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3 Ways to Create Volunteer Programs That Nurture Employee Happiness

A volunteer program can help your business, employees and the wider community. Here’s what to consider while you start one.

This article was updated and republished in March 2022. 

Over the past two years, the employee mindset has shifted rather dramatically — to now expecting more satisfaction from the organisations they work for. And no, we’re not talking about more money or more annual leave.

We’re talking about increased accountability and transparency over the things that impact the world. The pandemic has allowed employees all over the world to find their true north in terms of what’s important and to find an organisation that reflects these values.

This principled evolution has been one of the main factors behind the Great Resignation. Organisations that are not taking action on important issues such as diversity, sustainability and charitable endeavours, are losing talent to those that are. But, what about organisations that believe in these values and want to take action however are unsure of where to start?

Volunteer time off (VTO) programs can be a powerful tool in an organisation’s mission to recruit and keep employees who are the right fit for the business. A meaningful VTO scheme demonstrates a business is willing to walk the talk on its values — and that’s highly appealing to customers and employees alike. 

Here at Salesforce, our VTO program is part of our 1-1-1 model which we use to fulfil co-founder Marc Benioff’s vision of a world made better by business. Each Salesforce employee is afforded seven paid VTO days per year, where they can put our shared values into action. These and other impact drivers fall under our concept of ‘citizen philanthropy’. 

Citizen philanthropy is an umbrella term that covers every approach to giving back that’s fueled by the belief that individuals offering their time, talent and resources can affect real change. I felt this first hand, when I spent my first year volunteering with the Raise Foundation, a Salesforce partner and nonprofit that mentors young people and trains new mentors. Through helping kids become more resilient and empowered, I personally was opening the doors of opportunity and providing a lasting impact on these kids.

We have seen the extraordinary benefits of citizen philanthropy up close and personal, and Salesforce is proof that a well-managed VTO program contributes to employees strengthening the communities they care about. Salesforce’s James Pham is a prime example of using a volunteer program as a launchpad to discover a passion for good works. This year, he completed his Lifeline Crisis Supporter Internship, which required 56 hours of training in over-the-phone crisis support and crucial skills development (recognising abuse, learning about suicide). He now works part time for Lifeline and volunteers to mentor new crisis supporters.

Taking a wider lens, Aussie and Kiwi Salesforce employees clocked 41,768 VTO hours and donated just over USD$307,000 over the past year.

But of course, implementing a volunteer program is rarely straightforward. For a VTO to take hold and add value to an organisation’s culture, it has to be carefully planned and managed. 

Here are the three common challenges that many businesses face when adopting volunteer programs and some strategies for overcoming them.

1. Matching good intentions with good social responsibility

Most employees will be eager to make the most of their VTO but they might not know where to start looking. Businesses can help volunteers find a cause and uphold their corporate social responsibility by: 

  • Encouraging employees to look to their existing community networks for opportunities — family, neighbourhoods, schools — and focus on causes they care about. 
  • Creating an internal platform for employees to share volunteer opportunities.
  • Supplying a go-to list of local nonprofits that could benefit from help.
  • Initiating and creating opportunities involving the business. For example, host a company-wide half-day or day-long activity. Local food banks or schools are a great place to start.

Recently, roughly 240 Salesforce volunteers clocked up a combined 720 hours helping out Australian students with virtual work experience. Teaming up with the Department of Education (DoE), we attracted the participation of 44 schools and allowed over 500 students to complete their work experience requirements. This was a heartening and fulfilling endeavour for all involved.

2. Showing the C-suite that volunteer programs are good for business

Executives concerned about a decline in productivity and associated hit on revenue will be reassured by the evidence showing VTO helps businesses succeed

Contributing to the community makes us feel good individually, but it also makes for better, more cohesive teams. Volunteering can develop valuable new skills and nurture adaptability, resilience and empathy — all qualities that employees can bring back to the workplace with them.

Moreover, volunteer programs can be a powerful way of improving brand recognition and reputation for businesses at a time when customers are more concerned than ever with a company’s values. Salesforce research revealed that 89% of customers expect companies to clearly state their values and 90% expect them to clearly demonstrate these values.  

Remember, deepening employee trust is a key factor in combating the Great Resignation, so making VTO a key part of your retention strategy is just smart business.

3. Empowering employees to take volunteer time off

Employees may be understandably cautious about taking VTO if their organisation is not demonstrably supportive of it. Here are some ways to show your employees that citizen philanthropy is important to you, through supporting volunteer programs:

  • Make sure senior leaders set the example. When the C-suite takes VTO, that sends a strong message of encouragement. 
  • Make volunteering part of the workplace culture. Employees are willing to spend more time doing volunteer work when the organisational culture is healthy and when they enjoy recognition among their peers. Post photos, stories and names of successful citizen philanthropists so they are recognised for their contributions.
  • Make volunteering easy and convenient. 
  • Incentivise volunteering. Consider company-specific incentives:
    • Matching: Challenge senior leadership or your board to match every hour spent volunteering.
    • Points: Create a competitive atmosphere where you have a total number of hours your company is trying to achieve, and report on this in quarterly meetings.
  • Start small. Offer one to two days a year to start and gauge interest; if people use their hours, consider offering more the following year.

It’s clear VTO programs instil a culture of community service in the workplace and are incredibly powerful. Volunteers in the Salesforce impact ecosystem return from VTO — whether it be a local fundraiser or a major international project — invigorated and inspired, equipped with a fresh perspective and new skills. Who wouldn’t want employees in that frame of mind? 

Davinder Mann

Davinder Mann is Senior Director, APAC -

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