The Fundamentals of Building An Employee Volunteer Program

As companies, we spend a lot of time trying to attract the best employees, make them happy, increase productivity, create a corporate culture and positively present our selves to the community. As a socially driven business, we also spend the time and resources to develop practices that advance the mission we stand for.

Chris Jarvis has a solution that helps us satisfy all of these objectives–the employee volunteer program. Chris designs employee volunteer programs (EVPs) for companies looking to strengthen their CSR programs, differentiate their corporate culture and reduce costs. Building a corporate volunteer program that delivers these benefits company is not brain surgery, but it takes more than rounding up some employees on a Saturday for Habitat for Humanity.  I interviewed Chris learn what benefits companies can expect from an EVP and how they can create one.

You can listen to our audio interview and read a full transcript of it here.  This post outlines the benefits, process and common questions around creating an effective corporate volunteer program.

Benefits of a corporate volunteer program:

Consumers and Community
1. Increased customer loyalty
2. Improved customer satisfaction (due to happier, mission-oriented employees)
3. Enhanced public image
4. Better community relations

5. Skill development for employees, specifically in planning, budgeting, negotiating and leadership
6. Better employee attitude, higher job satisfaction and increased positive word of mouth among employees about their employer
7. Direct savings: an average of $500 in employee training per employee, per year, as well as recruitment and turnover cost savings
8. Recruitment tool, particularly attractive to Gen Y
9. Increased morale and productivity
10. Differentiated and more cooperative company culture

Social Mission
11. Employees became part of your social mission and carry it out to the community

4 conditions to consider when building your company’s EVP

1. Structure. What does the program look like? How many hours will be volunteered? Over what time period? Will people volunteer as a group or individually? When will the program take place? Will there be dollars for doers? Chris recommends Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship’s Drivers of Effectiveness Survey Benchmarking Tool to assess and answer these questions.

2. Movement. “People have to have a sense of achievement. They have to think, ‘Okay, we’re starting from here and we’re working to get there,'”says Chris. Companies should form partnerships with nonprofits and get very clear about what the program will accomplish and what resources it will require from the company and the nonprofit. Create milestones that will give you a sense of success. This message then needs to be communicated to employees of the business and and the nonprofit.

3. Motivation. How do employees personally benefit from volunteering? The business and the nonprofit have specfici reasons, but the motivation for employees usually gets ignored. Take time to talk to your employees (interviews or an evaluation or survey) to find out what they’re already doing and what they’re interested in doing.  Maybe the company wants to build on a certain interest area that employees share or, create a combination of a company-focused activity that also facilitates the individual interests of the group. Chris has seen the combination approach work really well.

4. Space. First-time volunteers are “extrinsically motivated. They’re not sure exactly why they’re there.”  Don’t expect too much from the first-time volunteer. Give them the experience and let them move on if it’s not right.  The less obligation you put on the person at the beginning, the more likely they’ll find space to own it themselves (by Jake at dresshead).  The business and nonprofit need to collaborate on finding the right volunteer opportunities that allow people to try out a project and leave, or try it out develop a relationship with the nonprofit.

Selecting a nonprofit partner

Brand alignment
Start with brand alignment. This is key in creating a program that fully engages your employees and company and benefits your nonprofit partner.

It’s often helpful to partner with a nonprofit that mirrors the size or status of your organization.  Chris sees “Some more innovative companies that are clustering nonprofits with similar objectives in the same city.” This gives you flexibility in terms of the size of nonprofit(s) you partner with.

Internal team
Put together a team of employees from different functions (production, finance, HR, etc.) with a representative from the executive level who can advocate on behalf of the team at the highest level.  Research which nonprofits in your geographic area fit with your brand and then spend some time meeting with a short-list of organizations.  Once you’ve identified a nonprofit partner, ask them to form a mirror team.  Matching similar functions in the company and nonprofit creates affinity and allows the volunteer program to become institutionalized, rather than just a pet project of the company’s CEO or CSR manager.

