For years we’ve been seeing people who want to get involved in their communities. This is especially true in Utah County, which has been recognized numerous times by the Corporation for National and Community Services as an exceptionally giving community. Recently, this was confirmed by the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, which found that millennials (defined as anyone born after 1979) want to work for companies that provide volunteer opportunities for employees.

Specifically, the report cites that millennial employees want more company-wide volunteer days, sabbaticals from paid work for volunteer work and opportunities to perform charitable projects with a department or team. Researchers also found these employees respond best when they are provided with a variety of ways to engage in a cause.

Although these statistics alone are significant (by 2020, this age group will make up 50 percent of the workforce), we find that millennials aren’t the only ones who want to work and volunteer together. Increasingly, employees want to give back, and they want to do so in a meaningful way.

Finding what works for your company

Contrary to what some people may believe, there is no one way to give back — even when managing a large group such as a company. There are as many opportunities for volunteer service as there are types of companies, if not more. For example, some companies may choose to complete a major service project once a year while other companies want to volunteer once a quarter or more. Some companies want to volunteer on-site while others prefer to host a project or event in their office.

It’s also possible for companies to find volunteer opportunities that align with their goals, skills and passions. For example, Xactware is a Lehi-based software company that specializes in technology for all phases of building and repair and has quite a few employees with extensive construction backgrounds. Each May, Xactware celebrates the company’s founding by dedicating a week (called Founders Week) to service projects including laying sod, planting trees and bushes, spreading wood chips, renovating homes and landscaping. Because they are encouraged to do so, hundreds of employees participate.

Benefits of group volunteering

Naturally, we want to give back as a way to lift others. However, volunteering together has the added benefit of strengthening groups and teams, no matter what type of service your company chooses to do. Rather than spending money on outside team-building activities, why not volunteer together?

In addition to team-building benefits, completing volunteer projects together enables interaction between unacquainted co-workers and creates new leadership opportunities for employees.

Speaking about her company’s service projects, Lauren Foster, a human resource assistant at Xactware, said, “I love spending quality time with our team and building those relationships. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend a day playing in the dirt? Founders Week allows us to give back to our community and I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of that.”

Volunteer strategy

In our work with corporations, we find that those with a year-round strategy for giving back are best able to create the experience employees want. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone in a company needs to volunteer at the same time. One successful strategy is rotating small groups of different employees through the same project or cause over a year’s time. This often has the same impact as trying to volunteer with everyone at one time.

This year Xactware teamed with Habitat for Humanity, Lehi City, Traverse Mountain Elementary, Courage Reins Therapeutic Riding Center and the Food Bank to complete projects during their Founders Week. Xactware also participates in United Way’s annual Day of Caring, Sub for Santa, Red Cross blood drives, and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. They make sure to plan a variety of projects so everyone has a chance to get involved.

Nu Skin is another company with a strong service strategy. Through their Force for Good Foundation, Nu Skin employees are encouraged to give back both at home and abroad. Each year on the company’s Force for Good Day, local projects are organized throughout the world to improve children’s health, education and economic circumstances.

Spread the passion

At United Way we work closely with local companies and agencies to find out where groups can create the greatest impact for the amount of time they have to give. Part of our role in facilitating service projects is to ensure resources -- including volunteers -- are allocated to those areas where they are most needed. Without the necessary knowledge, volunteers may all gravitate toward the same location or project while equally deserving projects are neglected. By working together and coordinating with others, we can spread passion and compassion throughout the valley.

If we do this right, we will not only help people become better team members, we can help them become better neighbors. That’s pretty exciting!

To learn more about how your company or group can volunteer in Utah County, call (801) 374-2588. Call the same to discuss how employees can contribute financially to the community.

United Way envisions a community where all individuals and families achieve their potential through education, income stability and healthy lives. United Way of Utah County works toward this vision by recruiting people and organizations who bring the passion, expertise and resources to get things done. For more information or to give, advocate, or volunteer, visit http://unitedwayuc.org or find us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/unitedwayofutahcounty. We also post regularly to Twitter via @UWayUC.

Bill Hulterstrom is the President and CEO of United Way of Utah County. Contact him at billh@unitedwayuc.org.