Growing the Culture of Service in Iowa: Cultivating Employer Supported Volunteering

By Tiffany Jacob, Volunteer Iowa

National Volunteer Week is a call to action for Americans to volunteer and a week to inspire by example. Created by executive order in 1974, this week signaled a recommitment to creating a culture of service in America. Millions of Americans volunteer this week and demonstrate the positive community impact that engaged individuals, families, businesses and organizations create year-round.

In Iowa, over 33% of residents volunteer (VCLA, 2015). Over 6, 900 are national service members who commit a year of their lives to full-time community service (CNCS, 2016). But we want to boost these numbers even higher and see every Iowan empowered through service to meet community challenges and make lives better. On trend nationally, one of the most exciting ways we’re looking to grow volunteerism in Iowa is to cultivate employer supported volunteer programs and opportunities.

Branstad Photo Worldly GoodsHere’s what we know. We know that people are more likely to volunteer when asked. We know that it’s most effective to meet people where they already are to make that ask. From an engagement perspective, places of employment are perfect environments to encourage and support volunteering. But volunteering not only has a significant impact on meeting community needs, it also has an impact on business’ bottom line. From a business perspective, employer supported volunteering leads to improved employee engagement, organizational commitment, job satisfaction and retention (MGSM, 2013).  Those are outcomes an employer should pay attention to. In an economy with 5.5% unemployment, employees have more options. The Volunteer IMPACT Survey published by Deloitte shows that “78% of employees would rather work for an ethical and reputable company than receive a higher salary, so companies have a vested interest in building a corporate volunteerism program that works” (jkgroup, 2015).

Volunteer Iowa and the Employee Volunteer Initiative Advisory Committee recognized the triple benefit -to employees, employers, and the community- and launched the Give Back Iowa Challenge in 2015. In its inaugural year, the competition garnered 50 participating organizations representing 48,686 employees in Iowa that logged 41,702 volunteer hours impacting Iowa communities. Not bad for its first year!

GiveBackIowa Logo 2At its core, Give Back Iowa is really an opportunity for employees who volunteer to receive recognition by tracking and reporting their hours, as well as for employees that may be first time volunteers to try something new that could help them develop additional skills or enthusiasm for their work. That’s why we brought it back in 2016 and extended the challenge to encourage even greater participation. Now eight-weeks, from April 1- May 31, participating employees from nonprofits, government agencies, and businesses are tracking their hours and competing to win a visit from the Governor or Lt. Governor to their workplace. 

We are excited to see the results of the 2016 Give Back Iowa Challenge and to imagine new ways to increase employer volunteerism in Iowa. This National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the employers who have committed to giving back in their communities and who encourage their employees to volunteer both during and outside of the work day. To learn more about the Give Back Iowa Challenge and Volunteer Iowa, please visit our website at

The Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. There are 17 state service commissions administering VGF grants to expand volunteer infrastructure by supporting volunteer management practices that increase volunteer recruitment and retention. Learn more at


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