Why Smart Companies Volunteer

Why Smart Companies Volunteer

by Greg Baldwin, President, VolunteerMatch

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 1:20pm

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CONTENT: Article

Why do so many smart companies have workplace volunteer programs? Well, if recent research is right, it might not be the reason you expected.

VolunteerMatch works with some of the best workplace volunteering programs in the world. And when we ask them why they believe volunteering is good for business, they are quick to point out that it: attracts and keeps talented employees; improves community relations; strengthens brand value; improves customer relations; demonstrates corporate values; builds teamwork; amplifies leadership; and when done well, expands an organization's capacity to impact the issues most relevant to its long-term success.

These are all great reasons, and they reflect a changing business environment in which doing good and doing well are increasingly aligned. Smart companies have realized that dedicating themselves to big ideas with a clear sense of purpose has become a fundamental ingredient of success.

Take Google as an example: Google's purpose isn't to be the most colossally profitable ad network ever. (Though, of course, that is what it has become.) No, Google's mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Google's commitment to making the world a better place is fundamental to its success. You might disagree with its methods, but Google has attracted some of the best minds in the world as employees, because to them the ads are just a means to an end -- not Google's reason for being.

Interestingly, Google also has an active volunteer program. Is this a coincidence? Or is there some connection between an employee's sense of purpose and their interest in volunteering?

That is one of the big questions Jessica Rodell from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia asks in her research study in the Academy of Management Journal -- Finding Meaning Through Volunteering: Why Do Employees Volunteer and What Does it Mean for Their Jobs?

To study the relationship between meaningful employment and volunteering, Ms. Rodell posits two competing motives for why employees might want to volunteer:

  1. Volunteering Compensates for a Lack of Meaningfulness at Work
  2. Meaningfulness Gained at Work Enhances Volunteering

The first theory is based on the idea that employees who lack meaning at work might be drawn to volunteer as a mechanism to compensate for something that is missing on the job.

The second, competing theory, is that meaningful job experiences foster a desire to engage in additional activities, like volunteering, that provide a similar sense of significance.

What do YOU think? Do people volunteer because their glass of purpose feels empty, or full?

While there are some exceptions, the research data supports the conclusion that there is a "positive trend between meaningful job experiences and volunteering."

It is an insight that helps explain what's going on at Google. While there are many, many good reasons for a company to organize a workplace volunteer program, one of the most important reasons might be that they have created an engaged culture that craves - or even demands - it.

The research suggests that the same sense of purpose that is attracting the best and the brightest is also feeding their desire to create meaning and purpose elsewhere.

It's almost as if the best organizations just can't help it...

We see this truth every day in our work. In fact, show me a company with a strong sense of purpose, and I'll show you a company with a great workplace volunteer program.

Why do so many successful companies have workplace volunteer programs? Because it is a part of the culture that makes them successful.

Contrary to popular opinion volunteering isn't so much what companies do when they lack purpose or vision, it is what they do when they've got it. What surprises many people about VolunteerMatch is that we don't try and convince companies they should volunteer, we just make it easier for them to do it well.

That's why smart companies volunteer.

Greg Baldwin is President of VolunteerMatch, the web's largest volunteer engagement network.

(Photo Credit: Flickr -- VolunteerMatch.org)