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Volunteering on company time: five reasons to do it

a path to progress

Some employees may think that giving back during the workday doesn’t make sense. But a substantial percentage of companies offer volunteer benefits.

John Kehe

This column is part of an occasional series about how you, too, can make a difference. It is written by the head of our partner organization UniversalGiving, which is dedicated to helping people give and volunteer.

Volunteer at my company? Perhaps many of you are thinking, “How can I even think about that? I can barely make deadlines as it is. Plus, work is work. It’s not about goofing off or doing personal things. I’ve got to make my sales quota, finish that legal brief, or respond to 60 emails.”

It’s time to reassess! Volunteering is very much alive and acceptable in businesses today. More than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have volunteer programs, according to research compiled by Prof. Adam Grant at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. And 60 percent of small and midsize companies offer volunteer benefits, according to America’s Charities.

So let’s take a look at volunteering in the workplace. There are many more pluses than you can imagine. You can:

Get money. What does that mean? The company is going to pay me to volunteer? Well, in a way it’s true, with “dollars for doers” programs. When you are a “doer” and volunteer, your business will then donate to your chosen nongovernmental organization.

Company policies vary greatly. For example, at Exxon Mobil, if you volunteer 20 hours the company provides a $500 donation. And Microsoft makes a $25 donation for every hour you volunteer.

Build relationships. You may say, “I have enough friends – I don’t have time for new ones!” But by volunteering, new possibilities can arise. Maybe the person with whom you are volunteering at work also has children. Your kids end up doing fun things together. Maybe it will result in a new partnership in two months, or two years. You will meet a different cohort of people from your workplace who can positively affect your life.

Include your family. With so many families pressed for time, corporate volunteering can allow them to accomplish a number of things at once. Families who volunteer can help create awareness about those less fortunate, give back together, practice their family values, and share time together.

Volunteering as a family also allows you to see what it’s like in tougher areas of your community and the world. These experiences are great topics at the dinner table.

Broaden your company participation. If “getting ahead” is your main goal, then volunteering can be a great opportunity. Please keep in mind that we always want to be genuine in the reasons we volunteer; at the same time, it’s OK to volunteer if it helps in other ways.

Volunteering shows your company that you care about helping others. It shows you care about being involved in the business beyond your job description. When company leaders see an employee getting involved in ways that are not required, they are impressed. It could be one element that helps you accelerate your management track.

Meet new clients. What a fun way to meet new clients! Your business might offer volunteering in conjunction with another company. Even if a person from the other firm isn’t a potential client, he or she might know someone who is. Expand your network.

Volunteering is a great idea for business, family, and your own personal growth. Next time that work email arrives saying, “It’s time to volunteer!,” take a second look. Instead of thinking you don’t have time, maybe you’ll jump in, give back, and gain more.

Pamela Hawley is the founder and chief executive officer of UniversalGiving. She is a recipient of the Jefferson Award (the Nobel Prize of community service). She also writes the blog “Living and Giving.”