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Top Tips On Developing An Employee Volunteer Program

9 April 2014 at 9:38 am
Lina Caneva
The opportunity that corporate volunteering offers is enormous says Clare Desira, the Manager of NAB’s Employee Volunteering Program. Desira offers her top tips for businesses looking to start or develop their own employee volunteering program.

Lina Caneva | 9 April 2014 at 9:38 am


Top Tips On Developing An Employee Volunteer Program
9 April 2014 at 9:38 am

The opportunity that corporate volunteering offers is enormous says Clare Desira, the Manager of NAB’s  Employee Volunteering Program. Desira offers her top tips for businesses looking to start or develop their own employee volunteering program. C_01fb.png

It is easy to spot a corporate volunteer manager in the office. They are the ones who are constantly juggling employees’ passions and good will whilst trying to drive meaningful outcomes for their employer and community organisations.

It is worth mastering keeping many balls in the air at once because the opportunity that volunteering offers is enormous.

In 2013 NAB employees volunteered over 18,000 days generating $7m of in-kind value for community organisations. Now in its 16th year, the program is a key initiative that demonstrates NAB’s commitment to building prosperous communities and increasing employee engagement and pride in working at NAB.  

NAB employees are encouraged to volunteer two days or more each year.  This means that if all NAB employees volunteered their two days between and the end of 2020, almost 1,000 years of in-kind support would have been provided to shift social issues and opportunities.  And we are just one organisation!

Managing volunteers can be a real challenge.  There are whole HR departments set up to support management of people who are actually paid to work yet volunteer managers in the corporate and community environments are required to efficiently manage people who make themselves available for no financial compensation.   

Here are my best tips for businesses looking to start or develop their employee volunteering program:

1.       Who are your scalable heroes?

Inspiring stories of an employee volunteer can go a long way to share your program and engage other employees in the opportunity, but it is important to choose the volunteer heroes wisely.  It is really tempting to profile the employee that goes far beyond their volunteer leave and makes a huge difference volunteering in their own time.  This case study will no doubt be inspiring but it may also be overwhelming for employees who aren’t involved in volunteering. To engage these employees make it easy for them to picture themselves in the volunteers’ shoes and profile a volunteer who has made a difference in the two days of available volunteer leave.

2.       For true employee engagement  benefits ask your employees what they want and respect their passions

Part of the business case for an employee volunteering program is likely to be increased levels of engagement and pride.  For true engagement benefits at NAB, we encourage employees to volunteer for causes they choose.  Employees also have the opportunity to volunteer as a team and to use their skills while volunteering.  To maximise employee engagement levels it is important to provide employees with the types of opportunities they are most interested in.  

Enthusiastic managers often ask their employees to use their leave and volunteer as a team.  This can be a great bonding experience for a team but it shouldn’t be the focus of employee volunteering.   A good question to ask in this case is will the employee be more engaged with their employment at the organisation from using their leave for a cause they are truly passionate about or for a cause they are asked to volunteer for by a team?

3.       Always put the community need first

We often get feedback from community groups that they feel pressure to take on corporate volunteers when contacted even if this means they have to make up a task them.  At NAB, we pride ourselves on only ever responding to genuine requests for volunteering.  Sure there are benefits to volunteering for your employees and organisations as well but to maintain the integrity of the corporate volunteering brand always put the community need first not the need for your senior executives or employees.  Before sending your employees out to volunteer, set the expectations of volunteers by encouraging your employees to be thankful to their host organisation.  Because it is the times that they don’t that are often remembered and can tarnish the corporate volunteering brand.

4.       Plan to scale especially if you are exploring the skilled volunteering space

With skilled volunteering on the rise, so are the resourcing requirements of employee volunteering programs.  Skilled volunteering is a little like the chicken and the egg scenario.  Sometimes a volunteer makes themselves and their skills known first to a cause and other times a community organisation is specific in asking for what they want.  Both can work well but what can accelerate this process is when a corporate invests in building case studies of skilled volunteering around their most common skills.   For example, tell stories to community organisations around how common skills have been helpful like business improvement or resource management rather than around a specialised skill that only a handful of people in your organisation have.

5.       Don’t make it mandatory but don’t forget to ask your employees to volunteer

Seems like a no brainer, but recent research by the Macquarie Graduate School of Management some employees need to be asked to volunteer by your team, their manager or by a colleague. Have crystal clear communications about the available opportunities and who is able to volunteer for them.  We wouldn’t recommend making volunteer leave mandatory.  Sending employees to volunteer who would rather be in the office is risky to your organisation’s brand and also for the corporate volunteering brand overall.

6.       Invest In and Resource your program

Employee Volunteering programs aren’t a quick fix CSR initiative.  They need to be resourced with people and systems so corporate volunteers are easy to work with and the experience is consistent.  You don’t want your employee volunteers taking up much needed resource at the community organisation that could be directly spent contributing to social needs and opportunities.

7.       Know your business case and know it well

One of my favourite things to do in this job is to present to internal teams on the business case for volunteering.  You can completely change the minds of your audience if you know your business case inside and out – how volunteering increases community investment impact, engagement levels of employees, skill development, mental and physical health of employees.  It helps with resourcing and stakeholder engagement for senior support.  Once your program is embedded and you have a healthy culture of employee volunteers it is likely to stay!

So is corporate volunteering for every organisation?  The short answer is no.  But for us at NAB we encourage anyone working at a community organisation to consider the opportunity.   Sometimes it pays to slow down to be able to speed up.  A great way to do this is by looking at your organisation’s priorities and identifying where corporate volunteers could help.  For more information on our program or to apply for volunteers see

If you are working in a corporate and looking to start or grow your own corporate volunteering program, come and join the conversation with our NAB Employee Volunteering team, the Volunteering Victoria team and representatives from organisations such as PWC, Telstra, Coles, Transurban, Medibank and more at the next Corporate Volunteering Breakfast which is taking place in National Volunteer Week, email for more information.

About the author: A leader in Australian volunteering, Clare Desira has a vision of a world where we are all more energetic, generous, optimistic and connected in more meaningful ways.  Desira leads one of Australia’s leading corporate volunteering programs at the National Australia Bank and whilst volunteering is one of the things she is most passionate about, her 50 year vision doesn’t include volunteers for good reason…they won’t be needed anymore.  

See more at to apply for volunteers or to read about Clare’s vision.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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