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Why might your employee volunteering programme fail?

Zoltán Kozma
checkVerified writer
PUBLISHED ON August 29, 2023

In this article, we explore the common pitfalls of implementing employee volunteering programmes. So if you’re CSR, Social Value, ESG manager or anyone who’s responsible for building and managing a programme, you’ll know what we’re talking about.

These programs allow organisations to contribute to their communities, boost employee satisfaction, and strengthen their reputation. However, despite good intentions, many of them fall short of achieving meaningful results. By understanding challenges, we can identify the gaps that hinder the full potential of these initiatives and we can create more engaging and impactful programmes.


  • Employee volunteering programmes offer benefits to communities and organizations, but many fall short due to common mistakes.
  • Link CSR efforts to core values, business goals, and community needs.
  • Balance company objectives and employee interests
  • Avoid time constraints by offering flexible volunteering options during both working and non-working hours.
  • Match volunteering opportunities with individual skills, interests, and motivations
  • Involve external stakeholders like customers, suppliers, and partners for broader impact.
  • Explore tools to streamline program management, increase participation, and enhance reporting.
  • By avoiding pitfalls and embracing effective strategies, organisations can create impactful volunteering programs benefiting both employees and communities.

Let’s get into the details ⬇️

The importance of strategic alignment ♟️

When you think about volunteering, what comes first into your mind?

Probably things like tree-planting, litter picking, helping out in a homeless shelter or painting at a local playground. These are one of the most popular one-off team-building activities that organisations like to provide once or twice a year as part of their CSR commitment.

These hands-on activities are great to do, but they become much more meaningful if they are part of a long-term volunteering programme where those volunteering in these activities have expertise in painting or tree-planting, or this activity will contribute to the strategic objectives of the organisation.

For example, these activities would be meaningful for employees of a landscaping organisation, or even a housing association. By volunteering for these activities employees of a housing association would be supporting their tenants to improve their living environments, which is aligned to the organisations’ strategic objectives.

This means you need to go beyond occasional acts of giving and take a smarter approach. Align your CSR efforts with your core values, business goals, and the needs of the communities you serve. By making CSR a part of your overall business strategy, you can ensure that your efforts are focused, sustainable, and have a lasting effect.

Strategic alignment means identifying social and environmental issues that matter to your:

  • Industry
  • Stakeholders
  • Broader Community

It involves carefully considering your organisation’s strengths, resources, and where it can make the biggest impact. For example, a food manufacturer might prioritise initiatives that tackle hunger and promote sustainable farming.

It is important to tie hands on, short-term actiities to the company's strategic objective in order to build an impactful employee volunteering programme.


Find the right balance between company objectives and employee needs ⚖️

Aligning your programme to fit the skills & expertise of your employees, as well as the mission of your company can lead to a larger impact both for the individuals participating and the causes receiving support. However in some cases, employees might also want to just get away from what they do day-to-day, so integrating some hands-on activities they wouldn’t otherwise be doing. These types of activities can still be a good addition to the programme, as long as the overall programme is well aligned.

Volunteering can simply be any activity where you share your time, skills & expertise for a social or environmental cause. 

Some examples can be:

  • Spreading the word about a new initiative fighting homelessness
  • Sharing feedback on the launch campaign of a new climate action app
  • Provide CV writing workshop for residents
  • Offering copywriting skills to help tell the stories of people directly affected by the Ukraine crisis
  • Helping a renewable energy initiative secure grant funding

Employee volunteering programs should strike a balance between causes that align with company objectives and activities that employees find purposeful. By ensuring a match between the programme's focus and employees' interests, motivations, and skills, you can drive higher participation rates and increase engagement.

When coming up with activities and initiatives for a volunteering programme, it is important to think about how it aligns with the organisation’s overall strategy. Some questions to consider:

  • Do these activities align with our company’s long-term goals and purpose?


  • Do we see a lasting impact from these initiatives? Both for employees as well as the communities and organisations we aim to support

If the answer to either is no then ask yourself, why not? 


  • Are you organising activities unrelated to your purpose? If so, it may be difficult to gather interest and engagement in them. What else could you be doing, aligned with your mission and vision, to further your purpose?


  • Or are you not seeing the kind of impact you’d hoped for? Think strategically about how your employees and the communities you support are being impacted. Are employees feeling a real sense of fulfilment? Is an organisation’s impact really being furthered by your intervention?

Common mistakes and what to do instead 💡

Now let’s take a look at a couple of common misconceptions and mistakes often made with employee volunteering in general.

