As previously published on In Business Wisconsin January 7, 2014 issue

By Gary Schaefer, executive vice president, commercial banking group leader, for Associated’s West/Southwest region

As we begin the new calendar year, it’s a great time to reflect on your business’ success in the past year and consider new ways to engage with your employees and surrounding community. While many for-profit companies look to their bottom line as the primary measurement of success, it’s also important for business owners to evaluate success in terms of employee and community engagement.

One way to engage both of these constituencies is through employee volunteer opportunities. Many companies encourage volunteerism among their employees. Some have taken this a step further by developing dedicated employee volunteer programs. These programs offer to share the company’s human resources with nonprofits, many of which are finding it more and more difficult to balance budgets and meet the needs of their communities.

Benefits to the employees

Employee volunteer programs improve overall attitude and morale, while providing a unique opportunity to encourage teamwork and skill development. According to Causecast, 90% of human resource professionals say that pro-bono volunteering is an effective way to develop leadership skills.

Benefits to the community

While the economy is bouncing back, nonprofit organizations still struggle to balance budgets and meet the needs of their communities. Employee volunteer programs provide nonprofit organizations with valuable resources, while offering direct cost savings. Corporate partnerships and volunteer programs help draw additional attention to a community’s needs, while setting an example for other area business owners, encouraging them to consider similar involvement.

Benefits to the business

One way to demonstrate an even deeper commitment is by encouraging volunteer activities on company time. While counterintuitive, there are ample quantitative and qualitative studies that show being a good corporate citizen can also be good for a company’s bottom line.

From an internal perspective, an effective employee volunteer program improves job satisfaction and employee retention. Studies have shown that employees cite greater satisfaction at companies that sponsor volunteer programs. In fact, according to an LBG Associates survey about employee volunteer programs, 71% of employees who participated felt more positive about their company as a result of these programs.

In regard to external stakeholders, these types of programs are a great way to help build loyalty by demonstrating to customers that your business cares about more than just making profit. Additionally, by regularly engaging with your surrounding community, you will ultimately build upon your brand awareness and corporate reputation.

No matter how much or how little, all companies should embrace their communities and give back to the people who have enabled them to succeed. By engaging with one’s community and encouraging employees to do the same, business owners can ensure their efforts will be recognized and employees will remain happy and customers loyal.