It’s the season of giving. Every time we go to buy a loaf of bread, the “ding-a-ding-ding” of the red kettle reminds us to help our less fortunate neighbors. Companies organize outings to prepare and serve meals, or adopt a family for the holidays, as a symbol of their commitment to the local community.

But what happens the other 11 months of the year? The need doesn’t vanish as the weather warms. And, as research shows, the benefits of volunteering pay corporate dividends year round. In fact, encouraging and incentivizing employees to volunteer can help companies improve engagement, boost profits, cultivate potential business relationships and build community goodwill.

A tale of two kitties

About five years ago, I was volunteering at a small animal shelter when someone brought in a litter of three kittens that had been abandoned in a field. They were too young to survive on their own and needed round-the-clock care. I became their mom.

Basil (on right) before she started her volunteer career

While one kitten did not survive, the other two have thrived and one, Basil, has gone on to great and rare things. She is one of around only 250 registered therapy cats in the United States. She and I volunteer about 100 hours a year around the Portland area, mostly in hospitals and nursing homes bringing joy to people like Sly, a sweet man who was sadly diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Basil doing what she does best, bringing comfort and joy to those who need it most

As one of his last requests, Sly said, “I want a cat on my lap again.” I brought Basil in at least once a week for the next six weeks. She curled up on his lap and brought him the comfort he sought in his last days. On what would be our last visit with Sly, through labored breathing, he quietly stared at Basil while petting her. She was his last wish fulfilled.

Volunteering is good for business

As Basil and everyone she’s brought comfort and joy to can attest, volunteering is a major part of my life. It’s who I am. I bring this part of me to work and have started a monthly volunteering newsletter to showcase the great deeds that others in my company have done.

Me and Basil after another fulfilling hospital volunteer visit

It’s important to me to work for a company that promotes volunteerism and encourages its employees to engage with the community. And I’m not alone.

Millennials, who are now the largest workforce cohort, place “opportunities to learn and grow” as more important than pay when selecting a job. The hands-on focus, leadership and problem solving that go along with volunteering accelerates learning and growth. And giving employees the time and space to grow on their terms increases engagement back in the office.

This level of increased engagement directly affects the bottom line. A longitudinal study by SAP found that for each percentage point change in employee engagement, either up or down, the company saw a corresponding difference of $55M-$66M in profitability. Here is hard data to prove that employees who feel supported and allowed to bring their full selves to work are more productive.

Volunteering cultivates relationships and builds trust

Volunteering makes you more empathetic. This means you can better understand the needs and aspirations of your customers or clients. For me as a project manager, this means I can build stronger client relationships, further cementing business connections and creating additional project and revenue opportunities.

It’s almost so obvious as to be overlooked, but volunteering grows local connections and builds corporate goodwill in the community. This could be as simple as the public seeing your employees in a more positive light and improving name recognition. It could be high-level networking and prospecting on nonprofit boards. Or, it could lead to better recruiting and retention, as motivated top talent are attracted to the possibilities for personal and career growth.

Volunteering builds trust and people buy from those they trust. Sixty-eight percent of consumers trust a brand that positively impacts society.

My company, Catalyte, provides all employees with one paid day off per year to volunteer for a cause they believe in. This year, I organized a group of coworkers (Basil had to stay at home) to spend the day at the Oregon Humane Society. It was so wonderful to see them laughing, collaborating and giving back to the community with their colleagues! I know the connections we made there will energize us back in the office.

The team from Catalyte volunteering at the Oregon Human Society

Think about what you can do in your own company to extend the season of giving. Know that you, the community and your company will benefit. Win, win, win!

Tina Parkhurst is a principal agile project manager at Catalyte

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