How Important is the Social Cause to Volunteer Engagement?

Because we know how much metrics matter, we love using data to help inform decision making and improve employee volunteer programs. By understanding what drives value, performance metrics enable our clients to make a bigger impact on their communities, their employees, and on their business.

Recently, we’ve been thinking a lot about what motivates employees to become, and stay, engaged with corporate volunteer programs. For example, do employees report higher satisfaction if they care deeply about a social cause, even if the volunteer activity is inconvenient or unpleasant?

In our Volunteerism ROI Tracker, we ask employee volunteers to indicate the key benefits of their recent volunteerism. Across a sample of 28,000 volunteers, 93% of employees who cared deeply about the cause they volunteered for were highly satisfied, compared to 77% who did not report the cause as a primary motivator for volunteering. Further, our results suggest that cause commitment drives satisfaction more than the convenience of the event, how well it was managed, or opportunities for networking and socializing. Commitment to cause is as influential as a volunteer’s enjoyment of the activity as a driver of event satisfaction.

Bottom line: when employees like what they are doing, and the cause for which they are doing it, they are more satisfied with the event. Rocket science? Not really. But there are important implications of this data for corporate volunteer managers.

Volunteer Benefits

High Satisfaction rate with reported benefit

High Satisfaction rate without reported benefit

% difference

The activity - I particularly enjoy performing this service or activity




The cause - I care deeply about it / am particularly proud to be associated with it




The management - I found the project particularly well organized and run




New skills/experiences - I came away with meaningful personal or professional development gains




The people - networking or socializing with others was a key benefit




The convenience - the timing or structure made volunteering easy for me




N = 28,084

If one of your company’s  goals is to support employees’ passions, then understanding the causes your employees care about, and seeking non-profit partners whose work supports those causes, should be on your To Do list.   Partnering with these organizations to create a continuum of events, from hands-on to skills-based, will give your employees options to use their time and talents for causes they care about.  And, when they care about the causes, they are more likely to stay engaged with the organization and therefore make a bigger impact.

But if you are a company that has very specific, strategic goals around the causes your company supports, you should have a different To Do list.  In order to build commitment and participation rates, you need buy-in from your employees.  You have to clearly, and passionately, communicate to your employees why your company has committed to specific causes, so they can become passionate about the cause as well.

In Adam Grant’s book Give and Take, he provides an example of college fundraisers who -- after personally meeting the students that had benefitted from the scholarships they were raisng money for -- were significantly more successful at fundraising than those who did not meet the beneficiaries.   When people are connected to the cause they are more motivated to participate in a variety of volunteering activities to support that cause.

Key findings:

  • 92% of volunteers who report the cause as a key benefit of their volunteer experience report high event satisfaction, compared to 77% of those that do not report cause as a key benefit.
  • 94% of volunteers who found the project well organized and run report high satisfaction, compared to 85% of volunteers who did not report management as a key benefit.
  • There was no substantial difference between satisfaction rates of volunteers who did and did not report that convenience was a key benefit of the event.


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