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Key takeaways:

  • It’s crucial to engage hourly and non-exempt employees in your volunteerism strategy, particularly when you’re focused on participation rates and creating equitable programs.
  • But doing so can be a challenge when certain barriers exist — a lack of employee time being a major concern.
  • Many have found success by offering a diverse range of volunteer opportunities so hourly associates can choose what works best for them.
  • It’s also important to offer fiscal support for hourly employees by compensating them for their time. 
  • The organization should also show employees that their personal causes are of equal importance.

The importance of engaging hourly employees

When the success of your corporate volunteer program hinges on participation rates, you can’t afford to exclude hourly and nonexempt employees.

This is particularly true for large enterprises with a majority of employees working in stores, production facilities, distribution centers, and customer-facing offices. 

While participation rates are undoubtedly significant, it’s also important for social impact leaders to ensure their volunteerism and giving strategies offer equitable opportunities for the entire enterprise.

Alissa Campbell Shaw, Senior Manager of Global Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Community Engagement at International Paper, wrote on LinkedIn that while many programs focus on engaging salaried employees, hourly employees are of equal importance when it comes to job satisfaction and retention. 

“Creating a culture where hourly employees understand how their work contributes to the success of the company and feel that their contributions are recognized and rewarded can foster loyalty and more positive relationships,” Alissa wrote. 

Furthermore, many hourly employees have diverse and valuable skill sets that would translate well to nonprofit sector needs, particularly those in client-facing roles. 

Jackie Redmond, Community Relations Manager at Fidelity Investments, wrote for 3BL Media that these front-line employees have relevant customer service skills that could help cultivate donor relationships and train nonprofit partners in customer service best practices. 

Engaging hourly employees is not always easy, though. Jackie also mentioned that it can be difficult to gain manager approval to contribute to this work “on the clock.”

Still, by offering diverse opportunities and improving lines of communication, many large enterprises have found success.

During a recent ESG & CSR Board panel discussion on employee engagement, Leslie Parpart, Director of Community Relations at CarMax, Alyse Perkowitz, Manager of Community Affairs at Discover Financial Services, and Hilary Smith, Executive Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at NBCUniversal, shared how they’re connecting with hourly employees. 

Let’s dive into their advice.

1. Offer flexible opportunities

At CarMax, engaging these non-exempt employees is top of mind since hourly associates make up a large portion of the employee pool. 

In June, CarMax President and CEO Bill Nash set an ambitious goal of hitting 700 volunteer events — which reflects their pre-pandemic number — and Leslie said there was some initial trepidation.

“Our team was a little nervous about that goal. Partly because we didn’t know the appetite of our associates — they were still really busy,” she said. 

Not only did CarMax hit that goal, but they surpassed it by 200 events, and Leslie said providing flexibility was key to success. Employees have access to both in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities, with some events taking place on the weekends. 

At Discover Financial Services, Alyse said virtual volunteering is popular among hourly employees. 

She said, “We notice a lot of our hourly workers have participated in the remote volunteer events, specifically because it’s easy for them. It’s at home, they don’t have to travel.”

Alyse also shared that the team communicates with the organization’s workforce management group to ensure time is scheduled to allow all employees to participate. 

By offering these flexible opportunities, the team exceeded their goal of getting at least 50% of non-exempt employees involved in volunteering. 

“We had a huge response from our center employees, our field employees. They’re so excited they can participate and we’re hoping to grow it even more in the future.”

– Alyse Perkowitz, Discover Financial Services

In her article, Jackie echoed the importance of offering flexible volunteer activities, saying that “Virtual volunteering and low-time commitment opportunities are crucial to engaging front-line workers.”

“The ability for employees to complete the work off the clock or in a short timeframe will increase the likelihood of participation and manager approval,” Jackie wrote. 

Additionally, Leslie shared how the company meets employees where they’re at by bringing volunteer opportunities to them. Through non-profit partnerships with organizations such as The Happy Hope Foundation, hourly associates can participate at their CarMax location during break periods, allowing them to contribute without interrupting their day-to-day work.

“We’ve seen that diversity of offerings, flexibility, and choice is really enabling our associates at every level of the organization to participate and give back in a way that’s important to them.”

– Leslie Parpart, CarMax

2. Support your hourly employees

A lack of time is just one barrier that could prevent hourly employees from engaging in volunteering. 

In a conversation with Benevity, Jerome Tennille, then Manager of Social Impact and Volunteerism at Marriott International, said monetary barriers also impact hourly employees’ access to volunteering. 

“Most hourly employees don’t necessarily make a living wage, so they work two jobs oftentimes,” Jerome said. “Those people have far less access to volunteering, so they’re going to be the least engaged in terms of their ability to make a long commitment to anything because of those time and monetary mechanisms that put a barrier there.”

As a result, it’s important that your volunteerism strategy aims to alleviate some of these challenges. 

Leslie said CarMax offers pay to hourly employees for volunteer time so they contribute to larger-scale projects like building playgrounds with KABOOM!, a non-profit dedicated to playscape equity.

Similarly, Alyse shared that Discover offers hourly employees up to eight hours of paid volunteer time for company-sponsored events. 

3. Enable employees to support the causes closest to them

While it’s important for all employees to contribute to an enterprise’s philanthropic missions, it’s also key that the enterprise values the causes that personally matter to their employees.

ESG & CSR Board Member Hilary Smith, Executive Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at NBCUniversal, touched on this idea in a column she wrote for the Hollywood Reporter

“Employees also need to feel like their charities and personal causes matter. They want to work for a company that recognizes what they are most passionate about, not just the causes and organizations that senior management embraces,” Hilary wrote. 

During the panel discussion, Leslie noted that social impact leaders should recognize that some hourly employees may not have the fiscal ability to donate to the nonprofit organizations that matter most to them.

On Giving Tuesday, November 29, 2022, CarMax provided each associate with $50 through their online giving portal, which they could donate to the nonprofit of their choosing. Leslie added that an estimated 75% of employees participated in this opportunity. 

“We have many hourly workers who’ve never had that flexible income, or that surplus, to make a personal financial donation. So now they can give it to their child’s school, the local shelter or food bank — anything that’s important to them,” Leslie

Additionally, Leslie said whenever five or more employees join to volunteer together, they can receive a $500 grant to the nonprofit of their choice.

4. Hear what’s working from other corporate social impact leaders

Regardless of the enterprise or industry, there’s so much to learn from other CSR and social impact leaders who are all finding unique ways to advance their volunteerism and giving strategies. 

Leaders like Leslie, Alyse, and Hilary are able to access a network of support and unbiased peer insights through the ESG & CSR Board


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