Employee Volunteer Councils: Leadership & Governance Structure

Leverage these best practices to establish an employee volunteer council.


A formal leadership or governance structure for your employee volunteer program can extend the reach of your staff, provide development opportunities for employees and sustain the momentum of ever-increasing community impact. A majority of effective employee volunteer programs use formal committees or councils to support the management and operations of the program at a regional or local level. Others may use individual employee volunteer leaders to scale their program’s initiatives throughout their company’s footprint.

No matter which structure is right for your program and corporate culture, successful implementation is critical to generating enthusiasm and buy-in from your employees and senior leadership, and will serve as a foundation to drive the long-term success of your evolving volunteer program.

Employee volunteer councils...

  • Leverage the skills, passion and commitment of employees
  • Facilitate and promote local activity
  • Understand important issues that may affect their business unit in relation to volunteering
  • Provide an opportunity to work with diverse colleagues, increasing interaction with employees in other segments and levels of the company
  • Improve leadership and interpersonal skills and develop new skills that are broadly applicable
  • Play a vital role in the development or revision of the policies and components of the employee volunteer program, setting goals each year, and measuring success
  • Help fulfill the brand promise and deliver distinctive value to the communities where employees live and work
  • Help achieve excellence in citizenship through strategic community relations that are consistent yet flexible to meet local community needs

Typically, employee volunteer councils vary in size based on the employee count in a particular location or market and vary on their style or organizational makeup based on what fits within the operations and culture of the company. Volunteer committees can represent specific teams, departments, physical locations, Employee Resource Groups, those who lead leadership/talent development programs, orientation waves, alumni/retirees, even a “spouses of executives” group. Each employee volunteer council typically includes:

  • A cross-section of employees with different functions, management levels and tenure
  • Volunteer event organizers, senior managers and/or representatives from key departments.

Larger employee volunteer councils may have an executive board that helps to decide meeting agendas, events for the year, and executive sponsorships. These boards/committees are usually made up of committee co-chairs, secretaries, treasurers, and communications leads. Larger councils may have an Executive Advisor that sits on the executive board/committee and helps in the decision making process. These Executive Advisors are a great resource to promote activities and to get additional resources.

Someone has to lead the charge to get it organized, though—whether that is through self-assembly, a call to action, or the identification and selection of committee members by HR or senior leaders. Community Affairs staff typically provides the training, resources, templates and forms, and overall support. Each committee should have a charter that explains how to get committee started, its connection to the national or global Community Affairs team and strategy, and its responsibilities.

Statistics and Examples
The vast majority of EVPs have established formal employee councils or committees to support the management or operations of the employee volunteer program. Based on 2011 POL research, 58% of companies have independent volunteer councils or committees.

  • AT&T, for example, benefits from valuable input from across the enterprise through its AT&T Cares Council, made up of key representatives from business units.
  • Cummins, on the other hand, uses a network of more than 170 Community Involvement Teams around the world to leverage the skills, passion and commitment of employees to organize volunteer activities and respond to community requests for donations.
  • Hitachi’s several dozen Community Action Committees (CACs) design and organize local volunteer opportunities with enough care and professionalism that they apply a total quality management tool, Mastering Community Action Framework (MCA), to their volunteer work.

Local Volunteer Committee’s Responsibilities
The Local Volunteer Committee may:

  • Survey employees to determine their interests in volunteering.
  • Set project goals each year, which reflect employees’ interests and support business objectives.
  • Recruit others to help lead and manage projects throughout the year.

Position Description for Local Volunteer Committee Members
An employee serving on the EVP Committee may be asked to:

  • Serve a one-year term. (Note: suggest staggered committee membership dates so there is a turnover of only half of the Committee at any one time.)
  • Attend planning meetings. These meetings will generally last no longer than one hour. At the meeting, members will review project proposals submitted by community agencies or employees. A vote by the members present will decide which projects are accepted.
  • Participate and actively take part in managing the selected projects. The Committee may select projects, organize teams, as well as plan and manage recognition and communication. 
  • Celebrate success of volunteer projects with employees and the community.
  • Share with others their enthusiasm for and satisfaction from volunteering.

Advisory Council or Steering Committee
The purpose of an Advisory Council or Steering Committee is to support the development and implementation of an employee volunteer program, aid in decision or goal-making, represent the voice of employees, and champion employee volunteerism overall throughout the year.

  • Consists of no more than 20 representatives – middle to upper management – from diverse divisions, departments and offices.
  • Consists of representatives from each market. Representatives should be diverse in location, department, company tenure, title, etc.
  • Purpose is to provide input and recommendations on the development and implementation of a CSR strategy or employee volunteer program.

Advisory Council or Steering Committee Members’ Responsibilities include:

  • Champion corporate citizenship as core to the company’s mission, values and business – infusing citizenship into the DNA of the business at all levels and across the company’s employee network.
  • Integrate the company’s CSR strategy – specifically the employee volunteer program – into all divisions, business units and geographies.
  • Serve as a conduit for employee feedback on the direction of the company’s CSR strategy and employee volunteer program.
  • Provide leadership and guidance on setting direction for the program, advocating for the program throughout the company, recommending and acquiring resources for the EVP, especially during the start-up phase.
  • Support the development and implementation of policies, procedures and program design of the employee volunteer program.
  • Identify opportunities and challenges that may affect implementation or support of the program as it relates to their respective division/business unit and employees and make appropriate decisions to keep the project on track.
  • Support employee volunteer leaders or committees in local offices.

Time commitment for All Committee Members:

  • Participate in regular meetings or calls as established and may work independently or with smaller work groups on specific program components or volunteer events.
  • Contribute up to four hours per month during the design of volunteer strategy (if just getting EVP off the ground), or during the beginning stages of establishing the committee or council, or during annual goal-setting and planning, and approximately one hour per month or quarter ongoing (dependent on frequency of meeting schedule).

Executive Sponsor

  • Stewards program, provides visible and vocal support at launch, signature projects and events, attends Volunteer “Advisory Council” meeting once a year.

Volunteer “Advisory Council”

  • Comprised of one representative from each local Volunteer Council, helps set national/global community engagement strategy, provides feedback from and disseminates info back to local Volunteer Council.

Local Volunteer Councils

  • Self-assembled from different teams, plants, offices, departments, business units, BRGs, orientation waves, alumni groups, etc.
  • Responsible for leading national/global community engagement strategy in local markets, sets schedule for the year and organizes/leads projects.

Community Affairs Team

  • Sets national/global community engagement strategy each year with feedback from senior leaders, associates and councils.
  • Provides guidance and resources to all councils and employees, with additional support from internal partners like HR or Communications.
  • Organizes and leads Volunteer “Advisory Council.”
  • Serves as liaison between Executive Sponsor and Committee leads.

Allison Olson

Contractor, Points of Light

Allison is a social impact and corporate social responsibility professional with over 8 years of experience in employee volunteerism and philanthropy. Most recently, Allison led Gartner’s Global Community Engagement program and supported Gartner’s D&I efforts. Prior to joining CEB/Gartner, Allison was a member of the Points of Light team. She supported various initiatives such as the Corporate Service Council, Civic 50 and Conference on Volunteering and Service. She is a registered yoga teacher with a passion for the outdoors. She is currently on sabbatical hiking the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.
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