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Small business owners are under constant pressure: meet project deadlines, sell more products, add more clients. With so much work to do and so little time, does it make sense to encourage your employees to take time off and help repair flood-damaged homes or plan parties at the local children’s hospital?
If you want your business to attract talented, socially conscious Millennials and keep them engaged once they come aboard, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Along with boosting goodwill and serving community needs, a well-designed employee volunteer program (EVP) can improve employee morale, develop leadership skills and enhance your recruitment efforts.
“We have a tremendous competition for talent, especially in the knowledge professions where many small businesses are starting up,” said Katherine Smith, executive director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College.
According to Smith, research shows that EVPs increase employee productivity and loyalty.
“Their rate of turnover is lower, and they are more likely to stick with a company in down times, because the company is allowing them . . . to explore and express their personal values,” Smith said. “With employees spending so much time at work these days, that’s an important opportunity. It’s proven to be even more important for the Millennial Generation.”
The value of capturing the attention of Millennials can’t be overstated. These young professionals will become the majority in the U.S. workforce by 2015. By 2030, that number will jump to a staggering 75 percent. Attracting and retaining them will only become more important—and that means appealing to their values.
Despite Millennials’ reputation for being self-absorbed, Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2014 revealed that 63 percent donate to charities, and 43 percent volunteer or belong to community organizations. And of those who rarely or never volunteer, 61 percent reported that an employer’s commitment to its community would play a role in their decision to accept or decline a job offer.
In another Deloitte survey—the recent Deloitte Volunteer Impact Survey—88 percent of human resource executives polled said corporate volunteerism portrays their company in a positive light, and 65 percent said it benefits their employees.
A number of companies are already capitalizing on the value of corporate volunteerism to attract and retain top talent, regardless of age.
Each year, outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia pays 20 employees’ salaries and benefits while they complete one-month internships at environmental nonprofits around the world. One Patagonia employee, Ari Zolonz, volunteered with the Native Fish Society, which supports the conservation of native wild fish in Pacific Northwest. Besides helping the organization advance its cause, the experience allowed Zolonz to serve as a company spokesperson and promote Patagonia’s brand as a friend of the environment.
Likewise, Dow Corning’s Citizen Service Corps pays employees to travel to emerging companies and do pro bono work with local NGOs and social entrepreneurs. Dealing with the challenges of living abroad and helping others solve problems gives participants valuable leadership skills that enhance their professional development at Dow.
Building an EVP that aids your community, improves recruitment and retention, and fosters leadership development doesn’t have to be colossal undertaking. A Points of Light Foundation white paper, “Seven Practices of Effective Employee Volunteer Programs,” lists the following features as paramount to a successful EVP:
To maximize the return on your investment in an EVP, Smith advised: “Begin with the end in mind.” That means focusing your volunteer efforts in an area that dovetails with the outcome you’re trying achieve.
“If you’re seeking to attract talent, you focus on those issues that are most important to current and prospective employees,” she said.
It’s also important to incorporate your company’s unique culture into the plan, rather than simply copy what another organization is doing.
“It is not one size fits all,” Smith said.
Sonya Stinson is a writer for print and web publications, businesses and nonprofit organizations. She writes about higher education, careers, small business, retirement and personal finance.
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