5 Steps to Help Employees Find Joy in Volunteering

September 13, 2022

I’m not sure if it was turning 40, the state of the world we’re living in, the deep division of values showing up at federal and local levels, the worry I feel for my kids every day, or a heaping pile of all the things sitting on my shoulders, but lately, there’s a deep calling within me to be the change I want to see in the world.  

But with SO much change I want to see (and a limited amount of time I can dedicate), I became paralyzed by the possibilities. Do I devote my time to gun control, local campaigning, reproductive rights, social justice, gender equality… the list goes on.  

It turns out, after speaking with friends, family, my Ambition + Mischief community, and yes, my therapist, my journey to activism is not unique. Many of us, especially now, are feeling the weight of the world and are being called to devote our free time to causes that matter. 

In response to such demand, more companies are offering volunteer time off at an increasing rate. Volunteer time off (VTO) is paid time given to employees to support causes that are important to them.

According to SHRM's 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, 26% of organizations offer VTO to their employees, an increase of 5% over the previous 5 years. 

While more organizations are ditching structured corporate volunteer programs in favor of VTO, many companies miss the mark when it comes to encouraging their employees to use it.

In addition to providing a hit list of top volunteer-matching networks (see below for my starter list!), you can help your people navigate their journey to advocacy and activism with the following five steps:  

1. Understand your limitations.  

There are countless volunteer opportunities with varying commitment levels.  

The first step in choosing an opportunity that’s right for you is to understand the time you’re willing and able to offer. Can you dedicate an hour a week on an ongoing basis or are you looking for a one-time activity with a more concentrated time commitment? 

2. Identify your talents.  

In The Lightmaker's Manifesto, activist, author and leadership consultant Karen Walrond says to find joy in activism, you need to first uncover the things that you already love to do — and then figure out how you can use those skills, gifts and interests to serve.  

To create that list, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Which activities give me energy? 
  • What skills do I use in my daily life that I enjoy?  
  • Are there any hobbies that I’ve let go of that I’d like to revisit?  

3. Get clear on your values.  

Just as organizations need to live their core values to be authentic, individuals need to live their values through volunteerism to ignite their passion.   

If you’re not sure what values are most important to you, check out Brené Brown’s values exercise to whittle down your list to your two core values. And yes, that's right. Just two, not 10 or 15! As Brené shares in the Dare to Lead podcast:

"What are the one or two values, looking at all the circled ones, where everything else is forged, that all these are great, but without these, there’s really nothing. And when you look at the values, you’re asking, 'Does this define me? Is this who I am at my best? Is this a filter that I use to make hard decisions?'"

4. Find your cause.  

With so many causes vying for your attention, it might be hard to choose just one to focus on.

But before you spread yourself too thin, know that channeling your energy into a single cause will result in a much bigger impact than dividing your energy amongst several.  

To find your true calling, Karen Walrond says to think about the things, "that make us angry or that break our hearts or really just make us think this can't be the way it is, that something has to change." Write those things down.  

5. Be the change.  

Now, armed with your personal inventory, it’s time to browse volunteer opportunities that map to your goals, skills, interests and values.  

There are plenty of volunteer-matching networks out there – some focus on service-based activities, some on skills-based opportunities, some both and more. Here’s a short list I created on my own search to get you started:

  • Catchafire connects skilled professionals with nonprofit organizations to solve critical business challenges. You can choose to engage in a one-hour phone call to advise on a topic or participate in a full-length project to turn around a deliverable.  
  • Taproot Plus is another skills-based network for individuals and businesses. Volunteers connect with nonprofits virtually or in-person for focused projects with clear deliverables or consultations to troubleshoot, brainstorm, or diagnose current organizational challenges. 
  • VolunteerMatch is a database that connects volunteers with a wide variety of nonprofit organizations including schools, hospices, hospitals, and other government and tax-exempt organizations. With skills-based opportunities, service-based activities and everything in between, this is a good site to check out if you want options galore.  
  • AmeriCorps has worked to make service to others an indispensable part of the American experience. Through our nation’s most trying times, AmeriCorps has come together to help those in need in these key areas: education, economic opportunity, disaster services, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families.  
  • United Way is engaged in 95% of the U.S. and serves more than 1,100 communities across 37 countries and territories worldwide. Its mission is to build stronger, more equitable communities where everyone can thrive by focusing on strengthening education, economic mobility, and access to health.  
Interested in where I netted out?

Through my journey of introspection, family and safety rose to the top of my values list, so I’ve decided to channel my energy into a grassroots effort called Moms Demand Action to advocate for public safety measures that protect people from gun violence.  

While my local chapter is ramping up, I’ve also applied for a couple one-hour consultation calls through Catchafire. This is a low-effort, high-impact way to devote my time to other causes that matter to me, which brings me a lot of joy.  

Don’t stop there. Share your people’s stories!

Hearing about other people’s journeys to activism and the causes that matter to them is a way for us to connect on a deeper level and inspire each other to be the change we want to see.

For internal communicators, these personal stories can serve as a spark to encourage more employees to use their VTO and find their calling, so don’t be shy asking for personal stories. You might be surprised by how eager people are to share and inspire. If you’d like to connect live to discuss, I welcome the conversation

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.  

For more bite-sized brilliance, subscribe to our monthly employee engagement newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitterand Pinterest

Patty Rivas

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