Employee Volunteering at Classy: Building Meaningful Connections With the Nonprofit Community

5 min
Employee Volunteering
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Contributing Author

This is a guest post by Tori Callahan, head of sustainability and stakeholder impact at Classy. 

As a pending Certified B Corporation and Pledge 1% member, Classy is a technology company centered around social impact. While we’ve always considered ourselves a social enterprise by the nature of our work and investments in the social sector, we recently formalized our stakeholder model and our commitments to each of our primary stakeholder groups (customer, team, financial, and community). One of those investments was the creation of my role as head of sustainability and stakeholder impact.

One of my first projects was to reimagine employee volunteering. While we’re a soulful staff who care deeply about the social sector, traditional volunteering hasn’t been a specific focus as employees get so much face time with our nonprofit customers on the regular through their roles and through our community investments in our annual industry conference, the Collaborative, and our nonprofit awards, the Classy Awards.

But over the years, we’ve witnessed how our employees gain energy, increase productivity, and connect with our mission when they are given meaningful opportunities to engage with nonprofits. 

Foundation for Employee Volunteering

For example, each year, Classy employees organize a staff-wide fundraising competition for past Classy Awards winners, in which the top fundraisers go on an international trip to visit and volunteer with the nonprofit. Our most recent company peer-to-peer campaign raised over $75,000 total for Grassroots Soccer. A team of 10 employees, including our CEO, traveled to South Africa to spend a week with the organization, our third trip following previous travels to Nepal for buildOn and Uganda for Days for Girls. With a groundswell of grassroots participation, we understood how our staff passionately answered the call to action when rallied together towards one cause. 

We also learned that employees were more likely to participate when we organized and curated the experiences for them, versus expecting them to do it of their own accord. One of our successful efforts was our 2019 Volunteer Week, during which we broke up the staff into mini volunteer groups and partnered with local San Diego nonprofits to spend a couple hours completing projects for them. 

All of these experiences and learnings created a strong foundation upon which to build our new employee volunteer program.

Classy’s New Employee Volunteer Program 

While constructing the new program, it was important to consider that volunteering at Classy might look different from that at our tech company peers. Traditional benefits of corporate volunteering programs include employee engagement, job satisfaction, and the fulfillment that comes with supporting a nonprofit organization or a cause you are passionate about. In addition to these, I realized that Classy’s volunteer initiatives could be a significant mechanism to drive increased customer empathy. 

In true stakeholder-model fashion, a successful corporate volunteer program presents the promising opportunity to create a win-win-win scenario for three of our primary stakeholder groups. For current and future employees, volunteering is an investment in their happiness. For customers, it’s an investment in growing our staff’s understanding of their needs and pains, with an increased ability to apply any learnings from these volunteer opportunities back to our product. For the nonprofit community, it’s an investment of our time and expertise into their missions. 

And so ClassyGives was born, an evergreen customer connection program that enables employees to engage with nonprofits in meaningful ways, increasing customer empathy and strengthening their connection to the Classy mission. Within ClassyGives, we offer employees a variety of opportunities to engage with customers year-round. Some of these include:

  • The traditional ClassyGives Fundraising Competition, in which employees raise money for a Classy customer with the chance to visit and volunteer with the organization
  • The ClassyGives Idea Jam, in which employees are paired with Classy customers to solve pressing business problems within a day’s time
  • The ClassyGives Customer Day, in which we invite several customers to come and present their work and participate in employee-led workshops

We set ambitious goals for the program, leveraging the high standards of the B Corp assessment to guide our thinking.

Outputs:

  • Percent of employees participated 
  • Number of Impact Hours (hours dedicated to serving the nonprofit community) logged
  • Percent per capita worker time spent volunteering (= X hours for X% of full-time employees)

Outcomes:

  • Increased customer empathy: Employees clearly understand a customer’s experience and point of view
  • Increased customer awareness: Employees frequently find themselves thinking about customers regularly and outside of their core responsibilities
  • Organizational customer empathy: Employees feel like their company cares about customers’ experiences and invests in understanding them

Introducing Impact Hours 

The next challenge was considering how we encourage participation. While we had previously instituted a volunteer-time-off (VTO) policy that enabled 20 paid hours per year, we had traditionally seen low engagement and usage. The feedback was that folks felt the definition too limiting, and they wanted support finding and sourcing opportunities.

As a result, we rebranded VTO to impact hours, and expanded the definition to be more inclusive. Impact Hours is time that Classy employees spend engaging with the customer outside of their typical work duties. A few examples of new activities we added are: 

  • Participation in nonpartisan voter engagement activities (e.g., serving as a poll worker, regardless of pay)
  • Signing or starting a social good or civic engagement petition (20 petitions = 1 hour)
  • Serving on a nonprofit board (you may log meeting hours) 
  • Serving as an advisor for a nonprofit (you may log meeting hours) 

At any point, employees are empowered to spin up their own volunteering events and recruit others. We encourage them to leverage the #volunteer Slack channel to communicate and collaborate on upcoming opportunities. 

Feedback and the Journey Ahead

Since launching the new ClassyGives program, we’ve hosted a successful Idea Jam, in which we connected 75 employees with 10 nonprofit customers to help solve their pressing business challenges. The program received positive feedback from both staff and customers. Staff cited two of the top benefits of participating were 1) feeling like they could add tangible value to a nonprofit, and 2) getting face time with the customer. All customer respondents said the experience met or exceeded their expectations, with many commenting on the benefits of such close interaction with Classy professionals.

I am eager to continue building meaningful connections between our employees and our customers, and look forward to the many learnings ahead. If you have launched a successful employee volunteering program at your company, or if you are interested in joining the Classy team because this sounds like an environment you’d thrive in, we’d love to hear from you. Check out our open positions at classy.org/careers, message me at [email protected], or simply respond in the comments here.


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