How to Really Celebrate National Volunteer Month

04/21/2015 05:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015

This month is National Volunteer Month. And of all the ways corporations support volunteerism I like what Apple Corporation does the most.

According to this report Apple matches employees for their time spent on philanthropic endeavors, not just money. To that end, the company matches up to $25 per hour of non-profit work for a total cap of $10,000 per employee.

This is the right idea. It's encouraging people to spend time volunteering. It's paying people a decent rate per hour to do so. And, most importantly, it's leaving the choice of where they volunteer up to the employee. I'm not a fan of a company choosing an organization and then forcing their employees to volunteer time (or money) to it. We all have causes that are important to us. And, with our limited time, if we're going to volunteer we'd prefer to do it with an organization that we individually support, not somewhere that our company tells to support.

OK, so that's Apple. They have billions. Then there's you. And me. I have ten people in my company. I can't afford to pay up to $10,000 per year per person to volunteer their time to any organization. And I'm pretty sure you can't either. But there are a few ways you can emulate Apple's volunteer program without being Apple.

For example, you can reimburse less. You can match up to $2,500 or $5,000 per employee per year. Or you can reduce the rate from $25 to $10 per hour. Apple's program is incredibly generous mainly because Apple is incredibly rich. Unfortunately, most small business owners don't have those kinds of resources at their disposal. Better yet, you can contribute time. Instead of paying your employees in dollars, pay them in time off. Have a similar program as Apple's but tell your employees that they can take up to 5 or 10 days per year off as long as they're spending those days volunteering their time at an approved organization.

These days would be in addition to their normal vacation and sick days. It's good for an employee to get away from the company once in a while, and doing so knowing that the time being spent helping a needy organization is a feel-good thing. Yes, you're paying for this, but you're already paying your employee's salary. And let's admit this: good employees will still find a way to make up their work. So even if they're gone 5-10 days a year volunteering at a charity I'll bet that they'll still meet their responsibilities back at the office. Encouraging employees to volunteer in this manner also provides you an opportunity to cross train other employees at your business.

Why is Apple doing this? It's not as altruistic as you may think.

For starters, compensating for volunteer work is a great perk to offer current and new employees. The labor market is tighter and finding and keeping good people is a growing challenge. Telling someone that if they work for you they can also get paid to volunteer somewhere important to them is a unique way to make your company stand out. Most small businesses just don't think to do this.

The other reason for having a volunteer program? It's good marketing. Of course you're doing this for all the right reasons. But don't hide it... flaunt it. Tell the world about your company's commitment to volunteerism. Advertise to your customers and suppliers how your employees are encouraged to volunteer and share with them success stories. People like to do business with good and decent companies. And supporting a volunteer program is a good and decent thing. Who knows how many others may follow suit?

Have I learned something just now? You bet. In fact, starting this month - National Volunteer Month, I'm going to encourage my people to take 2 days a quarter, completely paid, as long as they spend it at a volunteer organization. It's on the honor system (I don't have the resources to audit this nor do I think I'll need to). Maybe I'll report back next year and let you know how it's going.

Happy National Volunteer Month.

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