An employee benefit with recruitment power: Volunteer work

With the current shortage of accounting graduates, successful recruiting may require a new combination of benefits. The cream of the crop has grown accustomed to offers of a healthy starting salary, retirement plan and signing bonus. But more and more, today’s young people want to hitch their wagons to employers who are good corporate citizens. That's why some firms are expanding their benefit packages to include volunteer programs.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, 60 million Americans volunteer each year. When they can combine their volunteer interests with their careers, work is more meaningful, and often, that translates to greater loyalty to employers who share their values. A survey by Deloitte & Touche USA says that 62 percent of Generation Y respondents prefer to work for employers that permit them to use their talents to benefit not-for-profits. Take a look at the firm of Raffa P.C., where community service is a high priority. For this Washington DC firm, "giving back is part of the job." Cofounder Kathy Raffa says that's a big part of why their retention rate is so high.

"Serving not-for-profits is what we've always been about. Close to 98 percent of the work we do is for this sector," says Raffa. When they recruit on local campuses, the firm's not-for-profit record seems to be a growing attraction. The newest generation of graduates is interested in community service, says Raffa. And that mindset fits well with the mission of her firm.

Employees aren't easily fooled, however. The days of all-talk-no-action may be gone. When a firm claims to be community-minded, the staff as well as the public are watching to see if the leadership is walking the talk. At Raffa P.C., there is no room for doubt. The commitment is top-down. The partners invest in not-for-profit agencies with financial support and by providing countless pro-bono services to those causes. One Friday each month is Denim Day at the firm. Employees wear jeans to work and hold fundraisers that benefit a randomly selected small charity. Whatever amount the staff raises, the partners match.

Raffa P.C. also encourages staff to explore board membership. Currently, dozens of Raffa employees serve on not-for-profit boards. In addition, many employees give up some of their lunch hours to help out at a nearby charity, a program called Reading Buddy that promotes reading for children.

Even very small firms can allow staff members to participate in volunteer opportunities, though it may require stricter regulation. For example, one tiny office in Tustin, California recognizes the importance of these activities, but has limited staff. So they first ask employees to make sure their existing deadlines are met. Once that is done, employees who wish to can provide pro-bono services to local charities.
A Path to Development

Besides the personal satisfaction employees get from volunteering, smart employers understand that community service is also an excellent path to personal and professional development. One survey done in the UK showed that 94 percent of employers see volunteer work as a viable way individuals can enhance their abilities, and 58 percent said that, when hiring, they often view significant volunteer work as more valuable than paid work. In general, people who volunteer learn teamwork and grow strong in communication skills and initiative. They learn time management skills and tend to view life positively. As a bonus for the employer, when members of different departments volunteer together, interaction between departments is enhanced.

If adding volunteer work as a kind of employee benefit is a path your firm is considering, you’ll need to have a system in place to manage these programs. That means tracking volunteer hours, promoting volunteer events, and setting guidelines. Check out http://www.volunteermatch.org/corporations/ for help establishing an effective volunteer program.

Besides the obvious benefit to the not-for-profit world that needs resources, you can increase your firm's power to recruit and retain quality employees and help your staff develop the skills that will be needed in the next generation of your firm’s leaders.

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