April is the perfect time of year to celebrate National Volunteer Month, as many people are ready to spend their time and talents to support causes they are about in the community.

Last week in Nevada, Nevada Mayor Brett Barker signed a proclamation declaring today, April 3, as National Day of Service, and recognized several people in our community who work through volunteer agencies to serve local children and adults.

National Volunteer Month is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the volunteers who make our communities stronger, and we need to start in the place we spend most of our time – at work.

Iowa ranks among the top 10 states for volunteering in the United States (Volunteering in America report 2016). More than 6,700 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. Since we spend the majority of our day at work, the best place to start is to grow volunteerism through employer-supported volunteer programs and opportunities.

Volunteer Iowa wants to challenge employers in Iowa to create a culture of service that support and incentivize volunteerism in the workplace.

Here’s what we know. We know companies are viewing employee volunteer programs as a strategy to meet the growing expectations of employees (not to mention other stakeholders) to demonstrate social responsibility. Employer volunteer programs help recruit new employees to an organization, reduce employee turnover, and has many health benefits – just to highlight a few of the many positive results studies support. Research involving millions of employees across several industries found that, on average, each employee participating in an employer volunteer program could add up to $2,400 of value to the company as a result of decreased turnover and improved employee performance (Kropp, 2014). Bottom line – it’s good for business.

We also know that people are more likely to volunteer when asked, and it’s most effective to meet people where they already are to ask.

The mission of Volunteer Iowa supports a commitment to service and strengthening communities. As part of this mission, the Give Back Iowa Challenge was created in 2015 to encourage employers to support volunteering. The 8-week Challenge kicked off on April 1 and ends May 31. It’s simple – employers register (for free) and log their volunteer hours during the Challenge. Companies with the highest average of volunteer hours per employee will be recognized. There are over 40 companies currently registered, and that number is growing. The Challenge is designed for more than just statewide recognition, but to create a culture of service that in turn, builds greater business and social impact.

Complete information and resources on how to participate in the Give Back Iowa Challenge and find volunteer opportunities are provided in the toolkit available at https://volunteeriowa.org/givebackiowa.