My husband and I just found out today that his company donated $1000 to our daughter's elementary school in support of their robotics program and we're thrilled. In the 28 years he's worked for the company, it's the first time he thought to apply. Having communicated similar grant programs with previous employers, it amazes me that much of the funds budgeted for are never used by the employees they are intended to support.

For years, I have personally used employee volunteer grant programs at my three previous employers to support my children's schools and not-for-profit organizations where I have sat on executive boards. The truth is that even though there are limited funds available, my requests got approved every year because of lack of demand.

As we prepare for National Volunteer Week (April 10-16), I'd like to challenge you to volunteer in your community and investigate and apply to employee support programs available through your employer.

Here's why:

Funds go to a local cause important to you

Many large national or international employers use charitable funds toward bigger causes and similarly-sized organizations. The volunteer grants, on the other hand, allow for donations to local community organizations as chosen by the employees who volunteer for those organizations. Your effort gives these smaller causes the credibility they wouldn't get by simply sending a donation request to head office.

Your organization is aware of your volunteer efforts

When deciding on promotions, organizations are looking for well-rounded individuals who contribute beyond the workplace. Applying for volunteer grants creates visibility and helps enhance your personal brand reputation. It also allows you to talk about causes you are passionate about and demonstrate leadership skills.

A sense of pride

When talking about the company that you work for every day, there is a sense of pride when your employer values something in your personal life. I loved the fact that HP Canada and Compaq Canada donated technology to my children's schools and Loblaw Companies Limited provided donations to both schools and children's organizations where I volunteered. Even better was the regard and respect that teachers, board colleagues, and parents showed for me and my employers.

I personally do not remember a time when I didn't have three parallel lives - my work life, my family life and my volunteer life. They all need to exist to make me feel whole. Sometimes it's nice to see these lives intersect and support one another.

Happy National Volunteer Week - April 10-16, 2016! What will you do this year to make the most of volunteering?

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