Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | May 26, 2010

HR Concepts: Volunteering

By Mike Deblieux, SPHR

Each year since 2002, a hearty group of PIHRA Pals gathers at the Lo Angeles Memorial Coliseum early in the early morning on the day before Mother’s Day. They join several thousand of their neighbors across the southland in the EIF Revlon Run/Walk for Women to raise money find a cure for cancer.

Just south of LA, in Garden Grove, early on another Saturday morning an eclectic group of employees from an array of companies and organizations gathers at the Orange County Food Bank. Like their PIHRA colleagues at the EIF Revlon Walk, many wear t-shirts emblazoned with a corporate logo. They bring gloves. They toil side-by-side in two-hour shifts to assemble more than 1,600 food boxes for others less fortunate.

On Alvarado Street, near downtown Los Angeles, yet another group of corporate volunteers arrives with paintbrushes and rollers to help spruce up the walls of two historic buildings that house the Alcoholism Center for Women. The volunteer Board of Directors meets a few days later to review an ever-tightening budget. They accept a check from a generous employee group at a large company to help them buy a much-needed commercial food freezer.

The examples go on. Surely, you have many of your own. On the surface, these volunteers give some of their time, their money and their energy for a good cause. Beneath the surface, they and their employers walk away with far more than they could ever leave behind.

Volunteer programs are not always seen as an HR function. Indeed, corporate volunteer programs may be the least studied, most taken for granted of HR initiatives. What does an employer or an organization like PIHRA get out of providing financial or in-kind support for a volunteer program? A lot.

Volunteer work is special. It brings people together from all walks of life. Stand back from the hubbub of the food bank assembly line. You will see people in jeans and t-shirts working shoulder to shoulder. They all have one title – Volunteer. No one person is more important than another is. They share a common focus, a clear goal, and a strong desire to do what needs to be done and do it well. They do not need to be motivated. They appreciate a little encouragement, but they more appreciate the value of the work they are performing.

If you watch a group of volunteers long enough, you begin to learn another valuable people management lesson. They do what needs to be done with little direction, guidance, or supervision. They do more than needs to be done. Each person finds a role, a way to contribute to the overall goal. One person may bring a smile. Another may bring a fresh batch of peanut butter cookies or brownies. Yet another may bring a camera or check. Each volunteer finds a way to give something to support the effort with little or no prodding. In fact, the biggest problem for a volunteer leader or manager is to contain the effervescent energy of these unpaid workers.

The true value of a volunteer effort is the lasting camaraderie that it fosters among participants. Each year at the EIF Revlon Walk, PIHRA members who have never met get to know each other on a three-mile trek around the outskirts of the USC campus. If you listen carefully, you hear a lot of “Did you know…?” or “I worked there too” and, “I am so glad I got to meet you. Let’s keep in touch.” The effort of volunteering to support a community cause somehow allows people to drop their guard and open themselves up to new relationships, ideas, and experiences.

So what does all of this have to do with HR? Everything. Human Resources Management is the process of designing and implementing formal systems to allow an organization to make efficient and effective use of human talent to achieve organizational goals.

While it may not be immediately apparent to the naked eye, a corporate volunteer program is all about the “effective use of human talent to achieve organizational goals.” When an employer encourages employees to work together in a community volunteer effort, it opens a door to people at all levels of the organization to get to know each other. They learn about each other outside of the rush, rank, and order of day-to-day business. They bring that new bond back to the workplace on Monday morning. Instead of passing in the hallway with an obligatory “good morning,” they smile, offer an enthusiastic greeting, and even stop to chat. Later in the day, they share a resource or an idea with each other. When a problem arises, their common bond of volunteering somehow makes it easier and less confrontational to collaborate toward finding a solution.

An employer that supports a volunteer effort increases the “effective use of human talent” in another way. When employees volunteer, they have an opportunity to show a side of themselves that others do not see in the workplace. Maybe they come to the volunteer event with a little more bounce in their step. Perhaps they have an opportunity to teach a colleague how to do a volunteer task in a way that demonstrates an otherwise unknown level of patience or teaching skill. Someway, somehow, volunteering allows colleagues to see a positive side, a unique skill, or a special perspective in each other. That glimpse into the potential of an individual can open opportunities and possibilities for future workplace contributions.

In the end, the most important lesson of volunteering may be the power of a common goal. When people focus on a clearly defined end-result, they naturally collaborate to achieve it. They do not need a lot of supervision. They do need a few general guidelines, boundaries, and support. However, if you watch closely, you will see that the volunteer leader teaches, coaches, encourages, and supports much more than they correct, discipline, or admonish. You will see that the power of working together is infectious, exhilarating, and rewarding. There is no better lesson in how to make “effective use of human talent to achieve organizational goals.”

So what does your HR program do to encourage or support employee volunteer efforts in the community? How does it help your organization make “effective use of human talent” to produce your product or provide your service? Can we expect to see you along with your PIHRA Pals at the EIF Revlon Walk on May 8, 2011?

HR Concepts has been part of PIHRAscope since August 1995. Mike Deblieux, SPHR is a trainer and coach for front-line leaders. He has been a compensation analyst, HR Director and consultant in his career. He is a past president of PIHRA. He writes HR Concepts to help you understand and apply fundamental HR ideas, thoughts, and processes. Mike can be reached at

Copyright 2010 PIHRA



  1. just want to say hi to all….

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