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updated: 12/14/2018 2:14 PM

Tech, data and wellness: Volunteer trends and shift

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In the world of volunteerism, certain trends have emerged over the past several years and, combined, they signal a big shift in what we expect of companies today. That sentence alone indicates a trend: The 'chatter' about philanthropy, volunteerism and community engagement has gone up across all sectors.

Trend 1: More organizations in business, in community groups, in higher education and in faith-based circles, are sharing stories about giving back. Seeing news releases about their good giving is not uncommon and this is the first volunteerism trend. More organizations talk about the time, talent and treasure they invest to make our community better.

Trend 2: Data is a part of that philanthrostory. Apps and tech products have made it easy to track employee volunteer efforts and produce meaningful community impact reports. Similar to how payroll deductions add up in a 401(k), an app helps companies to see employee volunteer hours add up to an impressive commitment at year end. Some apps are free and some payroll products have built-in time sheet features to track employee volunteer hours. Some even have CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) tracking for banking and financial institutions with regulatory requirements attached to their community giving.

Trend 3: The same tech tools can track employee turnover allowing companies to draw conclusions about the connection between employee volunteer programs and retention. This trend explains the 'why track' question. It's about the best people -- finding and keeping them. For companies competing to attract the best talent, philanthropy and volunteerism has become part of the equation. Specifically, the best millennial candidates are looking for this in their future employers. We've seen recent studies to back this up, but the point was really made in a meeting with a very talented millennial affiliated with a corporate foundation, who clearly stated she would not consider taking a job with a company that didn't have a 'giving back' culture with employee volunteer programs.

Trend 4: Paid-Time Off for volunteer hours. Now companies discuss Volunteer PTO as part of their HR benefits and, taken one step further, sometimes use community engagement activities as a part of an annual review. There are also mini trends like encouraging remote volunteerism, such as being an online tutor during work hours, or granting leave to employees to be a part of a natural disaster response team. Skills-based volunteerism, such as volunteer strategic planning, mentoring or coaching, shows positive anecdotal data too. Companies report employees are more confident, more willing to try something new and demonstrate leadership in their work, resulting from skills-based volunteer projects.

Trend 5: Beyond anecdotal data, there are many studies outlining the positive health outcomes associated with volunteerism. Research shows volunteerism decreases the risk of depression and isolation, especially in those age 65 and older, because volunteering promotes social interaction and builds support systems with others. Volunteering connects people to purpose and teaches valuable skills, while increasing mental and physical fitness. Volunteering may also lower stress and reduce hypertension resulting from how appreciated most volunteers feel. In fact, some health risk assessments (HRAs) taken as a part of biometric health screenings, now ask "how many times do you volunteer," in addition to asking how often we exercise in a week..

Perhaps not surprisingly, technology solutions and health data lead as the newest volunteerism trends volunteerism. It's easier than ever to incorporate volunteer programs and maybe, more than before, there are compelling reasons to make volunteerism a part of your organization's ethos. We predict this shift will not reverse any time soon. Thankfully, sharing your time and talents to better our community is always on trend, no matter what else may come and go.

• Shefali Trivedi is executive director of Giving DuPage in Wheaton,