Increasing Employee Engagement in Your Corporate Volunteer Programs

Posted by on February 25, 2014 in CSR, Non-Profit

amwayAnyone involved in managing a corporate volunteer program always faces the same questions: what sort of cause curriculum makes sense for my company, what will generate the most impact and how can I get our employees excited to participate?

Turns out these are distinctly separate considerations that are sometimes at odds with each other.

That’s what Jesse Hertstein discovered when he wrestled over whether his company should organize a global volunteer day.  As the Senior Corporate Citizen Specialist for Amway, Hertstein felt that the company’s greatest opportunity for community impact was at the grassroots level.  And indeed, Amway was doing meaningful work through each of its worldwide offices, so why mess with a good thing by undertaking the heavy lift of a global volunteer day? Hertstein was understandably reluctant.  With all the work involved, it could still end up being nothing more than a showy performance that benefited Amway far more than the causes at stake.

Hertstein changed his mind, and here’s why.

Despite Amway’s volunteer successes, Hertstein knew that the company still had relatively low awareness and engagement in its programs.  A global volunteer day could serve as a critical vehicle to galvanize higher participation in Amway’s other programs and send a message to Amway’s global communities about its commitment to giving back.

The turnout for Amway’s global volunteer day was tremendous and the work that Amway employees undertook across the world was impressive.  But Jesse concludes that the most resonant impact was within the company itself.  “As a former skeptic,” Hertstein notes, “I am convinced that there is value in organizing such an event. But the value is mostly internal: it is a chance to engage those who may not otherwise sign up on their own. It is an opportunity for people to try volunteering for the first time in a safe, lively environment. It is a way to emphasize the importance of community involvement in your organization’s culture.”

Low engagement in volunteer programs is, unfortunately, an all too common problem amongst corporate volunteer programs everywhere.  In fact, paltry engagement is endemic to the sector.  Few administrators can boast high employee engagement in their corporate volunteer programs, and there are many reasons for this – including the uninspiring, low-tech volunteer platforms that most companies use to manage these programs.

But there’s something else that would be helpful for administrators to remember: not everyone volunteers for the same reasons.  Accordingly, a one-size fits all program is bound to become a disappointment.

Our good friends at Realized Worth recently highlighted an interesting article by Adam M. Grant about the six motivators that initiate corporate volunteering, as identified by psychologists.  Those motivators are: prosocial, belonging, self enhancement, self-protective, developmental, and career.

What does that mean?

1. Those who are motivated by pro-social reasons volunteer purely for the benefit of others.

2. Those motivated by belonging volunteer as a way to develop personal relationships.

3. Those motivated by self enhancement reasons volunteer to feel better about themselves.

4. Those motivated by self protective reasons volunteer to distract themselves from something that troubles them in their own lives.

5. Those motivated by developmental reasons volunteer to gain knowledge and skills.

6. And those motivated for career reasons volunteer to increase their job prospects.

Better understanding and addressing the range of reasons that people volunteer can help administrators develop a program that provides different opportunities for everyone.  And that’s what Hertstein realized at Amway; a global volunteer day offered something new for existing volunteers and an onramp for those who hadn’t been motivated to volunteer before.  As a result, Amway took a big step towards increasing participation in its volunteer program year-round.


Ryan Scott

Ryan Scott is a technology entrepreneur who founded Causecast in 2007, driven to help companies harness their power to do good. Through Causecast’s work in developing public service campaigns for leading brands, Scott observed how even the most socially responsible businesses typically under-utilize their best cause advocates; their employees. In researching this phenomenon he discovered that most of the technology to manage employee volunteering and corporate philanthropy was created in the previous century and was struggling to work at the scale that we need to move the needle on the social issues we face.

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