How Volunteering Can Help Your Business

Small businesses are always looking for ways to strengthen the culture, empower employees, find new clients, and build goodwill in the community.

Many companies will invest time and money in outside consultants, training, and company outings hoping to improve the business environment and achieve these goals.

But what if there was a low-cost or no-cost way to achieve these same results? Few opportunities provide as much value to a small business and its employees as volunteering, especially as a team.

Let’s take a quick look at the benefits of volunteering for your small business and employees.

Healthier Employees

From volunteering? Yes.

Health care costs have skyrocketed over the past decade. Sick days, missed time for doctor appointments, and a slew of other health-related absenteeism cost businesses on both the expense and revenue sides of the ledger.

So how can volunteering help? It feels good to do good.

That sounds a little hokey; in the real world that won’t actually help my business, will it?

According to Shawn Achor, happier employees are more productive and produce better results, so a volunteer outing can actually boost company happiness and results. If you’re not familiar with Achor and his work, his talk on happiness is one of the most viewed TED talks. Achor spent more than 10 years researching happiness and lecturing at Harvard University.

From a scientific standpoint, when we’re happy and doing work we feel good about, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine improves our overall sense of well-being and increases our capacity to learn, be creative, and experience increased levels of vibrancy.

Think those things would help your business?

Company Culture

When a business has a higher purpose or vision than simply making a profit, it inspires us to do more, think more, and be more.

Volunteering creates meaningful experiences for every employee who participates and builds a positive common-ground experience companies can share and later reflect on.

Sending the message to your employees that your company exists for more reasons than just to turn a profit can help create a sense of purpose much bigger than just working for a paycheck.

Network With Other Volunteers

Who else volunteers?

Volunteering is a great way to meet quality people. Business leaders, politicians, and others who buy into the give-back mentality are a positive group to surround yourself and your employees with. Do not volunteer with the intention to sell or recruit, but volunteering might just be the bridge to a quality relationship that leads to your next client, a strategic partnership, or a future hire.

Also within the company, it’s a great way for like-minded employees to get to know one another better. When volunteering is optional, the mere decision to volunteer builds a bond among employees who choose to attend that wasn’t there before.

Recognizing Leaders

Human capital management is an approach to employee staffing that assesses the current and future value of everyone in the company.

Every company does its best to get the right people on the bus and help keep the company moving in the right direction. The attitude the team members embrace while volunteering can go a long way to see if your company has hired the right people.

While the 9-to-5 routine may not offer many opportunities for the whole team to interact and engage with one another, volunteering can help the team interact in a different setting and environment, which may showcase some natural leaders who might otherwise go unnoticed.

Community Goodwill

Companies invest in advertising both online and offline in hopes of creating brand awareness. Few activities create as much word-of-mouth buzz or goodwill as volunteering in your local community.

While goodwill should not be the primary reason for volunteering, it is a natural side effect of giving back.

Personal Volunteer Story

When I lived in San Francisco from 2004-06, I volunteered at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) serving food to low-income elders every Sunday for two years. Many of the diners traveled a long way to get there, some for an hour-plus on the bus, just to get a warm meal.

Volunteering on an ongoing basis allowed me to cultivate strong personal relationships.

The interaction with the diners was rewarding beyond words. The special connections, relationships and looks of happiness on the faces of diners caused my eyes to well up on more than one occasion.

I also built strong relationships with the other volunteers who took time out of their busy lives to serve the less fortunate. No one’s outside job matters much when you’re wearing a hairnet and apron and serving food, but I later learned some of the volunteers with whom I was working side by side were prominent members of the Bay Area business community.

After volunteering for about a year, I was asked to be on the Executive Leadership Committee at the JCC and help oversee and guide the SFJCC, a recently built $80 million structure. Shocked and humbled, I gladly accepted the opportunity.

There I was, a 24-year-old attending meetings with some of the most successful and influential SF business leaders and executives, most of whom were nearly twice my age. It was an invaluable learning experience that I could not have scripted. The door to that opportunity, which wasn’t accessible to your average 24-year-old, was opened through volunteering.

Joe Sweeney is a social entrepreneur, committed to helping individuals and organizations grow and solve problems. Most recently, he was the co-founder and CEO at 100state, a nonprofit, startup community of entrepreneurs, educators, and innovators in Madison, Wis. Joe was recently named one of 53 entrepreneurs on Madison Magazine’s “M List: The New Who’s Who” for his work with 100state.

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