Ignite the Light – Spark Employee Engagement through a Game-changing Approach to Corporate Social Good Programs
What do micro-finance, crowdsourcing, mass personalization, user-empowerment, transparency and social media have in common? They are almost completely absent in conventional approaches to corporate social responsibility and corporate philanthropy – especially workplace giving… Somewhere on the web, you can design your own jeans, build your own car, broadcast your ardent opinions and values to willing listeners, create critical mass or tipping points for ideas or even product discounts by being part of an aligned crowd, etc., yet when you walk through the doors of the place where you spend the majority of your waking time, most of that empowered existence ceases. And we wonder why our people are not more engaged?
What if it didn’t need to be so, at least as relates to engagement of employees around social responsibility, sustainability and corporate philanthropy – an increasing area of investment for most companies of any size?
Happily for society, social consciousness (which I’ll use as an umbrella term for CSR/CI, sustainability, having meaning in all that you do, giving back, and related concepts) is more top-of-mind than ever. Poke your head up from your desk at all and you will see that cause marketing and giving back are as mainstream as is afternoon drinking on Mad Men. The value proposition for these increasing initiatives and spend is not merely altruism (though wouldn’t that be nice?) or seeking/reinforcing a social license for the relevant business to operate (which is increasingly important), it may be even simpler: all else being more or less equal, I’ll pick the product or service or employer that gives back over the one that doesn’t, and the likelihood of me taking the targeted action goes up, the more the chosen cause resonates with me personally. Whether customer or employee-facing, successful connection around shared values/causes creates an emotive connection – the path to true loyalty and engagement. That’s success on any scorecard.
There’s nothing novel in that, I know. Companies have been plunking company logos beside polar bears and issuing big cardboard cheques to the United Way or the CEO’s favorite charity for years. I’m not dissing it or the United Way; it’s just that if engagement, team-building and brand lift are part of the goals (and they likely should be to invite measureable ROI and sustainable investment in this area) the status quo isn’t cutting it.
While some companies still view CSR as a vulnerability or external risk to be managed and others recognize it as an opportunity for valuable social and business impact and competitive differentiation, all agree that corporate social responsibility and community investment initiatives are essential investments.
The overarching reason the current approach is flawed is that within the techno-centric empowered world in which we live, conventional approaches to workplace giving don’t play because they are almost completely top down, flying starkly in the face of the democratization that most user-facing technology delivers. People now (perhaps rightly?) expect more from the companies that they work for and with. They bring their “whole selves” to work and they expect the businesses that they choose as employers or suppliers to not only help them give back, but to give them a meaningful seat at the table in so doing.
Employee giving, donation matching and corporate volunteering programs are fast becoming an essential part of the toolkits needed to execute strategic CSR, Community Investment (CI) and Human Capital Management plans. Having these programs is great – maybe even imperative in a society that has an increased appetite for achieving meaning and sustainability in all that they do – but offering costly programs that don’t resonate with stakeholders or invite broad take-up among targeted constituents wastes resources, attention and opportunity. Too often, the act of giving is far removed from the corporate matching offer, is cumbersome or unwieldy to effect, and applies to too narrow a scope of causes. Or even worse, companies implement what is effectively grant-management software and can’t figure out why their employee take-up is so low. The data speaks: it’s time to put a big X through the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” approach to workplace giving.
And the appetite is (by necessity) growing. On the workplace giving front, many companies with existing programs are looking for ways to address the limited number of charities in the program, expand giving from a seasonal focus to a year-round activity, engage their employees and their brand by getting their employees out volunteering in the community in a trackable, rewardable way, and to generally garner more ROI from providing workplace giving.
Although I am highly biased, I believe a technological approach that emphasizes simplicity, ease of use, flexibility and empowered choice to the user, while enabling companies and individuals to leverage their investments and sense of efficacy through accessing real-time matching offers and customized portfolios of causes under strategic pillars, is a compelling formula for success. (Not too mention a user interface that was built in this decade!). Toss in some use of crowdsourcing for charity portfolios and rallying around causes, the ability to self-generate campaigns on-the-fly, a dash of social media and mobile for promotion, tracking and administration of everything and you’ve got something that will:
- Positively impact employee engagement, attraction & retention;
- Provide the flexibility and choices to implement a workplace giving program that people will use, charities will applaud and stakeholders will acknowledge, while aligning with a company’s corporate community investment strategy, partners and focus areas;
- Easily, cost-effectively and in a timely manner, implement workplace giving so that available budget from companies of any size can focus on and deliver programs with increased social and business ROI on CSR/CI spend, rather than dollars wasted on administration.
