4 reasons skilled volunteering engages employees better

When it comes to employee engagement, it all boils down to motivation. In Drive, Daniel Pink drew on four decades of scientific research on human motivation to reveal the secret to high performance and satisfaction.

This whiteboard animation sums up his key points, but in a nutshell, what really motivates us are 3 things – autonomy: the deeply human need to direct our own lives ; mastery: the drive to learn and create new things ; and finally purpose: the desire to do better by ourselves and our world.

It’s no secret that volunteering makes employees more engaged. You’ve probably heard of the countless studies that link volunteering to employee engagement, like the Rutgers University and Net Impact survey which found that 45% of employees who have conducted community involvement through their employer are very satisfied with their jobs, compared to 30% who haven’t.

The missing piece in traditional volunteering is mastery, and unfortunately, it can sometimes be light on purpose as well. Serving food or painting a fence has a feel-good factor, but it’s weak sauce if you really want to make a difference. Highly-skilled professionals know what their knowledge and experience can accomplish, and they are inherently motivated for their altruistic efforts to utilize the depth of their talent, and actually change the world for the better in a tangible way.

Knowing this, it’s no wonder that employees who participate in skilled volunteering…

1. Are more independent and proactive

No matter how cool your job is, doing the same things and seeing the same people day-in and day-out can wear on you, even more so if your job lacks variety. When you take on a new self-directed project, you’re more likely to take initiative in the rest of work and life. A great pro bono opportunity lets the volunteer choose their project. When looking for volunteer solutions, favor ones that let the employee direct their own volunteer experience, by say, choosing what skills they are going to use, or choose who they are going to help.

2. Become masters at what they do

According to a study on skills-based volunteering by True Impact, skills-based volunteers are 142% more likely to report job-related skills-gains than traditional volunteers. This is because aside from the obvious fact that they are actually using their professional skills at all, these volunteers are taking on novel challenges and learning about new ways of working. We need new and challenging applications for our skills in order to improve them, and a good pro bono posting is a shortcut to doing just that.  

3. Work harder for a higher purpose

Paid or no, we want to know that what we do matters at the end of the day. Our purpose as individuals is more textured than a role at one company. For a volunteer, a great opportunity will show a tangible contribution to a cause we believe in. When we find that opportunity through our company, our gratitude for the opportunity flows back to the company.

4. Like their companies and will stick around longer

You probably have guessed the punchline. Employees who find skilled volunteer work through their company are more engaged. In that same True Impact Survey mentioned above, 47% of skills-based volunteers were more likely to report high satisfaction with their company than traditional volunteers. In Ireland, a recent study found that 82% of employees who volunteered with their companies felt more committed to the organization they worked for.

The bottom line is that anything you do to give your employees more opportunities for autonomy, mastery, and purpose will pay off, but some engagements will go much further than others, and those are the ones that fulfill all three motivation. If you find opportunities where your employees can choose their own project – one that they believe in and that will challenge them – you’re on track for a home run.

Want to learn more?

Learn more about how we help corporations engage their employees better

Also, check out our free training deck for volunteer mentors.