There’s an article in Forbes that explores the power of employer-sponsored volunteerism. It explains the many benefits of it, including improving employee mental health, promoting skill building and growing workplace engagement. And while we talk a lot about volunteerism for associations, it’s often more about getting volunteers and having volunteers work for you. But this article got us thinking. . . Maybe there’s something bigger here for associations. 

First off, more on the article 

This article was written by Garen Staglen who is the co-founder and chairman of One Mind At Work. One Mind At Work is a branch of One Mind, a nonprofit committed to healing the lives of people impacted by brain illness and injury. One Mind At Work partners with company leaders to change the way workplaces approach mental health.  

In the article, Staglen shares how empowering employers and enabling them to spend time volunteering does more good than many people know. He breaks down the main buckets of “benefits” into helping the world, improving the wellness and health of the individual and building a healthier and more productive workplace.  

There are many awesomely surprising findings in this article that support his argument, including: 

  • “Volunteer time-off programs can build soft skills like public speaking, communication, teamwork, problem solving, work ethic, and time management” 
  • “Employees who volunteer through work report feeling better about their employer and stronger bonds with co-workers” 
  • “77% of consumers were motivated to purchase from companies committed to making the world better” 

What exactly is sponsored volunteerism? 

The SHRM defines sponsored volunteerism as an organization (or employer, teacher, group leader, etc) supporting – often with paid time off, sponsorship or other benefits – a person for pursuing volunteer opportunities or partaking in community services.  

How does it connect with associations? 

As we said, this article got us thinking. More specifically, it got us thinking about the role that sponsored volunteerism could and should be playing in the world of nonprofits.  

How many member-based organizations have volunteer opportunities listed as member benefit?  

And we know you need volunteers yourself, but do you open up volunteer time to your members? Do you actively share the benefits of being a volunteer and encourage your members to do so? 

Why your association should provide sponsored volunteer time to members 

Staglin’s article may talk about benefits from an employer-employee standpoint, but the benefits remain the same for associations.  

Making space and even promoting volunteering to your members will: 

  • Give them an opportunity to represent your organization in the public 
  • Provide opportunity to connect with other members 
  • Shows you walk the talk on your mission and values 
  • Make them feel connected to your organization 
  • Foster a sense of pride in being a member of your association (making referrals more likely) 

What could sponsorship look like for associations? 

While “paid time off” isn’t really application for association members, there are other methods of sponsorship you could consider: 

  • Give credits towards a certificate or other recognition for giving back 
  • Discount their membership dues 
  • Provide free tickets to an upcoming event you’re hosting 
  • Free lunch during volunteer hours 
  • A certificate or award based on volunteer hours 

At the same time, though, reflect on the opportunities you give to your association staff. Do your staff get time off to volunteer and give back? 

How to promote volunteerism within your association 

Now that we’ve explored what sponsored volunteerism is, how it can benefit your association and what sponsorship could look like, there’s one piece missing:  

How do you, as a member-based organization that is NOT their fulltime job or focus, promote volunteering to your members? 

We’ve got a few ideas. 

Host a volunteering event 

Associations love their events. Lunch and learns, networking events, fundraising events. . . we love them! 

Why not merge them with a volunteer event?  

A lunch and learn could be a “lunch and lend” where members get a free lunch and then lend their time to a foodbank, soup kitchen or other community organization for an hour. Volunteering time is an incredible way to meet new people. Plus, it makes a great first impression on the people you meet.  

This is where the creative side of your planning can come out. Push the boundaries of your typical events and look for ways to build space for your members to give back.  

Promote local volunteer opportunities 

One of the hardest parts of deciding to volunteer is knowing where to go to find volunteer opportunities. Consider hosting a volunteerism page on your member website where you can post opportunities. If you have an online community space, you can build an entire forum all about volunteering.  

Building off this, you can partner and support local organizations by encouraging them to share volunteer opportunities with you and your members. It helps to grow the connection your association has to the community and provides visibility for those groups, too. 

If you have an online community space, like CommUnity, you can build a form all about volunteering where members can ask questions, find others to volunteer with and share their own experiences.  

There’s a whole side to member engagement and experience when you build volunteerism into your association.  

Invite a spokesperson for a volunteer organization to speak at a lunch and learn 

Since the COVID Pandemic, the sense of connection and community to our neighbors has changed. Having someone who works in volunteerism speak to your members about opportunities, making time for it and even sharing a first-hand account of how helpful it is for organizations can do a lot to build a personal connection to the idea.  

Plus, it opens up the floor for your members to ask questions about what it means to volunteer.  

For younger members, they may never have done it before! That can make it feel even more intimidating. Asking questions and getting closer to the world of volunteering is a big step towards actually doing it. 

Provide a benefit for volunteering 

This is what puts the “sponsored” in “sponsored volunteerism”. We made this point above, but volunteering can turn someone thinking about it into someone who does it.  

A certificate of volunteer hours is something to really consider. Having a professional association verify volunteer time speaks volumes of a member (and their organization) and can bulk up a resume.  

Share education about the benefits of volunteering 

We’ve listed some of the personal benefits of volunteering here. Do you share these with your members?

Make sure you educate them on why volunteering is so great. Include benefits for them, their community and the world. Some more benefits you can promote include: 

  • Deeper connection to your community 
  • Learning new skills 
  • Gain confidence 
  • Build a sense of purpose 
  • Can reduce stress 
  • Builds personal network and connections 

Some other fun stats about volunteering 

  • Women volunteer 6% more than men 
  • Utah has the most volunteers than any other state (51%) 
  • The estimated value of an hour of volunteer time is $28.54. 
  • People aged 35 – 54 are most likely to volunteer 
  • People who volunteer are 27% more likely to be hired for a new job 
  • 71% of volunteers dedicate their volunteer time to a single organization 
  • 96% of volunteers believe that doing so increases their sense of purpose 

Address the challenges of volunteering – and share ways to overcome them 

You’re probably knowledgeable about the challenges from speaking with your own volunteers but some of the most common challenges to volunteer are: 

  • Finding somewhere to volunteer 
  • Feeling uncomfortable and not knowing anyone 
  • Being too tired to do it 
  • Not having the time 

Many of the points above can help tackle these challenges but being really open about these points shows your members that you understand where they’re coming from. If you do have someone come in to speak to volunteering, it’s a good idea to have them specifically mention some of these points. 

It is through this type of dialogue that volunteer organizations and potential volunteers end up on the same side of a problem, not battling each other for energy and time.  

Sponsored volunteerism: Good for your members, good for your association 

Staglen did something incredibly valuable in his Forbes article; He connected volunteerism with increased professional performance and personal happiness. While this article is written for employers, the same message applies to associations. Encouraging your members to volunteer is a hidden member benefit that you should start taking advantage of. Not only will you be making your members happier, but you can help make the world a nicer place.