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Building a Stronger Community: Employers and Employees Can Make A Difference by Goodsill Attorneys Barbara Petrus and Shannon Sagum

Jun 24, 2008

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 60 million Americans volunteer each year. Clearly, today’s workforce is more concerned with community service and social responsibility than previous generations, and for good reason. In addition to the positive impact on the community and society, the benefits of volunteer work to companies and individuals are vast.

Companies, both large and small, that promote and make corporate volunteering a priority are benefiting from increased employee retention and morale, enhanced recruitment, increased business opportunities, higher productivity and an improved public image. Employers should keep in mind that community involvement can extend beyond board memberships and corporate sponsorships. Employer-supported volunteering can take many forms, including establishing an employee volunteer program, giving employees time off to do volunteer work, encouraging employees to participate in charity events, and giving recognition to those employees that volunteer.

In addition, corporate volunteering can take the form of pro bono work, which is the donation of professional services that are included in an employee’s job description and for which the recipient would otherwise have to pay. Pro bono work is most commonly associated with the legal profession due to the number of law firms that encourage community involvement by providing billable hour credit to its attorneys who do pro bono work. However, pro bono work is by no means limited to the legal profession and can be applied to almost any service provider. For example, there are management consulting firms that provide business planning, marketing and fundraising services to local nonprofits. Similarly, doctors, through organizations such as Aloha Medical Mission, provide medical services to individuals with no medical insurance.

At the same time, employees that are active in the community find that volunteering offers many benefits, including the ability to make important networking contacts, the ability to learn or develop new skills, increased self-esteem and self-confidence, an enhanced resume, and personal gratification. In addition, a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that volunteering leads to improved physical and mental health, particularly in older adults and those serving at least 100 hours per year.

Because many people feel they have no time to volunteer and/or have no idea how to go about doing it, the following are some tips for successful volunteering. First, think about what causes/issues are important and meaningful to you and research what organizations deal with those issues. Helping a cause that is important to you will make it easier to donate your time and will allow you to meet others that share similar interests. The internet is a great resource for obtaining information on local organizations and volunteer opportunities. The following website may be a good starting point: www.volunteerhawaii.org

Second, be selective and choose only one or two organizations that you may want to volunteer with and contact them to inquire about what opportunities are available.  Third, consider the skills you have to offer and/or things you like to do and seek tasks within your chosen organization(s) that suit those skills/interests. Of course, if you are not sure what work you might like or dislike or if you want to develop new skills, volunteering will provide an excellent opportunity to explore different areas. Fourth, start small and be realistic in the amount of time you can commit to volunteering. Over-committing yourself will lead to frustration and exhaustion and will decrease your interest in volunteering. Volunteering only 1-2 hours per week or working on small, discrete projects is still important and makes a difference.

Fifth, look into virtual volunteer opportunities, which provide increased flexibility to volunteers. Many organizations now provide computer-based volunteer opportunities, such as event planning, letter writing, research, and database creation. Sixth, volunteer with your family or friends. Doing so can bring friends and families closer together and will likely keep you excited about volunteering. Finally, don’t give up on volunteering even if you’ve had a bad experience. Not all organizations are the same and you may have a better experience with another organization.

Published in the Honolulu Advertiser, June 24, 2008 SHRM Hawaii Special Insert.

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