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Employee Volunteer Programs: They're for Nonprofits Too!
With National Volunteer Week happening last week (April 18-24), community services has been on my mind.
I was recently talking with a friend who works in the corporate world. He shared how excited he was that his company updated their Employee Volunteer Program so that now he can take paid time off for his board service. Gone are the days of everyone wearing the same t-shirt on a company-wide trash pick-up. Instead, his company moved to a more flexible model to encourage their employees to give back in the ways that are most meaningful to them. And they get extra paid time off to do it.
The more I think about it, the more I realized many nonprofits are missing out. Creating an employee volunteer program for your nonprofit staff is a tremendous opportunity for your team to gain skills, enhance collaboration, and most importantly, contribute to causes above and beyond your mission area.
Volunteering is great professional development.
Hands on experience is often the best experience, and volunteering as a nonprofit professional gives you a unique insight into another organization’s methods and madness. While working as a grant writer at Water.org, I begrudgingly agreed to write a grant for an all-volunteer community garden nonprofit back in Topeka. (You’re welcome, mom.) During the process, the board set up an interesting system of review using Google Docs. There was nothing fancy about their system- but it worked, and I learned a better way to track reviews and approvals for grants. I adopted that system and took it back to the large, international nonprofit where I was working to help streamline a common pain point. Sometimes just seeing how others work can spark a new habit or teach you to use a common technology in a new way.
Serving on a board is huge opportunity to see a nonprofit from a new angle and increase your leadership skills, but there are other ways that volunteering can enhance your professional nonprofit skills. Just imagine having the chance to serve on an event committee at another organization as a full-time event planner. Or attending another volunteer orientation as someone who designs trainings for volunteers. As nonprofit professionals, we have unique opportunities to shadow, collaborate with, and learn from our peers in the industry as volunteers.
Volunteering can develop and deepen collaboration.
When you volunteer at an organization, you get to better understand their mission, their culture, and how their programs work to provide a public benefit. That deeper nuts-and-bolts understanding of a related (or perhaps completely unrelated!) nonprofit paves the way for future collaborations. One of the trickiest parts of nonprofit collaborations is to establish a clear “value-add” and articulate how and why the services each partner offers complement each other. By volunteering with an organization, you’ll have a better understanding of how their services align and differ from your own offerings.
Another tricky part about collaboration? Human dynamics. The nonprofit sector is a human-centered sector and solid collaborations are dependent upon positive relationships between multiple staff at various institutions. Volunteering is a great way to forge deeper connections with nonprofit staff outside of your own organization. When you already have positive relationships in place, collaborations become so much easier in the future.
Volunteering should be an employee perk for all nonprofit professionals.
The world we live in is complex. It’s not a single-issue world, and chances are, your staff care deeply about your mission and other causes too. Giving them an opportunity to contribute to other causes can reinvigorate your staff and shows that you’re a community-minded nonprofit.
Although we don’t yet have an employee volunteer program, I take time out that I could spend with family and friends to use the skills I’ve developed for causes I care about. Years ago, while working in a direct service role, I would spend hours each week taking intakes over the phone – and I got really good at it. Screaming baby in the background? Static-filled phone connection? Long tangential story that isn’t quite related to the topic at hand? Not a problem for me!
Now, I’m able to share that skill by volunteering to do intake calls with tenants facing eviction with Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom. I know it’s a help to the organization, but more importantly, it’s a help to me. It keeps me connected to the very real struggles of my neighbors, gives me a chance to use a skill I developed over years of practice, and has taught me a tremendous amount about tenant rights. Volunteering has expanded my social network, let me contribute skills that would get stale otherwise, and, quite frankly, it makes me feel good.
Variety is the spice of life, and having specified time off to dedicate yourself to another cause is uplifting, reinvigorating and an awesome employee perk that costs your organization very little.
What do you think, does your nonprofit offer a few hours a month or a few days a year paid time off to volunteer? Would you consider adding this to your employee benefits? Let us know in the comments below.
P.S. Volunteering is a value to you and to the organizations where you spend your time! According to The Independent Sector, as of April 2021, the new value of volunteer time is $28.54 per hour.
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