The Employee Volunteerism Dividend: How Volunteering Can Foster Talent Development

Apr 12, 2016 11:00 AM ET

Employee volunteer programs are often seen as a great way to promote social good, while increasing employees’ sense of connection with their company’s mission and purpose, thereby driving engagement. But there’s another dimension to company-sponsored volunteerism that may be just as powerful in energizing your workforce – it can provide employees with a meaningful and effective way to develop their talents and build their careers.

The benefits of viewing employee volunteer programs as development opportunities are more than anecdotal. A Volunteer IMPACT survey from Deloitte found that 90 percent of corporate human resources executives think that contributing business skills and expertise to a nonprofit in a volunteer capacity can be an effective way to develop leadership skills. There are multiple types of volunteer initiatives that can double as strong talent development opportunities. Here are three to get started:

1. Implement a skills-based volunteer event
Providing employees with the chance to contribute not only their time and energy, but their specific skill sets and expertise is an excellent way to make an impact and empower the employee. Skills-based volunteering can improve employee confidence and allow them to gain new perspectives on the work they do on a day-to-day basis. As an example, last fall, Prudential partnered with the Taproot Foundation and Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership to host a ScopeAthon – a half-day, pro bono volunteering event where corporate executives provide their professional expertise in a targeted consulting session, providing nonprofit organizations with critical help in diagnosing organizational challenges and mapping out the projects necessary to address them. Twenty-five marketing, human resources, strategy, finance and technology employees contributed their experience and knowledge to help nine nonprofit organizations strengthen their strategic approaches and day-to-day processes and operations. The activity also gave the employee volunteers the opportunity to build their networking, collaboration and strategic consulting skills.

2. Organize a team-building activity
Many volunteer activities already incorporate a natural team-building element, or there are often easy ways to add this component. You can choose from a wide range of projects such as a Habitat for Humanity event where your employees help build or enhance community housing, partnering with a local school or senior center to create a vegetable garden, holding a book donation drive to stock a library, or participating in a team building event like Build-A-Bike®, which allows your employees to break into small groups to build bicycles for children in underserved communities. Each team activity provides your employees with the chance to do good while sharpening their collaboration and project management skills as well as giving them a chance to network with peers and leaders from across your organization.

3. Allow employees to pursue passion projects
Encouraging employees to pursue their passions outside of their jobs not only allows them to give more to the community, but can benefit them in the workplace. In addition to fostering happier, more fulfilled employees, supporting employees’ interests can help them gain perspective, relate better to others and build skills in new areas. One of the most rewarding and instructive experiences I’ve had in my career is my participation in the annual bike ride with Ride 2 Recovery, a nonprofit dedicated to helping injured veterans improve their health and wellness through individual and group cycling events. Through meeting and riding with these heroes, I have had the chance to learn about the challenges they face in reengaging in civilian life as they recover from physical and mental ailments, such as PTSD. As a talent management leader, having the opportunity to deepen my understanding of the difficulties of returning to “everyday life” after a personal crisis has been instrumental in helping me support our employees with diverse backgrounds, or who have experienced significant hardships. In addition, I leverage the Prudential matching gift program which provides a 1:1 match to employee donations helping to make my donation go even further.

The critical role that employee volunteerism can play in talent development reminds me of the old HR tenet called 70:20:10 and its important takeaway: people develop best by doing. Seventy percent of employee learning should be experiences, 20 percent should be from other people and 10 percent from formal (classroom) learning. The best way to develop yourself and your employees is through new experiences. Employee volunteer activities are an outstanding way to do this – while advancing your company’s mission and making a meaningful much needed contribution to the communities in which you work and live.