Brand Ambassadors

Encouraging employees to volunteer at nonprofits can be one of the best ways to build company brand.

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Like many office workers, Bob Speltz sits behind a desk all day in his job as senior director of public affairs for financial services firm The Standard. So it felt good, he said, when he got out of the office one day and joined colleagues on a building site. Equipped power tools, the team helped construct homes for the affordable housing nonprofit Habitat for Humanity.

Speltz met the family that will move into the house he and his colleagues helped to build. On the day the keys are finally handed over, he expects he will probably be overwhelmed with emotion.

Speltz, who runs The Standard’s employee volunteerism program, says the firm’s policy of allowing employees to volunteer on company time does wonders for staff retention and wellbeing.

And he is quick to point out that volunteerism is also a good branding tool.

It is a greater “value to our brand than any money we can pour into the company,” said Speltz, who discussed the positive effects of volunteerism at a Heritage Bank-sponsored panel in Portland last week. “We have people who are incredible brand ambassadors.”

Employee-volunteer programs are a growing and increasingly expected part of staff benefit packages. Millennials in particular seek out employers that allow them time out of the office to volunteer at nonprofits.

A yearly study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 20% of surveyed employers offered paid time off for volunteer work. That figure has been rising since 2007.

With the job market so tight, having a volunteerism policy is a good way to attract applicants.

“Job seekers today expect to see these programs in place. It is different to when I entered the workplace 30 years ago,” he said.

Volunteers often play crucial roles at charities. Many nonprofits do not have the budget to hire people for roles that for-profit companies take for granted. Nonprofits tend not to have much money for marketing, for example.

“It is so valuable if you have communications and marketing departments that can spend time with nonprofits,” said panelist Shetterly Thomas, co-founder of nonprofit Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors.

Offering tech and accounting skills are other areas that skilled professionals can provide cash-strapped nonprofits. Employees often find the most meaningful work they will ever do in their professional career will be pro-bono work for a cause they believe in, said panelist Mary Moerlins, corporate citizenship manager at natural gas utility NW Natural.

The utility partners with three to four nonprofits over three years as part of its employee-volunteerism program. Moerlins echoed the view that employees are great brand ambassadors for the utility, adding that staffers report feeling empowered by volunteering for causes they care about.

She added having company leaders support volunteerism is essential because they play a critical role in creating a workplace culture where volunteering is accepted and encouraged.

Involving staff in choosing which nonprofits to support is also important, as it can help encourage a range of employees – both new hires and long-term staff – to be onboard, said Speltz. “Try to make it fun,” and make sure you provide paid days off for it, he added.

When done properly, employee-volunteer programs can be as valuable as giving money directly to charities, said Speltz. The Standard also operates a charitable foundation.

Volunteers “do as much and even more than the philanthropy,” he said.

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