This may not seem to the uninitiated like that big or bold an idea, but it is. Just ask some of the many companies that are spending millions (or tens of) on these programs – and those that are considering such programs - if they would like to connect their spend more directly to the targeted behaviours and strategic goals.
Attracting, retaining and motivating employees are unmistakably critical to business success. Companies of all sizes and types are competing for the same talent, and engaging employees is a top priority. (Um, duh, so tell me something I don’t already know!) While workplace giving programs are certainly no silver bullet for solving the complex challenge of employee engagement, it is a proven and increasingly prevalent part of the HR/CSR strategic toolkit. A troubling challenge is that in the current corporate landscape, employee engagement is reportedly at an all-time low:
- 82% of employees aren’t passionate about their work (2009 Deloitte Shift Index)
- 46% of companies experienced a decline in employee engagement in 2010 (Hewitt, 2010)
- 97% of CEOs surveyed say that access to and retention of key talent are critical or important to sustaining growth over the long term (with 72% saying that it’s critical) (Source: PwC, 2009)
- 80% of companies reported that their workplace giving programs were a success and when asked why they feel this way, respondents consistently answered “employee engagement and satisfaction derived from the program.” Source: (LBG Research Institute, Inc. and LBG Associates, Workplace Giving Works! Make it Work for You, 2010)
Many companies don’t yet have a formal employee giving or volunteering program, and are therefore missing a very real opportunity to bring a huge element of day-to-day importance in the lives of their employees and other stakeholders into their human capital management practices. At the same time, the ability of the vast majority of existing workplace giving programs to effectively engage employees is woefully inadequate. Those companies (typically larger organizations) that have programs usually have one that falls into one or more of the following categories:
- the program is outsourced to a charity aggregator, which by definition limits choice, flexibility, use of technology, brand benefits and control;
- is administered by one of a handful of large providers in the space that specialize in Fortune 500 companies (which is at best software that “flintstones” manual processes in behind a custom website that they’ve paid meaningful six figures for and the same in annual fees, and at worst is a digitally glorified manual pledge form);
- is referred to as a “workplace giving program” but is either a proprietary system or third-party software that delivers what is effectively grant-management processing;
- relates to an annual fundraising initiative (with no real capability to generate year-round engagement or campaigns, respond to crises like Haiti, or integrate charitable components into company events);
- includes corporate matching as a discrete afterthought, where the employee makes a donation or volunteers their time (somehow) and submits through a process for a matching grant; or
- applies to one or a handful of charities/causes that are chosen by management based on relationships or ostensible strategic fit with the company’s operations and brand.
The reality is that individuals now operate in a web-centric technological world that enables “mass personalization” and they increasingly expect that same opportunity inside and outside the workplace. Manual solutions or technology that is built to facilitate grant management and post-facto matching from a corporate perspective have little chance of appealing to most employees or creating the desired emotive connection with the corporate brand and culture, as illustrated by very low take-up rates where these are the only solutions deployed. And money alone can’t necessarily fix it. Heard from a senior HR/community investment exec from a largeco whose costly custom software solution wasn’t delivering the expected results: “they delivered us a jet at great expense that no one knows how to fly; what we needed was a fast car that had the latest gadgets that people use everyday…”
So, ignoring the choice of solution, why aren’t current models working to achieve increased engagement?
- Participation rates - This is an easy measure, but potentially misleading. Moving the needle on employee engagement is only possible if employees find value in the initiatives. Clearly, if participation rates are low, there’s a problem. But if participation rates are reasonably high and they’re a function of arm-twisting and pressure, the engagement element will of course be absent. Whether it’s poor communication or lack of senior leadership support, a workable solution must address how one generates sincere, passionate participation across a broad demographic of users.
- Lack of choice - This is a big part of the answer to #1 above. Giving is a very personal decision; existing programs tend to give to established large charities selected by upper management. Let’s be frank: what is the likelihood that your employees are going to get misty-eyed about donating to the CEO’s favorite charity as opposed to one that resonates with them personally?
- Seasonal nature of campaigns - Existing giving campaigns/programs tend to be seasonal, but engagement is an ongoing, year-round issue. Creating a platform that can accommodate annual campaigns but provides ongoing opportunities to give back is critical. (Besides, what’s with this “giving season” thing; does anyone think that charities only need money once-a-year?).
- Low utilization of matching offers - Organizations may be reluctant to enable empowered matching offers because of the administrative burden that so often accompanies them. Although matching has been empirically proven to positively effect participation, impact, and total donations (by in the order of 20% according to Cone Research), the recency effect suggests that the emotive impact of a matching program suffers when there is a lag between the act of giving and the matching gift. It need not be so.
