Looking for a team building exercise? Volunteer in your community!

corporate volunteering workplace benefits
Grace and I (along with my husband, who took this picture) spent several hours of volunteer time last fall when we picked up trash along a local road. It was a tiring and smelly job (Grace helped us find things we never would have found without her)! We all felt great doing our part. Volunteering together gives you the opportunity to feel good, make a difference, and accomplish a shared goal. Many organizations are realizing that working together on volunteer projects serve as defacto team-building exercises, and result in many other residual benefits that positively impact the bottom line.

Any significant project in today’s workplace requires the cooperation of others. Even more than cooperation, successful outcomes only truly happen when a group of people decide to work alongside each other through thick and thin to accomplish their goal. They need to define roles, establish responsibilities, wade through obstacles and persevere through conflict, communicate clearly, and celebrate the accomplishments.

When I attended the NHBSR Roundtable discussion this past Wednesday afternoon, the topic was “Community Outreach and Employee Volunteer Programs.” Scores of ideas were shared among the companies that attended. But one surprising take-away was that volunteer activities happening outside the workplace are impacting the work teams back at the office. Companies who attended this third regional Roundtable discussion, held in Lebanon, NH, said they have replaced typical team-building exercises with a more meaningful activity: community service.

Stories were shared of employees who experienced a range of emotions through the process. Some employees are reluctant to sign on for the initial activity; others aren’t sure what to do. For one team, they began their assignment with a tad of grumpiness, not too thrilled with the cold and wet weather they faced for this particular outdoor job. But by noon, they weren’t ready to leave, they wanted to do more. And they did just that. There is no question in my mind that in a few short hours, that formerly unfamiliar group of people had evolved to a high performing team. When you’re a part of that type of camaraderie and achievement, you don’t want it to end.

Another organization in attendance, Hypertherm, a recognized leader in our state for offering high quality employee and community programs, noted that specific ‘team-building’ activities aren’t requested anymore — employees are able to learn about each other while serving a larger purpose of helping others.

There were many other ideas offered and shared towards building strong volunteer programs. Not every idea is right for every organization. Some might resonate more with your culture, or help you think of a plan that is even better. Build on the ones that make the most sense to you. Here are few that were raised:

  • Dedicate one day a year to close normal business operations and spend the time on a specific project for a local non-profit.
  • Offer paid time off for employees to volunteer at specific agencies or ones that the employee can choose. Remember to encourage opportunities in the towns where the employee lives, not just the location of the employment site.
  • Provide a blend of opportunities that will need small groups to accomplish as well as individual time for community service.
  • Offer contests with small (or big!) prizes to get people interested in volunteering. Getting someone started is the often the hardest part.
  • Have employees be a part of determining what organizations will benefit. That can be done through surveys (formal or informal) as well as establishing a team to be responsible for the program guidelines. Inquire about their interests and match them with local groups.
  • Recognize employees for their volunteer and community work during your employee appreciation day.
  • Offer raffle tickets for x numbers of hours volunteered during an established time frame. Award small (or big!) prizes. Employees love this!
  • State in your employee manual the expectations for volunteer and/or community contributions. Some of this time is paid and some is unpaid. Discuss at your orientation and onboarding meetings.
  • Have volunteering updates as part of your agenda for regularly scheduled department status meetings.
  • Track hours of community service that employee are serving and apply for local and statewide awards that recognize the effort.

Many important benefits (in addition to the team-building) sprang out of the volunteer efforts, said the companies in attendance. A strong reputation was one of the top benefits noted; due in large part to deep relationships that formed between individuals across organizations. One woman said she’ll run into people who recognize her from a volunteering event in the past and the gratitude never goes away.

Beyond feeling good, it’s also financially attractive to have a robust volunteer program. These companies have seen improved employee satisfaction and morale, easier recruitment of local talent, and high retention of current employees. All those factors contribute to your bottom line. You can do well by doing good.

Representatives from VolunteerNH, an organization dedicated to help support and connect volunteer efforts between businesses and non-profits were a welcome resource attending the event as well. You can find out more about them on their website, or let me know and I can get you in touch with the great folks there.

Another NHBSR Roundtable discussion on this topic is planned for April in the Monadnock region. If you’re interested to attend, let me know and I’ll forward you the invitation when details are firmed up.

Grace and I will have to wait a month or so for the snow to melt before we can get back to cleaning up roads. But in the meantime, there are oodles of other ways to support local community needs. No company is too small (just ask Grace).

What volunteer programs do you have at your organization? How have they helped your business? What challenges have you had in implementing them?

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