Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Time to Reconsider What “Fits” in Your Corporate Volunteering Program

By CSRWire Blogs

Submitted by Elizabeth Dove

Newly released Canadian data confirms companies need an employee volunteer program to attract and retain talent.  It also revealed employers need to make volunteering programs more flexible than ever.

According to a study by Volunteer Canada and Investors Group, 68 percent of Canadians polled by IPSOS Public Affairs said that, given the choice, they would choose a job with a company that has a strong volunteering culture over one that does not. Further, Canadians are looking to their employer to help them volunteer: 60 percent of Canadians would volunteer more if it was organized by an employer.

However, simply offering employees time off to volunteer for a non-profit organization may not be enough. The poll also showed Canadians are involved in a wide range of activities that improve their community such as donating used clothing or raising awareness of an issue through social media. Volunteer Canada believes this points to a need for companies to reconsider traditional employee community engagement program parameters and expand their definition of what constitutes volunteering.

Human Resources professionals agree that successful recruitment and retention requires a ‘whole person’ approach that supports not only the employee’s work but their passions, values and family life.  Employer-supported volunteering (ESV) must transcend traditional concepts of volunteerism and support the employee’s sense of ‘individual social responsibility (ISR)’ by supporting her or him to choose from a wider array of cause and participation opportunities than ever before. This could include the company giving time off to support an elderly neighbour or a manager commending an employee for organizing an event in their neighbourhood.

This may mean lowering some barriers to company-recognized volunteering. For example, does your company limit recognizing efforts for “Dollars for Doers” (donations to recognized hours of employee volunteering) to hours volunteered at registered charities only? If there are no legal restrictions (in Canada, a company foundation is limited to donating to registered charities), including support to schools, sports teams and registered associations expands company support to the causes and organizations your employees care about.

Our experience bares this out. In a recent focus group conducted by Volunteer Canada, employees who volunteer but not within their company’s program were asked about their experience. They expressed frustration that their favourite causes didn’t “fit” in the company program. This meant that hours coaching little league hockey, volunteering in the classroom, and working on a committee at the local synagogue couldn’t be done during work hours and couldn’t count towards Dollars for Doers contributions. These keen volunteers were angry – saying that their company didn’t honour what they cared about. Those volunteering at places of faith pointed to the YMCA’s faith affiliation and couldn’t see why their contributions were “less important” than volunteering with the Y. Indeed, it was clear that the existence of a volunteering program that excluded their interests was more detrimental to employee engagement than if there was no program at all.

The paradigm of most corporate volunteering programs is that a volunteer contributes, through a community agency, to support the agency itself or individuals the agency supports, often people previously unknown to the volunteer. With the rise of crowdfunding and other tools that allow passionate individuals to contribute time to advance a cause, providing time-off support that helps employees contribute as they choose may not always involve spending time at a community agency. Is your company volunteering program flexible enough to allow an employee time off to care for the child of a neighbour recovering from surgery? Or, as experienced by companies in eastern Canada during floods this spring, how could your company respond to employees who request time away to help sandbag with grassroots gatherings of neighbours? 

The central question on employer-supported volunteering programs has clearly moved from “why do it” – employees are demanding it – to “how to do it well to meet community and employee needs”. The 21st-Century answer must include maximum creativity and flexibility to support employees to follow their passions for change.