Volunteer Projects Engage Employees and the Community

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Volunteer Projects Engage Employees and the Community

Community outreach has become a pillar of corporate sustainability. Here’s how to include it in your business
General Motors Student Corps workers spread mulch on the grounds of Lincoln High School in Warren, Michigan. Photograph: Rob Widdis/Rob Widdis for General Motors

General Motors Student Corps workers spread mulch on the grounds of Lincoln High School in Warren, Michigan. Photograph: Rob Widdis/Rob Widdis for General Motors

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Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:05pm

CAMPAIGN: GM Social Impact

CONTENT: Article

In corporate volunteerism, a company’s employees and retirees work together with local young students and residents to revitalize a community in need. Schools are cleaned up, fresh flowerbeds are planted in parks and colorful murals are painted in children’s play areas.

But there’s more to the project than the short-term satisfaction of people from different backgrounds working together for a day. Mentoring relationships and future volunteer collaborations are born.

A strong corporate social responsibility strategy can set the stage for consistently achieving these long-term results. The benefits can be felt within the company, too: studies have found that not only does volunteering create social impact, it also makes employees happier. And there’s no debating that an engaged and connected workforce helps to drive business growth.

Here are best practices that can guide a business’ development of such programs.

Offer the time

One way to ensure that all employees have time to commit to undertakings that they’re passionate about is by offering volunteer time off (VTO), a set number of hours per year apart from vacation to use on community service projects.

Targeting millennial employees is another method, as studies show that the demographic is passionate about corporate social responsibility. Companies can make engagement easier for millennials – or workers of any age group – by providing multiple opportunities to get involved throughout the year.

Encourage employees to sign up – and challenge them to reach 100% participation. By planting the idea that everyone else will be on board, more people will take part in the experience.

Nominate a champion

Identify a leader who can kick off the program, motivate others to get involved and carry it over the finish line. For General Motors’ Student Corps program, that leader was Mark Reuss, an executive vice-president.

Reuss reached out to a retired GM colleague to discuss how to make an impact on Detroit’s public schools beyond the company’s $27.1m donation. The result: paid internships for high school students that allow them to work on community service projects in challenged neighborhoods in the area.

Reuss engaged a network of other GM retirees – previous leaders in the company – to serve as daily program mentors. This brought added layers of expertise and collaboration.

Engage and empower

Include the external community in your outreach efforts by encouraging employees to have their families take part in volunteer projects, collaborate with a local school or reach out to local business partners.

Pick a project that is aligned to your company’s mission, and then empower community members to come up with ideas for implementation. Volunteers will be more engaged in the work if they understand the broader goal, how it aligns with the company’s values and the impact they can have.

Once the outreach opportunity is in place, allow teams to direct their own paths. This can often help develop up-and-coming company leaders who are motivated by the mission.

Paint a bigger picture

Community projects also help participants and others make the connection to a larger societal purpose. For example, if the project is to remove blight in neighborhoods, surrounding residents may join the beautification efforts.

Employees can help community leaders see the ripple effect of their project on the community by inviting them to its site. It’s important for influencers to understand the value of the activities, too, as mayors and city councils often continue to endorse projects long after volunteer crews pack up.

Keep up momentum

There are several ways to motivate volunteers to stay active after the service project ends. Cap off the program with a social gathering to celebrate the volunteers’ hard work, host a summit to share what everyone learned, and support long-term relationships among volunteers and between mentors and mentees

Current and former employees can get as much out of the program as the students do. Retirees often stay in touch with mentees after programs end, helping students with college applications and reviewing their report cards.

The bottom line: outreach programs can result in a more engaged workforce and make the community stronger as a whole.

Keywords: Philanthropy & Cause Initiatives | Environment | GM | General Motors | General Motors Student Corps | Michigan | Positive Change | Social Impact & Volunteering | The Guardian | Warren | volunteer

CAMPAIGN: GM Social Impact

CONTENT: Article