The Value of Volunteer Programs

photo by Getty Services, edited by author  







A quote commonly credited to John Quincy Adams (but was probably first said by Dolly Parton) is the rallying cry for servant leadership in the modern era: "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

It was one of the many quotes I heard last night at the Muncie-Delaware County Chamber of Commerce's Legacy Gala recognizing Stefan Anderson. Steve is a long-time supporter and listener of Indiana Public Radio, which is where I work. So I got to join with my coworkers and leaders of community to recognize Steve's 35-year commitment to making Muncie a better place to live and work. He's retired now, but was a hugely successful businessman as the president of First Merchants Bank. A Wisconsin native and Harvard grad, Muncie is his home by choice, not by birth. He's volunteered extensively in this community, and he mentioned that it was due in large part to the influence of his predecessors – men whose names are on buildings are all over the Ball State campus.

In The Essential Drucker (2001), Peter Drucker asserts that managers should not be “appraised, rewarded or promoted according to their participation in voluntary activities. Ordering or pressuring managers into such work is abuse of organizational power and illegitimate.” (page 64) I think the point Drucker makes is that forced or coerced volunteerism is inherently disingenuous. While I agree that volunteerism should not be the basis of promotion or raise, I see value in an organization making it a priority for its employees to serve their community.  So many times, an employee may not be able to make the time to volunteer unless it’s employer mandated or encouraged. Anecdotally, I’ve seen lots of evidence that once a person meets the initial commitment put forth by the employer, he will continue to volunteer because he feels it’s worthy of his time.

Should organizations punish managers for not volunteering? Definitely not. A nonprofit gets no value from a volunteer who’s there just to make sure she doesn’t lose her job. But I love the trend of organizations giving employees paid time to volunteer. A few weeks ago, NPR did a story during All Things Considered on companies encouraging workers to volunteer on the clock. As the story points out, encouraging volunteer work isn’t only good for the employee’s well-being and the company’s image, “volunteer programs can help make workers feel more engaged — and keep them from quitting, which is costly.” Volunteer programs are good for the bottom line.

These sort of volunteer programs need to be a part of organizational culture, and the burden is on the managers themselves to encourage and promote this type of behavior. I would love to see every business offering paid time for volunteering. This might be the way we see the next Stefan Anderson take his place in the community.