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What Are You Doing For Others? A Call to Service for Businesses

January 20, 2013

In recognition of the annual national day of service it seems like a good opportunity to talk about volunteering. Every year millions of Americans volunteer in their communities as a way to honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. Legislation signed in 1983 created the federal MLK Day and in 1994 Congress designated the MLK Federal Holiday as a national day of service.

Dr. King said that "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"

The national day of service is an opportunity for individuals and families across the nation to answer that question. We are cooking. We are tutoring. We are painting, cleaning, giving and listening. We are serving those in need, building a stronger foundation for our communities and working together for a brighter future for everyone.

But individuals and families are not the only ones who must heed that call. Businesses are an invaluable part of our communities and in order to build that stronger foundation and reach a brighter future, they have to be vested partners in service as well. One way for businesses to engage in their communities and give back is by offering employee volunteer programs.

Studies show there are many benefits to offering employee volunteer programs including enhanced employee satisfaction, stronger employee retention and recruiting, increased productivity, professional development opportunities for employees, workforce preparedness, and a positive company image in the larger community. Businesses of all sizes can benefit from these findings and should seriously consider starting or expanding an employee volunteer program.

There are many resources available online for anyone interested in starting an employee volunteer program. Some of the best tips include the following:

-Assess Employee Interests and Community Needs – What are your employees interested in? Are they already engaged in volunteer activities outside of work? What are the specific needs of your local community?

-Get Leadership and Management Support and Find Internal Champions – Support from leadership and management is important because it sets the direction of a company's culture. Leadership and management can help by dedicating funds for an employee volunteer program and leading by example. Internal champions are also important. These are the people with passion. They encourage others to volunteer and help create positive energy around the program.

-Try Different Incentives – Individuals are all motivated by different things so trying different incentives is a good way to see what employees respond to. Different programs can include one or a mix of the following: matching financial donations to non-profits, offering flex time, paid volunteer days, volunteer events organized at work, dollars for doers and in-kind support services. Businesses vary in size and in their ability to offer certain programs. While you might not be able to afford to offer paid volunteer days if you're running a small or medium sized business, there is something you can do and finding what works for you and your employees will ultimately benefit everyone involved.

The question of "What are you doing for others?" is one that must be answered by all and one that businesses should put at the top of their agenda for 2013.