When is the last time you were able tell senior management in your organization the expected financial return on investment (ROI, because there’s always an acronym) for time spent volunteering?

For workers who find personal value in giving back, this can be very frustrating. For managers who have financial targets to hit, this too is frustrating. You want your employees to give back because you understand the value is creates for them in their lives and careers, and doggonit, it’s good for the community!  But ultimately, time not spent on billable projects is revenue lost, regardless of whether it’s volunteer time or time paid for by the company.  So, I have a few thoughts on how to go about doing this so it’s a win – win for all involved.

If you’ve read any of my past blogs, you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s all about planning and setting expectations.  There are questions both the community-minded employee and manager should be asking before jumping into the community involvement pool.  There are tons of great organizations that welcome volunteerism and no shortage of others looking for mentors, speakers, and teachers.

The first thing to do is to answer this question:  
How does the community-related activity fit into the company mission/vision?
Second: How will the activity benefit the employee?
Third: How does the activity benefit the community?

Following are the intangible benefits (i.e. intangible to the question of “what’s the ROI?”) to being a community-minded employee in your company.  For the most part, they help answers 2 and 3 above.

  1. Career Development: This one can be huge in many ways.  Depending on the volunteering role, you may be able to apply your skills differently or you may be able to learn skills that you wouldn’t normally learn on the job.  You will have the opportunity to build your network, both personally and professionally.  You’ll meet people in the benefiting organization at many levels of the organization as well as like-minded employees from other companies in other industries.  That could result in new business opportunities for your company or for you.  Finally, if the volunteer opportunity is on a board of directors or is one where you’re leading a project, it’s an excellent way to develop leadership skills and public speaking skills.
  2. Improve Employee Morale: What’s more fun and engaging than getting together with a team of your work colleagues to do something nice for a charity or a community organization?  Not only is morale improvement a benefit, but so are the team building opportunities that can be found from volunteer team projects.  Look for projects that require skills you don’t normally get to use as a team (i.e. if you’re on a software development team in the workplace, take on a community project that puts you outside like building gardens at a school or assisted living home).  If you’re the team lead at work, suggest a team member lead the community project team.  Which leads me to number 3:
  3. Mentorship: There are several mentorship opportunities to volunteering in the community.  Like the aforementioned, it’s an opportunity to help develop a junior team member’s leadership and project management skills.  Volunteers will also have the opportunity to mentor members of the benefiting community organization.  The converse of this is true as well.  Volunteers may have the opportunity to find a mentor in a member of the benefiting organization.  Finally, there are likely several local organizations that are focused on teaching economically challenged children and adults in many different areas.  This is a prime way to provide mentorship to the community and may further benefit the local economy by helping the less advantaged become part of the tax base in the workforce.
  4. Economic Development: A community with engaged corporations and small businesses is a key part to a larger economic development plan.  Your local economic development authorities, economic development offices, non-profit partnerships for economic development, chambers of commerce, (get the idea? There are many stakeholders working toward improving local economies.) are working hard to attract new businesses to your area.  They may be competing with other localities that have similar resources or geography.  Regardless, a key selling point just may be how involved local business is with improving the lives of others through local charitable organizations.  It shows engagement, collaboration, and a healthy place to find an engaged workforce.

These are a few things to consider as an employee or manager who need to sell community involvement to the bean counters.

BUT, if you’re a manager with a budget, consider this.  Can you afford to put community-engagement time into your budget?  Can the aforementioned ‘intangibles’ be enough to put a line item in your budget for this activity?  This may require some creative accounting (not illegal accounting, but maybe moving some overhead recoveries to different accounting categories).  If you have the ability and the willingness to put this into your budget, it’s very important to make known your expectations to your employees, especially if paid volunteerism is a temporary opportunity that may go away depending on company financial performance.

Special thanks to MSBCoach for their partnership on this blog topic.  Read more in their white paper posted here.

This article was originally published on February 18, 2016 on Adrian's Centridian blog.

Adrian Felts, PMP
Author: Adrian Felts, PMPWebsite:
COO of Centridian, LLC
Adrian is a Project Management consultant certified by the Project Management Institute© (PMI). He has 20+ years of “hand’s on” career, laboratory, and corporate leadership experience. He is a local leader in the Central Virginia defense industry and the community. He is focused on excellence in personnel management and science-related philanthropy, and provides consulting services to local businesses who want to grow in the defense industry and/or build strong teams focused on a common core of project management principles.
Adrian is a CBIC Board Member and Chair of the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce. He is also a Board Member of the Thomas Jefferson Area United Way and Director of the Virginia Piedmont Regional Science Fair.