So, you’re looking for best practices for employee volunteering programs that result in a consistent increase in participation over time and develops a culture of volunteering at your company? Sure, hold an annual kick-off to volunteering – but make sure it’s a kick-off. And add a few additional elements that will turn your employee volunteer program into what you imagine it can be.
Annual “Kick-off to Volunteering” or “Spotlight on Volunteering”
Unlike an annual Employee Giving Campaign where the point is to get as many employees as possible to give as much money as possible in the timeframe of one month, a “Month of Service” is essentially a communications campaign where the point is to increase awareness among employees of the opportunities and value of volunteering year-round. The higher the participation during Month of Service, the more likely participation will increase throughout the year. Month of Service is a time to introduce people to volunteering, reward and recognize participation that aligns with the company’s values, and increase awareness of the various benefits of volunteering. Without this annual timeframe to spotlight volunteering, companies struggle to increase awareness, introduce new opportunities, reward and recognize top contributors, and demonstrate the company’s overall commitment to developing a culture of volunteering.
Employee-led volunteer opportunities throughout the year
Each year, participation in Month of Service will exponentially increase if employee-led opportunities to volunteer are made available throughout the year. Without opportunities taking place all year long, Month of Service will begin to feel like “the only time we volunteer” as opposed to the result we want, which is, “volunteering is embedded in our culture.” Volunteering during Month of Service is intentionally communicated as a special time to get involved, to try volunteering for the first time, and to contribute to the unique set of numbers and results reported from this particular month. By holding Month of Service and spotlighting it every year, the company can genuinely say, “We create opportunities for all employees to volunteer – even those who have never volunteered before.”
Global Volunteer Champion Network
Employee-led volunteer opportunities throughout the year will exponentially increase annual participation in Month of Service if employees are invited to become part of a new network of leaders, a Volunteer Champion Network. Without this network, year-round volunteering is impossible to manage and difficult to scale. With this network, key employees at all sites in all regions will be trained and equipped to create and facilitate small-scale volunteer opportunities for their colleagues throughout the year. This makes it possible for people who love Month of Service to channel their enthusiasm into ongoing activities, rather than let their enthusiasm taper out while they wait for next year’s Month of Service.
From a neuroscience perspective:
- People need introductory experiences. New experiences that do not fit our expectations (disorienting dilemmas) trigger Acetylcholine which induces plasticity (neural growth or changes), allowing people to think and behave differently.
- Plasticity requires repetition. Repeating an activity, retrieving a memory, and reviewing material in a variety of ways helps build thicker, stronger, more hard-wired connections in the brain. This is key to sustained behavior change.
An annual Month of Service is good for a number of social and practical reasons and can trigger neural plasticity, but without continual, ongoing experiences, those new neural pathways fade away. The difficulty with a set timeframe is that either the event or the context may not carry salience or feel relevant for many people. It is the difference between being told “now we will do this” versus giving autonomy for people to develop their own reasons for volunteering.
A set timeframe annually is good as an introduction or kickoff, but it does not on its own (without ongoing experiences throughout the year), result in behavior change or perspective change. The best strategy, according to the science, is a both-and approach: hold an annual Month of Service and offer ongoing opportunities throughout the year led by trained Volunteer Champions.