8 Ways to Maximize Employee Engagement Through Volunteer Programs with Ben Sampson, Founder & CEO of WeHero

Ben Sampson

We had the best time chatting with Ben Sampson, Co-Founder of WeHero. WeHero powers employee volunteering and engagement solutions to support the world’s best nonprofits and reach your company’s volunteering, engagement and social impact goals. Ben was a guest speaker for our latest Changemaker Collective event and he had so much good stuff, we just had to share!

1. Promote a successful large scale volunteer experience through marketing and executive buy-ins.

Ben: How do we get employees to actually participate because there is so much noise. Companies must become marketing experts. One of the biggest things is planning in advance. We are competing for time so give 4+ months for employees to put in their calendars and to send out more reminders.

Executive buy-ins are a great way to promote. If we can get top executives to communicate and participate, that’s amazing. Campaign for executive buy-ins at any level; VP, management, etc.  and encourage them to be an advocate. It just takes one executive to really blow up an event.

And then mastering internal communications to reach as many employees as often as possible.

2. Be flexible and realistic when planning the format.

Ben: There’s a great resource for finding off-location event spaces called Splacer

However, very few nonprofits will have the capacity and resources for a large event. Bringing the volunteering to your employees will be way easier to support an event of a larger size and will also be way more effective for turnout and engagement.

We also recommend events that are 90 minutes or less. We have seen that 90 minutes or less has much more impact than a 4 hour event and will decrease turnout. We see a 2x increase in numbers for events that are 90 minutes or less.

3. Provide in-office opportunities.

Ben:  So many good cause areas can be supported in-office. For example, we have built water filters and skateboards for underprivileged girls. 

So many of us have remote or hybrid employees now. There are a lot of services where we can ship kits to people’s homes. People can dial in and participate in a remote environment.

Another option is a virtual experience without material. Be My Eyes is an application to help people with visual disabilities. Our team did this event recently and it was such a great human connection experience. After a powerful keynote from the nonprofit, we helped people with visual disabilities over the phone. For example, I helped an old man to the bus stop. There are so many other formats out there like this.

4. Execute skills-based opportunities in a team format.

Ben: Skills-based volunteering is basically taking the skills that your team has and applying them to support a nonprofit organization. What’s great about this is it’s a great way to maximize impact. The key skill set is project management.

We help facilitate and identify opportunities and it helps report on impact. If employees can understand the impact that they are making, employees are more likely to be engaged. 

Where we see struggle is we put action items on employees to reach out to nonprofits. Many times the nonprofits don’t have a direct need for that specific skill set at that time and the employee gets discouraged. Revere software is a great way to flip the process by providing skills-based employee profiles for the nonprofits.

Team based skill set programs are much more successful than individual based programs because the commitment is lighter and engagement is higher. We also know that including project management takes the load off of the nonprofit. 

The flywheel is a great visualization tool for understanding the different levels of engagement for volunteering and the process of recruiting from first activation to employee champions. This is critical because if a volunteer has a bad experience, it is extremely difficult to get that employee engaged again in the future. The end goal is to create as many Level 3 volunteers as possible. See the chart below:

5. Build trust through experience.

Ben: Companies are seeing a drop in employee giving dollars. We recommend volunteering to pick that data back up. Employees who volunteer are 2x more likely to donate to causes that they have volunteered for because there is trust built. If that volunteer goes through an experience, they are likely to donate 10x the amount that they would’ve before.

6. Provide impact data.

Ben: We want to make sure Level 1 employees have a great experience. Some have felt that their experience is busy work. Employees are hyper-aware of researching nonprofits now also. We always vet organizations to support so that employees can feel good about who they’re supporting. Candid and Charity Navigator are great resources for vetting nonprofits.

If nonprofits are able to provide accurate data on impact, employees will be more likely to feel like they made a difference. Impact data is very critical for future programs.

7. Change up experiences.

Ben: Changing up experiences is always a good way to engage employees. New cause areas may be top of mind, depending on current events or time of the year. Be creative with your volunteer experience as well. 

At a recent event, we hosted a volunteer bar. At cocktail hour, employees received 3 causes to choose from at the bar and then chose one to work on. 

Another critical piece is that time is so valuable to employees. Meeting employees where they are is so helpful. Self-guided experiences allow employees to take a kit home with them. They can finish the experience with their family.

8. Engage a large workforce to volunteer in their own communities through national nonprofits that have regional locations.

Ben: There are some great opportunities to work with national nonprofits that have regional locations. One example is The Kids in Need Foundation.  They provide underserved students education supplies. A team can build backpacks to be donated in local communities. Look for nonprofits that have national exposure with localized options.