this type of program to your boss, the first thing you need to do is name-drop reputable companies that allow employees to spend time out of the office and in the world, making it a better place for us all. Here are a few to get you started:
- Tom’s of Maine: employees use 5 percent of their paid work time volunteering for whatever nonprofit speaks to them the most, whether it’s teaching Irish dance or socializing animals.
- NerdWallet: the San Francisco-based financial literacy company offers financial training to neighborhoods across the city through its “Nerds Pay it Forward” program.
- Salesforce: Already known for its foundation, Salesforce runs its philanthropic efforts by leveraging its people, resources and technology to help support communities around the world. Employees can volunteer during one percent of their paid time, which adds up to 20 days per year they’re not working directly at Salesforce, but offering good to their communities.
- Challenge Detroit, the non-profit dedicated to attracting and retaining talent in Detroit, works with area companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers, CBS and the Detroit Lions to match new employees with open jobs. The employees, or “fellows”, spend a little over half their time at their new jobs while Thursday and Friday are shere’pent in Detroit, using their skills to revitalize the city.
How to convince your boss to let you volunteer on the clock
Once you make your list of other companies doing this type of work — bonus points if you can scrounge up direct competitors who offer similar programs — it’s time to pitch your boss. “That initial pitch is always a challenge,” says Deirdre Greene Groves, the executive director of Challenge Detroit. “The unknown is scary, but we found that companies who have experienced talent that wants to contribute to their community, also wants to contribute more to the company as well.”
There are two broad benefits to volunteer programs. Let’s put them into two buckets to help you choose one for your pitch.
Tactic 1: Prove the value of volunteer work
The first bucket sells the the direct benefits of volunteer program to your company. These benefits include increased productivity, retention rates and recruiting stats. At the end of the day, your company is going to want to see a real payoff in return for letting you out of the office for a few hours.
Reports like Cone’s Cause Evolution Study show that 75 percent of corporate employees want to be able to volunteer through their jobs. When they’re able to do so, those employees are 36 percent more likely to feel a strong sense of loyalty to their companies. That’s huge for long-term employee retention, especially when you think about Gen Y’s tendency to job hop.
What’s your company’s pain point? Is it consumer perception? Unhappy employees? Recruiting? Well, lucky you, there’s a stat for that. I could give you stats until the cows come home, but trust me — with a little research you can find the data to support your case. There is seriously no downside to volunteering, but you will need to back up your request with numbers.
At Challenge Detroit, Fellows are gone 20 percent of their typical workweek. But, according to Groves, the companies that employ them have also seen that fellows are incredibly productive and don’t accomplish any less than employees working a traditional schedule.
Tactic 2: Tie your volunteer work to the bigger picture
Facts and figures are your building blocks, but you can’t forget the airy-fairy inspirational talk. These concepts are important, but harder to sell. You’ll find yourself making broad, powerful statements like, “What do we want to stand for?” and, “Let’s make the world a better place.” With this bucket, you forego the bottom line. Instead, you try to sell a volunteer program by tying the company’s brand values into how the company can contribute to the world as a whole, while also boosting perception within the community.
While the sky’s the limit with volunteer opportunities, don’t just expect to work at a soup kitchen one afternoon and call it a day. (Unless you’re a soup company.)
Tie your efforts to your brand as a way to remind the world why you do what you do. So if you work for a financial software company, offer financial coaching at a shelter. Marketing agency? Help a local nonprofit promote their next event. Are you the Uber of dog walking? Volunteer at the SPCA.
Hy Carrel, a connector and philanthropist, emphasizes the importance of getting employees out of the office and into their community. Carrel discovered his love for volunteer work while working as a software engineer. Every Monday evening he would volunteer chopping vegetables at Project Open Hand. “Volunteering was transformational for me,” he said. “Just giving three hours each week night helped me walk down the streets of San Francisco, confident I was doing my part to give back.”
Today, Carrel works for himself, consulting for tech companies, connecting them to the right nonprofits for their brand, goals and impact, a project that he says deeply affects employees’ relationship to their communities. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that volunteering also “spreads the good name of the company within that community, which then improves employee morale.”
Carrel also advises to think about how you’d answer these questions when pitching volunteer time to your boss: “What is the effect of losing me on this day? How does my volunteer work benefit my team at work?”
If you keep these questions in the back of your head (along with handy negotiation techniques up your sleeve), you’ll be just fine — and helping others in no time.
Marian Schembari is a writer, essayist and blogger based in Germany by way of San Francisco.