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July 6, 2016 / Rebekah Seder, Editor

How companies motivate their employees to volunteer

By Hudson Kaplan-Allen
WRAG’s 2016 Summer Intern

On June 23 WRAG’s Corporate Philanthropy Affinity Group heard from Chris Jarvis of Realized Worth on why employees are incentivized, or in some cases, dis-incentivized, to volunteer. Realized Worth is a consulting firm that focuses on engaging employees in corporate volunteering. As the co-founder and senior partner, Jarvis shared strategies for getting employees involved in their communities and committed to social issues.

“People who show up to company volunteering programs already like to volunteer,” Jarvis said, adding, “These aren’t the employees that need to be convinced.” It’s much harder to motivate those who are less inclined to come out and devote a day or even a few hours to volunteering in their community, he said. So how do organizations increase the number of employees who participate in these engagement opportunities?

Jarvis explained that people volunteer for a variety of reasons, noting that some people respond to extrinsic motivation while others respond better to intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation occurs when people engage in an activity to earn a reward. Maybe they are offered a bonus by their employer or are looking to meet new people. Intrinsic motivation is when people engage in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; in other words, performing an activity for its own sake rather than for an external/extrinsic reward. While our initial reasons are often extrinsic, if we fall in love with volunteering, it then becomes intrinsic.

Jarvis cited an episode of the PBS TV series The Brain entitled “Why Do I Need You?” When we find extrinsic happiness, he said, our reward system kicks in, and we often feel something like a runner’s high, a sensation that tricks us into going farther than we think we can go, pushing ourselves that last mile. These same chemicals are released when we volunteer, Jarvis said, especially when we visualize the beneficiary and can understand our own significance to that person. That’s when we fall in love with volunteering – when we can understand exactly how and what the significance of the volunteer work is. That’s when we will push to do that extra hour or even extra day of volunteering. We are intrinsically motivated. It’s about creating a transformative experience as opposed to a transactional interaction, Jarvis added. If we have the occasion to directly get to know the person we are helping, to have that “storyline,” we form an emotional connection with the cause and take away meaning from the experience.

Jarvis used an example from one of Realized Worth’s successful Corporate Citizenship programs. Recently, his company worked with one of their corporate clients to get its employees more engaged. They created a program in which the employees, customers, and business partners would come in on a Sunday morning, once a month, to learn about mental health awareness and hear from local professionals. Just months after the program launched, the corporation was benefiting tremendously. The employee engagement rate went up by 12% and the absenteeism rate dropped by 22%. Talking about mental health, Jarvis pointed out, created a safe space for employees where they felt comfortable and engaged with the company and the community. In concluding, Jarvis said that programs like this one benefit both the business and the community. And that’s good for everyone.


WRAG’s Corporate Philanthropy Affinity Group is comprised of corporate social responsibility leaders from more than 35 of the Greater Washington region’s top companies. This network provides members with professional development and best practice sharing; information on community needs and facilitated discussions with community, corporate, and nonprofit leaders; purposeful networking and partnership building; and a collective voice for corporate philanthropy. The next Corporate Philanthropy Affinity Group session, on measuring and evaluating CSR, is August 16. Click here to learn more.

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