#1 Volunteering only outside working hours

One common mistake that organisations make is limiting volunteering activities to outside working hours. By setting volunteering opportunities only to after-work hours, organisations might exclude people who may have other responsibilities or commitments during those times. 

This could include employees with caregiving responsibilities, those pursuing further education, or individuals involved in community activities outside of work. As a result, a significant portion of the workforce may be unable to participate, leading to a missed opportunity for collective impact and employee engagement.

To avoid this, you need to implement a flexible volunteering program that accommodates employees' diverse schedules and commitments. By providing a range of volunteering options that can be undertaken during both working and non-working hours, you can ensure broader participation and increased employee engagement.

Research actually shows that skill-based volunteering is a great way to increase productivity, and boosts the engagement (Boston College) and morale (Forbes) of employees. So while organisations may be wary of giving employees time off to volunteer, and allowing them to do so during working hours, there is a strong case to be made for it.

One good approach is offering a couple of volunteering opportunities with flexible time frames. This could include:

  • One-time events that employees can participate in during work hours, such as community service projects or fundraising activities


  • Longer-term volunteering commitments that allow employees to contribute their time and skills during working hours on an ongoing basis.

However, both approaches can be turned into virtual volunteering options that can be done remotely, offering flexibility for employees to engage in meaningful activities from any location and enjoy the benefits of doing good. This can include virtual mentoring programs, online skill-sharing initiatives, or contributing to charitable projects through digital platforms.

Volunteering can be both in person, hands-on and skilled based in a remote way.

#2 Same opportunities for everyone

The problem with this approach is that it often fails to account for the diverse skills, interests, and motivations of your employees. It misses the point that people are unique and motivated by different causes and experiences.

Traditionally your organisation might partner with a single charity selected by the top management, and you may organise a day of volunteering for the whole organisation or team. Those interested will join but there is a high chance you won’t get everyone participating.

Employees are more likely to be invested in volunteering activities when they align with their personal passions and skills. When the opportunities offered do not resonate with their interests, they may feel disconnected and unfulfilled, leading to low participation and limited impact.

The answer is offering a tailored experience.


This is how you can do it on your own

Your organisation should focus on matching volunteering opportunities with employees’ skills, interests, and personal motivations. A perfect way to kick things off is by conducting surveys or assessments to understand their needs. You can use Google Forms, Typeform or other similar tools to create a simple and quick survey.

There are several surveying tools out there that can help assess the needs of employees


The goal here is to learn:

  • What causes they’re most passionate about
  • What skills they have (what they can offer)
  • What type of volunteering do they prefer

(Need help with the survey? Grab this template to save time.) 

When you collect all the information, you can do a quick analysis to see which causes came on top, and which skills employees desire to volunteer.

It is also important to keep your strategic social and environmental goals in mind to make sure your volunteering programme is aligned to progress this and doesn’t just end up as an employee engagement / HR exercise.

To make sure your program truly makes a positive impact, you'll need to set clear outputs and outcomes to measure key performance indicators (KPIs) throughout its duration. This will tell you if you're effectively working towards your goals of creating a "net positive" impact.

Next, do a thorough search to find organisations that are actively progressing the causes you wish to support. Reach out to them to understand their specific needs and how your program can contribute. Additionally, if you can, then select employees as ambassadors who can do their own research and initiate projects to engage their colleagues.

Once you've chosen the organisations to support and have employee-led projects in place, it's time to communicate all the available opportunities to the rest of your organisation. This will drive engagement and participation. In case you’re also looking to extend your programme to involve your suppliers and customers, then you’ll need to effectively manage communications with these stakeholders too.

Also don’t forget that gathering feedback from stakeholders is crucial. This will ensure you collect the necessary data to report on the impact of the program accurately. By evaluating the outcomes of each opportunity, you can continuously improve and refine your program's effectiveness.

You can use tech to run your programme

In case you want to say goodbye to labour-intensive tasks and you have some budget, then using a technology solution can be a game-changer. These platforms offer an efficient way to manage your volunteering programs, providing you with access to a wide array of opportunities and helpful reporting features.

With their help, you can stay updated on the progress of your program and allocate your time more effectively towards building relationships and improving the program itself. This allows you to save valuable time and resources, making your volunteering programs more effective and sustainable.

Goodsted offers wide range of opportunities based on skills and causes people are passioante about.


