How business can make a difference: five top tips on setting up a workplace volunteer program

Here are five top tips on setting up a successful workplace volunteer program

Your management team has been sold on the benefits of doing good. Now you want to do it right. Here are five top tips on setting up a successful workplace volunteer program.

1. Get CEO Support

Rumour has it that the top brass sometimes get junior staffers to fill in their slots at the local food bank or charity run. This hardly sends a message that volunteerism is important to the company's goals. From the CEO and senior managers on down, make sure everyone in your company walks the talk. “When your executives have bought in, it's clear, it's consistent,” says IBM Canada's Cathy Wellesley.

2. Put time and money into the cause

Most employees will not want to volunteer if it means returning to a desk piled high with papers. “One of the challenges–because everyone's doing more with less–is to give [employees] enough time and space and support so that they can do their volunteer work as well as their normal job,” says BP Canada's Patricia Viscount. Running an effective workplace volunteer program requires dedicated funding and staffing. Don't scrimp.

3. Choose your charities with care

How do you know which charity to support? Ask your employees. “Understand what your employees want,” says Microsoft Canada's Paula Knight. “If you get feedback from your employees, it has much more impact, it gets utilized.” Staffers who have a connection to a cause will truly champion it on behalf of the company.

4. Ask employees how they want to help

Getting employee input on how a volunteer program will roll out is also critical. Some staffers want to do volunteer work once a year in a big team, others on an ongoing individual basis. “You can't force people to volunteer,” says Helen Simpson of Toronto-based corporate citizenship promoter Imagine. “And they also won't do it for something they don't believe in. Sometimes that's a risk if you put too much structure around it.”

5. Give everyone a pat on the back

For those who do take part in corporate volunteer programs (on average about 5% to 30% of employees), no good deed should go unpublicized. Broadcast the efforts of staff volunteers as widely as possible. “We logged 6,000 volunteer hours last year, and we worked really hard to recognize employees who volunteered,” says Knight. “You need to keep it alive.”