One goal of USA Freedom Corps is to encourage small businesses and large corporations alike to adopt/develop/improve internal programs, policies and procedures that will enable employees to achieve a greater level of civic engagement. Ideally, businesses will do more than the bare minimum and strive to become true leaders in this endeavor by championing "best-in-class" initiatives. The development of best practices requires the ultimate commitment of both time and money on the part of American businesses. The following are just a few of the cutting-edge, best practice approaches companies of all sizes are instituting to support employee civic engagement to the fullest.
Paid Leave & Sabbaticals
As indicated previously, the greatest commodity any company can provide its employees with to increase civic engagement is time. While many companies allow employees to leave during the workday to participate in volunteer activities, either as a result of flex-time policies or management approval, a significant number of employees miss-out on these opportunities because they are either unaware of the policies, are confronted with overwhelming workloads or are prohibited by obstinate managers. To remedy the situation, a growing number of companies have begun offering employees paid volunteer leave. Currently, it is estimated that 22% of companies have adopted this growing best practice approach, the results of which have been a significant increase in the level of employee participation.
Additionally, for employees interested in volunteering or public service for more than a couple hours at a time, a number of companies have been allowing employees to take extended leaves of absence, commonly referred to as sabbaticals, anywhere from three months up to two years, to work with such organizations as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. At the end of the sabbatical, employees' jobs are ready and waiting for them and employers are all too eager to have them back. While only a handful of companies currently allow employees to take sabbaticals (about 5%), there has been a growing trend over the past two years to offer employees the ability to go on sabbatical, especially during times of corporate downsizing.
Dollars for Doers Programs
A Dollars For Doers program is a contributions program that donates cash grants to qualified nonprofit organizations based on the level of employee involvement, typically as volunteers or board members. When Dollars For Doers programs were first created, their original purpose was two-fold: act as an alternative to the Matching Gifts program for employees who could donate time, but not dollars; and to act as a catalyst in motivating employees participate in volunteer events and activities. In recent years, however, more and more companies have implemented Dollars For Doers programs as a way to recognize employees for their community involvement, as well as to stimulate further civic participation. It is estimated that 60% of mid- and large-size businesses currently maintain Dollars For Doers programs and the number is expected to reach 75% within a year or two.
Another best practice approach companies can take to stimulate civic engagement is to establish formal employee organizations focused on service, citizenship and giving. Examples of such groups include:
- corporate/employee volunteer councils
- corporate/employee civic associations/councils
- employee-directed contributions committees
- employee-directed charitable funds
Recruitment & Management Reviews
Making civic engagement part of the recruitment and hiring process as well as senior managers' annual performance reviews is another way to highlight a company's commitment. Formally endorsing civic engagement as a corporate value and holding senior managers accountable for actively supporting and promoting that value helps heighten all employees' awareness and support for civic engagement programs.
Annual Service Programs
Annual service and citizenship programs refer to those events and activities conducted annually on a corporate-wide basis where a significant portion of a company's workforce either volunteers or performs public service activities in the communities where they live and work. Annual volunteer programs, in particular, are most commonly referred to as "national" or "global days of caring" or "make a difference days."
For most companies, annual programs serve as the cornerstone to their corporate initiatives. For a few others, annual programs are the only company-sponsored events done during the year. Annual programs may take place over a day, a week or even a month. Companies many choose to limit participation to employees only, while others may choose to open events up to retirees, families, friends, clients, customers and business partners. A number of companies also provide employees with paid leave to participate in annual events, or allow them, with their supervisors' approval, to participate by utilizing flex-time policies and programs.
A signature program, much like an annual service or citizenship event, is a high-impact, highly visible corporate initiative that works to generate a considerable amount of exposure and goodwill for a company by addressing the following key characteristics:
- strategic in design
- owned/branded by the company
- implemented/executed year-round
A classic example of a signature program is the Ronald McDonald House.