Remember, volunteering programmes are part of the wider CSR programme, so the best is if the technologies you use can support this wider engagement, allowing you to manage, measure and scale:

  • Volunteering
  • Climate action initiatives
  • Employee resource groups
  • Charity donations
  • Social & sustainable procurement
  • Diversity & inclusion initiatives

Make sure that the tool(s) you choose lets you easily align the data you receive from these activities to your ESG framework, so you can include the relevant points to demonstrate how you contribute to “net positive” impact — not just only avoiding harm.

Using a tool can increase participation and engagement among employees by providing them with a central location (hub) to find and sign up for opportunities. It can also provide a sense of community and connection among volunteers by allowing them to share photos and stories about their experiences.

Using a tool can increase participation and engagement among employees by providing them with a central location (hub) to find and sign up for opportunities. It can also provide a sense of community and connection among volunteers by allowing them to share photos and stories about their experiences.

Using a tool can provide a sense of community and connection among volunteers by allowing them to share photos and stories about their experiences.


From an administrative standpoint, one of the significant benefits of these tools is the time saved on engagement tracking and reporting. You can easily keep track of volunteer hours, assess the impact of your programs, and generate comprehensive reports. This approach lets you make informed decisions about your volunteer programmes and effectively communicate their impact to the board. Ultimately, they can simplify the process of showcasing your organisation's commitment to corporate social responsibility and sustainability.

The other huge challenge of doing everything manually is the struggle of scalability. So if you decide to go down the route of using a tech solution, it is definitely worth choosing one that makes life simpler. This means that you can scale your volunteering programmes and increase your impact to reach your KPIs and objectives.

For instance, Goodsted is a stakeholder impact platform that besides it helps you engage your staff in volunteering programmes, it also allows you to involve your customers, suppliers and partners. In the same process and on the same platform to the extent you want. This way you can connect with more people, build stronger relationships and maximise your positive impact.

#3 Running a siloed programme

Another reason why your volunteering programme might flop is that it might be too focused on internal operations and only viewed as part of employee benefits.

Of course, building an organisation-wide programme has its own maturity stages where involving employees is the very first step to start making a positive impact. But if we look at the big picture, this approach limits the potential scale and impact a volunteering programme can have.

By limiting the program to internal departments, you miss out on the valuable opportunity to involve other stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, and partners, who can equally benefit from and contribute to the programme's success.

Also, when companies do attempt to engage customers and suppliers in social and environmental causes, it often happens in isolated silos within the organisation. Different teams manage these relationships, making it challenging to effectively communicate available opportunities and encourage collaboration among the stakeholders. As a result, multiple disconnected programs emerge, and it becomes hard to fully harness the resources and talent within your broader stakeholder network. 

Involving customers, suppliers and partners in your volunteering programme will enable you to tap into a larger pool of resources and expertise.


To overcome this limitation, you need to shift perspective and take a more inclusive approach. By involving customers, suppliers, and partners in your volunteering program, you’ll be able to tap into a larger pool of resources and expertise. Within this approach, you can consider collaborative volunteering as a way to build external stakeholder relationships with supply chain, customers, alumni or strategic corporate partners.

Engaging these external stakeholders in your programme needs to be well thought through, instead of just being ‘add-ons’. Each stakeholder could have a different purpose and priorities for engaging so the experience should be designed carefully. However, when managed well, this is shown to increase the impact of the programme and the attractiveness of the programme for your employees.

Let’s wrap this up 🏆

A successful employee volunteering programme requires careful consideration and strategic planning. If you manage to avoid common mistakes and embrace effective solutions, your organisation can create more impactful programs that benefit both the employees and the communities you all serve.

Offer flexible volunteering options that align with diverse schedules. It will help you achieve broader participation and increased employee engagement. Remember, skill-based volunteering and virtual volunteering options can also provide flexibility and convenience, allowing your staff to contribute their time and expertise effectively.

To try maximising participation, tailor the volunteering experience by matching employees’ passions and abilities. Start with conducting surveys or assessments because it can help identify people’s preferences and ensure a better alignment between their interests and your organisation's goals.

We also discussed how a programme that only focuses on internal departments can limit the potential impact of your volunteering efforts. Once you feel ready to make a wider impact, engage your external stakeholders too, such as customers, suppliers and partners to create a more inclusive and collaborative approach. By involving them, your community will be able to tap into additional resources, expertise, and networks.

However, running and scaling your programme can easily become overwhelming in terms of administrative burden if you do it on your own. It often happens that what got you here will not necessarily be the efficient way to move forward. Tools and technology solutions can play a great role in making your programme management more effective. So it is worth exploring them if you have some budget to work with. These platforms can help you achieve higher participation, cut administrative tasks, provide centralised hubs for finding opportunities and overall help with reporting on your collective impact.


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