Test-run and shared objectives
Put together a one-time event to test out the partnership before you design and commit to a long-term program. If the one-time event goes well and your company is ready for a long-term partnership, work with the nonprofit to create a memorandum of understanding that lists objectives for the company, the employees and the nonprofit.  It’s important that you are honest about what you want to get out of the partnership, what resources you can commit and what limitations you have.  Ask the nonprofit to share their goals and limitations with you.  Find the intersection between company, employee and nonprofit goals and use that as the starting point to design the program. The parts that don’t overlap also have to be committed to, e.g., the company has to be committed to the nonprofit’s sustainability.

What nonprofits can offer your business

Beyond providing volunteer opportunities, nonprofits can advocate for your business in the community, promote your company in their newsletters, share training or mentoring opportunities and share best practices (like bootstrapping!).

To pay or not to pay?

Whether to give employees paid-time off to volunteer or to have a dollars for doers program is a controversial topic. Statistically, Chris sees the two options as equal.  In either case, the critical element is that the company clearly demonstrates to its employees that it is behind the program and not just profiting from employees’ efforts or goodwill.

Measuring the program

“You’ve got to measure it,” says Chris.  But, “Picking the right goals is far more important than picking goals that can be measured.”  When you create your memorandum of understanding, outline what you want the program to achieve over the next few years and make it measurable. Build tracking and impact awareness into the program from the beginning.  Angel Points, Mission Measurement and True Impact can help you determine what to measure and how to do it.

Why your company can’t just use what the nonprofit reports on

Businesses leave value on the table if they don’t offer their skill sets and expertise in measuring the program’s impact. They also miss the full effect of the program when they aren’t involved in analyzing the success or failure of certain elements.

Communicating your impact

Many companies are reluctant (or confused) about how to communicate their social programs. Either they’ve seen other companies misstep and be lambasted or they don’t have a solid grip on social media. From his work helping companies communicate the impact of their programs, Chris emphasizes that your company should give the targets of your messaging the chance to ask questions and respond.  He encourages companies to take incremental steps into social media, to organically develop their presence by reaching out to new people, engaging them and offering help or support (as simple as a comment or retweet).

About Chris Jarvis
Chris is the co-founder and senior consultant for Realized Worth.  He creates employee volunteer programs for companies looking to strengthen their CSR programs and differentiate their corporate culture.  Chris writes about corporate volunteering and CSR for Realizing Your Worth and is 3BL Media’s Canadian partner.  Connect with Chris on Twitter at @RealizedWorth.

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Leave a comment
  1. Megan Kelly April 13, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    Great article . I am exhilarated to see more attention given to EVPs and the value of tracking service hours provided by corporate employees! There are over 130 companies across all kinds of industries doing just this with VolunteerMatch Solutions . A number of our clients will also be in Las Vegas at the end of the month to discuss the industry and current research/trends, we will also be honoring top companies in volunteer service .

    If CSR professionals and others would like to learn more about how EVPs are managed and developed, check out some free webinar resources:

  2. admin April 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Megan, thanks. That’s a fantastic list of resources!

  3. Tevis Trower October 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Just curious if Chris or Olivia or anyone reading this might know of any studies measuring the relative cost or ROI of employee volunteer programs? Thanks!

  4. Olivia Khalili October 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm #


    I’m confident I’ve read studies in the past although it’s been some time since I’ve dug into employee engagement content and strategy.

    Some quick digging reveals more insight from Chris:

    -On the elusive link (and metrics) between employee volunteering and bottom line impact (
    -The Business Case for Employee Volunteering ( Chris and Angela’s other posts in this serious may also be useful (bottom of page).

  5. McBob79 June 2, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    To be clear about one thing. Employee volunteer programs are not about employees and not about volunteering. They are about making more money for the corporation. The indisputable fact is that if an employee volunteer program did not provide a benefit to the company then they would not exist, by and large.

  6. Olivia June 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Thanks for your comment. Bob, I agree with you that they provide a benefit. I don’t think this benefit is always about making the company more money, however. Do you have experience either participating in, running, or benefitting from a program like this? I’d be curious about your personal experience and observations.



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