Anne Wilson: Why engaging your employees in the community is a smart idea

In a market as competitive as the Bay Area, companies need an edge when recruiting top talent. Pay grades, flexible schedules and vacation time are critical bargaining chips, of course, but one area that is often overlooked is employee engagement opportunities.

Research demonstrates that the new generation of employee is actually demanding social giving opportunities. They want to engage in their community and their world — and they expect their employer to not only be on board, but to provide the opportunity.

When companies view their volunteer programs as strategic assets and incorporate service into their business planning, they have a competitive advantage when it comes to engaging a younger workforce. A culture of volunteerism can help satisfy energetic millennials’ desire for stimulating and diverse work assignments and leadership opportunities, while responding to their desire to make a meaningful difference in society.

Improve your bottom line and your reputation

A volunteer program benefits more than employees, however; companies profit as well. Volunteerism helps employees build their leadership capabilities and expand their skill set. Think of it as free professional development for your staff as you groom your future leaders.

A report from the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship found that there is a proven correlation between a corporate culture of volunteerism and increased employee satisfaction, loyalty and productivity. In the end, these factors tangibly improve the company’s bottom line.

And if that wasn’t enough of a reason, there’s one final piece of the equation. A 2013 Deloitte survey found that 88 percent of companies who offered a corporate citizenship initiative that promoted volunteerism felt that their organizational reputation in the community was improved as well.

Talk about a sound return on investment.

Implementing a model

For small to midsize companies, offering in-house volunteer programs may be difficult with limited resources and competing priorities.

Fortunately, for Northern California companies, there are existing places where you can point your employees for volunteer opportunities. A sampling can be found online at, or

The one essential change that needs to occur internally is the cultural shift toward supporting this effort. Your company may handle this in a variety of ways:

  • Ask a staff member to organize a Saturday volunteer opportunity.
  • Institute paid “volunteer time off” for employees — giving them one or two days in a year where they can volunteer with an organization and on a day of their choosing.
  • Create time during staff meetings to acknowledge the volunteer efforts of employees and leadership who are serving as the face of your organization in the community.

Countless other ideas await, limited only by your creativity. Whichever volunteerism model you choose to create, know that your investment is one that you will see returns on for years to come.

Anne Wilson is chief executive officer of United Way of the Bay Area, a nonprofit organization committed to cutting Bay Area poverty in half by 2020. Wilson serves on the Advisory Board of the University of California Berkeley School of Social Welfare, the Advisory Council of Dominican University’s Brennan School of Business and the United Way Worldwide National Professional Service Council. She has been named one of The San Francisco Business Times’ annual “Most Influential Women” for the past nine years. For more information, visit

Learn more about the United Way of the Bay Area at:

Twitter: @UnitedWaySFBay