When Should My Business Design an Employee Community Engagement Strategy?

Is there a perfect time to start providing employees with opportunities to give back? Review our list of questions to ask yourself and your organization before you dive in.

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When it comes to engaging in conversation with companies, there’s one question we commonly get asked: when should my business start engaging employees in the communities where they live and where we operate?

To put it simply: Now! 

While there’s a lot more planning that needs to go on before actually launching a program, many of those who ask this question ask with some perfect timeline in mind, such as business age or development stage, when it fits the budget or other initiatives, or simply have no idea when or how to engage the right nonprofit partner. In truth, if you’re asking this question, there’s likely no reason to wait. 

Corporate community engagement can take many forms, from workplace giving programs to providing volunteer time off (VTO), which allows employees to volunteer during regular work hours, to organizing group service experiences for your employees. Even giving employees time off to vote is community engagement.

It’s important to know that no matter what kind of giving or volunteering initiative your business decides to undertake, they all provide myriad benefits, so the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be able to capture the value for your company, your employees and your community.

Generally speaking, corporate volunteering and giving programs provide benefits that extend far beyond a healthy-looking ROI. We’ve made a list below of who gains significant value and how, regardless of the program type.

For companies:

  • Establishes company as role models
  • Makes the company more attractive to job seekers
  • Helps the company listen and learn about community challenges and opportunities
  • Builds authentic brand value and values locally, regionally, and globally
  • Provides financial returns
  • Strengthens workforce skill sets
  • Increases employee engagement, longevity, and alignment
  • Helps identify future leaders

For employees:

  • Allows employees to feel more fulfilled personally and professionally
  • Provides team-building opportunities
  • Provides resume builders
  • Creates new, positive workplace environments and initiatives
  • Allows for new skill development
  • Allows employees to feel more connected with their work and their community

Of course, none of this touches on the fact that forming a nonprofit partnership also benefits the nonprofit itself by providing much needed human capital resources from hands-on volunteers to board members, and advocates for the community causes they address.  When companies engage in community life everyone enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship. 

While you should certainly start as soon as possible, there are some important questions to answer before you launch your program. 

  • What type of program works for your company? As we mentioned before, this can take many forms, from a company-wide donation initiative to hands-on, off-site work. Make sure you choose one that appeals to a vast majority of your employees or is flexible enough to include anyone with potential limitations. 
  • Why are you doing it? While we’ve provided numerous benefits the company and employees can enjoy above, it’s important to identify why your organization wants to undertake developing an employee volunteer program specifically—and they should ideally align with your greater business objectives, culture and values. This clarity will ensure that your company maximizes its most powerful resource, your people, and achieves meaningful impact for all. 
  • How will you measure success? To properly assess the progress and success of your program, you’ll need to know what KPIs to track so all efforts can be communicated to partners, stakeholders, leaders, and employees alike. As mentioned, listening and partnering with your community and the organizations you support can help you to truly understand the positive impact you are creating.
  • How will you convince senior leaders? While community engagement programs are highly-beneficial, you also need to know how you’re going to communicate the ‘why’ as well as the ‘who, what, when, where, and how’ to executives and stakeholders, or it may never come to fruition.
  • Is it meaningful?  If employees are choosing their own volunteer projects they will choose work that fits their passion or interests. How do you make it meaningful for a group of employees? Ask them! An employee survey can help you uncover themes and ideas. Context can also create meaning. So offer opportunities to learn about the issue and cause before the project and time to reflect and resources to stay engaged afterward.
  • How are you listening? Beyond just selling to C-level, it’s important to listen to your employees from the start. To learn their interests, engage them in conversation or lunchtime focus groups, and ask for their insights before, during, and after everything has launched. You’ll also need an internal communication plan in place, so your efforts are universally appreciated and understood. It’s also critical to engage your nonprofit partners to understand their needs, the community needs driving their work and how your company can support their efforts.

Now that you’ve got the basics of what you need to consider, it’s time to get started! Of course, if you need any further information, we’ve got plenty of valuable resources right here on CECE. Or, for more direct guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly.

Katy Elder

Vice President, Business Innovation, Points of Light

A member of the Points of Light team since November 2012, Katy serves as Vice President, Business Innovation. She brings with her nearly 20 years of experience in employee volunteerism, community affairs and internal communications. After leading Points of Light’s corporate consulting practice for six years, she is now responsible for developing content and innovative learning opportunities to advance the corporate citizenship sector.
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