Companies that engage employees and the community through employee volunteerism are making a difference to more than the bottom line. Incorporating programs for social good into their culture helps companies stand out in their community, enhances recruiting opportunities and leads to greater satisfaction among employees. Additionally according to the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College and Business Civic Leadership Center in 2005 64% of executives surveyed say that corporate citizenship produces a tangible contribution to the company bottom line. Among executives at large companies, 84% see direct bottom-line benefits.
While many companies have adopted programs to promote volunteerism there are a few that stand out. In 2011 Sterling Savings employees spent 44,000 hours volunteering. That number alone is impressive but when compared to the number of employees they have, 2,500 it is monumental. I had an opportunity to interview Tera Coon, Communications and Public Affairs Director for Sterling Savings Bank and learn more about their Employee Volunteer Program, involvement in the community and the positive impact it has made.
BW: Why is it important to Sterling to have employees engaged in the community?
TC: We just want to be seen as a community partner and one that is there more than just for customer relationships. We are in the community because we want to be and want to be a help in the community showing that we care. We want to make the community better and stronger. Like many banks Sterling had its own challenges and we worked hard to get through them and want the communities we serve to reap some of the benefits. When faced with the possibility of not being in the community it makes you evaluate the impact you want to make.
BW: What were some of the changes you made as a result?
TC: What we had before did not articulate our purpose and promise to employees or the community. Our purpose statement is we improve lives and strengthen communities. We are a bridge to the possible. What I think that does is tell someone, a customer or not, what we find is important and at Sterling we feel it’s important to be involved in our communities and customers lives and an asset to our communities.
BW: How have you seen this impact the community?
TC: Habitat Build is done in five states and they have two shifts with 30 people each. You generally meet the people that are moving into the house you are building and volunteers enjoy the satisfaction of knowing who they are doing this for. We are also heavily involved with JR Achievement and the United Way. We have done the United Way program for six years and our fundraising goals keep increasing. Nearly 80% of our employees participated in 2011.
BW: How has the community’s perception of Sterling been impacted?
TC: Especially in rural communities they see us as a great community partner. I think they know they can always count on Sterling to have either feet on the ground or to sponsor. We are always willing to be there.
BW: How do you encourage your employees to become involved?
TC: Leading by example where management actually volunteers rather than just being on a board. That’s just what you do to build relationships. You get out there. Entire teams will volunteer together and we have an intranet site where we upload photos and give employees kudos so that people are acknowledged.
BW: Do you have specific programs in place to promote volunteerism internally?
TC: We have a sponsorship program for monetary giving that is tied into an Angel Points software we call Bridge to the Possible. When reviewing a sponsorship request we go through the decision making process and part of the decision is whether it comes with volunteer time. We place those opportunities on the website so employees log in and see what is available and we push out notifications to employees so there is high visibility. We also have awards programs quarterly. Once employees hit 25 volunteer hours or more they get awards. Some people hit 500 hours every year.
BW: How long have you had these programs?
TC: We have had the tracking website for five year and awards program for four years.
BW: What advice do you have for other companies considering similar programs and goals?
TC: Because you can’t be everywhere understand where you want to be (education, affordable housing etc) and select a few and do them really-really well instead of selecting a bunch and doing them just ok. The investment in our software to track hours has been helpful in a lot of different ways because it breeds people wanting to do more volunteerism. It feeds on itself. We want to get to 50,000 hours in 2012.
According to VolunteerMatch.org in 1992, only 31 percent of surveyed companies reported using their employee volunteer programs to support core business functions. By 1999, 81% of companies reported using EVPs. As your company looks to create employee volunteer programs and begin to promote them internally you can take Sterling Savings example and utilize specific software programs, leverage the company intranet, create awards programs and have senior management actively involved. Most importantly take the time to evaluate your company vision, who you are and how you want to be perceived in the community then focus your efforts. Small companies without an HR Department or capital to donate can start by holding a team meeting to let employees discuss causes that are important to them. Take a vote and spend a day volunteering as a team. One day of the year should not drastically impact your companies profitability but it will have a positive impact on your team camaraderie and make a difference to those you are helping.
For more steps on creating your own employee volunteer program check out HandsOnBlog or Volunteer Match Solutions. Companies and their employees make a positive impact in communities every day. Your organization can be one of them.