A Great Example of Employee Volunteering Done Right

It takes a little thought to make an employee volunteer program run well.  Here are 5 pointers from a company doing it right.

Not all employee volunteer programs are created equal. Many lack any real mandate or purpose and are little more than a ‘nice to have’ perk providing a day out of the office (for more of our thoughts on this click here).

There are other employee volunteer programs however, that inject so much value back into the company – as well as the lives of the employees and the community– that I can’t help but talk about them wherever I go. Lately, I can’t say enough about Edelman Canada’s “The Little Give.”

The Little Give, Toronto

Here’s how it works:

To ensure cross-practice and cross-level interaction, the entire Toronto office is divided into 10 teams.

Each participant donates 48 hours of their time to help 10 local charities and non- profit organizations with the PR-related challenges they are currently facing.

At the end of the 48 hours, the teams gather in celebration to present the results of their time spent volunteering while a panel of judges determines who “wins.” (In 2010, Realized Worth had the privilege of sitting on the judging panel.

Edelman employees benefit from The Little Give as they build teams and gain new skills, the community benefits from problems solved and money donated, and Edelman as a whole benefits as their employees become better, more-educated people and their reputation increases in the community. The Little Give is wildly popular and eagerly anticipated by employees.

The question is, what makes The Little Give work so well?

1. The volunteer activities align with the brand.

Edelman is the world’s largest independent PR firm. Public relations firms are made up of graphic designers, marketers, writers, advertising experts, web designers, software engineers, and more – essentially, people with huge amounts of value to offer charities and non-profits. For The Little Give, Edelman engages in projects that utilize these skills. Some of the non-profits they worked with needed help promoting an event, some needed to create a business plan, and others needed a website overhaul. All of the projects aligned directly with the specific skill sets within which Edelman operates.

2. The volunteer activities are high impact, meaning; without Edelman, these activities could not take place.

This point connects directly with point #1. There’s nothing wrong with taking employees out to plant trees, but anybody can do that (here’s an example of what we mean). Excellent employee volunteer programs will depend on your company’s unique resources in order to function. For more on high impact volunteering, download Bea Boccalandro’s excellent paper, The End of Employee Volunteering.  Bea is a thought leader in the areas of CSR and corporate volunteering with an experience-based understanding of why some types of volunteering are good for a corporation, and others are….pointless, really. Here are some examples of what Bea calls ‘high impact’ community service programs.

3. The volunteer activities make the company better at what they do.

When Edelman employees engaged in solving the challenges of the non-profits they were working with, they found themselves practicing some of the following skills:

  • project management,
  • problem solving,
  • resource identification,
  • public presenting,
  • teamwork, and more.

While the task itself required skills regularly used in their every day jobs, the work that surrounded it required practicing skills that served to make them higher functioning employees overall. At the Little Give celebration event in 2010, we spoke to one manager who was quite overwhelmed as she listened to a strong presentation given by a team member who had previously been fearful of public speaking. She commented that he may never have had the opportunity to practice and hone this skill had it not been for The Little Give.

4. The volunteer activities – and the program overall – are so integrated with the business that extra costs are minimal.

Edelman plans each year to donate a certain amount of money to their partner charities through The Little Give (this year each charity received $2500 to be used as part of the 48-hour project), but the running of the program itself is light on cost. Because the skills and materials necessary are built into the employees themselves as well as that initial $2500, Edelman does not have to put piles of cash down for trees to plant or experts to hire or even materials for promotion. They didn’t even pay for their post-project celebration space – it was provided by a client, Labatt Brewing Company. (Labatt also provided the celebratory refreshments!)

5. The volunteer activities are fun.

Never underestimate the power of turning work into play. The Little Give is something Edelman employees eagerly look forward to every year. It is a sense of intrinsic motivation – rather than obligation – that allows them to help make the program a success by way of their own enthusiasm. From working as a team with colleagues they’ve never met before, to practicing long-forgotten skills, to solving a major problem for a non-profit that needed the help – and celebrating well at the end of it all – the elements of fun in The Little Give are nearly endless.

What works for you?

These 5 elements may not translate directly to your company, but something like it does. Just remember, don’t rush into a half-assed program before you’re ready. You’ll just end up fixing a lot of broken parts somewhere down the line. Take a few minutes to consider what an excellent employee volunteer program looks like for your company – and then, if you want to, give us a call. We’d love to help you make sure you’re on the right track.


Contact Realized Worth at 317.371.4435 or chrisjarvis@realizedworth.com or angela@realizedworth.com