Volunteering: How You Can Turn It Into the Ultimate Team-Building Event

My daughter decided to volunteer through a program at her job.

Each employee has the opportunity to volunteer their services and receive a day off in return. She was up early on a Saturday morning and headed into New York City to work at a soup kitchen in the Bowery.

To her surprise, basically the entire division that she worked with was there. She was really surprised to see the senior executives there in their jeans and sweatshirts.

She could not stop talking about the experience and how wonderful for her company to sponsor such an event even if there was not a day off in return. She met many of the people in the kitchen and got a chance to really have a conversation with a number of them one-on-one.

A real team-building event

When they finished, all of them retreated to a local restaurant to have lunch. The discussions at this roundtable were not like what would take place in an office environment. Everyone was open, and laughter filled the air.

My daughter came away with a new sense of the team that she works with every day. The volunteering opportunity turned into a learning event for the participants. Not only did they get a chance to see how people in unfortunate circumstances live, but they each saw something within their co-workers that they would probably not have noticed within the confines of an office environment.

This impromptu team building exercise did more for team building than any off-site event would have done — and it was  all accomplished through an employer-sponsored volunteer program.

Employer-sponsored volunteer program equals real value

According to the Institute for Volunteering Research, volunteering is an essential part of life for 58 percent of the population.

But research also supports the view that having an employer-supported volunteering program is good for business. Despite the growing pressure on resources which so many organizations face, an employer-supported volunteer program can bring considerable benefits.

© iQoncept - Fotolia.com
© iQoncept - Fotolia.com

I recently read an article about American Express donating over a million dollars to create a leadership institute for a non-profit organization. That donation of money and their talent had absolutely nothing to do with credit cards.

Smart companies today are rethinking their role in society as well as their roles and relationship with employees and the communities that they live in.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is slowly emerging as a core cultural characteristic of the organization. Consumers and employees are looking for organizations to make a positive impact on the world as well as making a profit. This new movement is not to be seen as a feel good afterthought, but as a critical part of a company’s core values.

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Within some organizations today, this role has evolved to an extent that there are now 29 C-Level positions known as Chief Sustainability Officers. I just finished reading an in-depth white paper from the Weinreb Group about the progression of this role within the organization which is in charge of corporate sustainability and corporate social responsibility. This position has crept up the corporate ladder in level of importance.

Organizational benefits of volunteering

The benefits of an employer volunteering program to the organization are numerous:

  • Volunteering as a learning event: Employer-supported volunteering provides an opportunity for participants to develop a wide range of skills and competencies, and can be a part of the learning strategy. Employees can develop better communication and team working skills through volunteering. In addition, volunteering can give them an opportunity to lead projects and have responsibility for managing others sooner than might be possible in the workplace. It can also expose them to a wider range of tasks than they might not get on a daily basis.
  • Talent acquisition and engagement: A vibrant employer supported volunteering program can contribute to improved employee perceptions of the workplace as well as higher levels of motivation and retention. Companies can communicate employer-supported volunteering alongside other benefits during the recruiting process. At a previous organization I worked at, the CSR program within our company was the key component of our onboarding program. There was a full presentation on all of our activities including the three (3) volunteer days that each employee was given from Day One on the job.
  • Marketing awareness: A volunteering program can provide increased visibility for a business and can generate positive media coverage. Volunteers in the community serve as company ambassadors and can enhance the reputation of their company.
  • Making a difference: Employer supported volunteering is continuing its rapid rise up the business agenda. Through a volunteering program a business can make a real difference to communities in which it operates. The reputation of the business will benefit and everyone involved will be making a difference. All of which can have a positive impact on profits.
  • It’s the right thing to doPret a Manager has this sign in their window that states that it gives their entire lot of unsold sandwiches to a local food bank at the end of the day. Why? “Because it’s the right thing to do” is the next line in that statement.

During these trying times when so many of our citizens being unemployed or underemployed, we all should look to give back in some way to make a difference.

Why? Because it is the right thing to do!

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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