- Manual processes - Most existing models have one or more manual components that make it difficult from a resource management perspective to self-administer any kind of program that is likely to succeed. Even if you have or pay for the required army of folks, manual processes are costly, error-prone, and make it difficult to accommodate flexibility or choice in execution.
- Timely reporting and measurement of metrics that matter - As with any strategic initiative, the ability to measure and communicate progress is critical to decision making.
- Cost - Custom built solutions designed to address some of the above issues are cost-prohibitive for all but the largest organizations (and even then, struggle to stay current). All required functionality is built into the front end, and most back-end processing is still largely manual – whether outsourced or done in-house.) Efficiencies and cost aside, engagement through workplace giving shouldn’t be available only to individuals working for large companies.
- Giving and volunteering matters to employees - The 2008 Towers Perrin Global Workforce study found that in the US, the second most important driver of engagement was an organization’s reputation in the community. With the spate of corporate misdoings and the recession since then, that has likely only increased since 2008.
- Low level of change management required. Many other factors contributing to employee engagement (ie - type of work performed, decision making authority within a role, salary and benefits, many of your other Moonshots) require major cultural shifts that can be both time-intensive and costly. A revamped workplace giving initiative can be up and running in a fraction of the time/cost of other engagement strategies.
The fix is not just a better program; the solution (and access to the Moonshots that would inevitably flow from it) requires a true technological platform that simplifies take-up, systemizes flexibility, automates transactional/matching and other processes, and distills the complex interaction of the key components for success into a seamless, easy-to-use, cost effective solution that is consumable by the employees and other stakeholders from companies of all sizes and shapes under their own brand.
The current approach to workplace giving and corporate social good programs needs to be turned upside down, with a broadly accessible platform technology as the key enabler. Increasingly, particularly in a social media influenced world, a corporate brand and reputation is less about what the corporation says about itself and more about what its employees, customers and other stakeholders say. By featuring these stakeholders as active participants in the corporate social good programs through the software – whether as donors, recipients of matching funds, featured causes, matching partners, etc. – you are empowering a new generation of brand champions with an approach that reflects the market and social context in which we live and work. The result is a powerful solution that engages your employees and continually builds more direct connections with two of your most important assets – your employees and your corporate brand/reputation.
As with anything technology-oriented, the software solution is necessary, but not sufficient (more on the other required ingredients later). But at a minimum, the technology platform should enable you with the following Ten Steps to Better Engagement Through Corporate Good:
- Flexible charity choice – The platform must deliver choice and flexibility in giving. Open choice (any charity) or flexible choice (a subset of causes selected by the organization or perhaps through some polling or crowdsourced program to solicit employee input) allows employees to select the cause(s) that resonate with them. Ideally, it shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing proposition; the user should be able to create a giving account or personal foundation to support multiple charities, and to modify it whenever and however they like.
- Corporate matching made easy and impactful – Matching should be done automatically and in real-time, which will increase participation rates and leverage existing budgets. Provide automated matching to select causes, all causes, corporate cause portfolios (a mutual fund of charities under your brand), or specific campaigns. You could even include third party partners to assist with funding of matching programs, where strategically sensible. Real-time matching increases the likelihood of take-up, and alleviates a cumbersome manual process, saving time, money and opportunity.
- Roll out workplace giving under your corporate brand – The solution interface should be brandable (logos, colours, etc.) without costing a fortune, so you can implement workplace giving under your own identity to create a direct, more intimate connection between the company and its community investment strategy. This includes company-branded tax receipts.
- Corporate cause portfolios – In minutes, your organization can create portfolios of causes that align with your philanthropic or community investment pillars, regional strategies and goals. Promote them to employees with featured campaigns, blog posts and matching offers. That way, you empower choice yet create bias toward strategic social good programs. Cool, huh?
- Easy campaign creation/promotion – Set up a new campaign in minutes to add a charitable component to a corporate event or quickly respond to crisis-based events requiring community support. Or, promote your existing seasonal giving programs or corporate events with a campaign, complete with it’s own matching offer. Use social networking functionality to promote the campaign and share impact statements. If you’re really smart, open up the blog functionality to the user base (mediated, of course).
- “Dollars for Doers” administration – Manage, track and reward employee volunteer hours but make it EASY for them to take advantage of. As a kick-off to program launch or reward for targeted behaviour, you can also “seed” employee giving accounts with donation currency that users can direct to a chosen charity or use the…(see #7 below).
- Charitable gift card capability – Reward and motivate employees or other stakeholders by giving them a donation gift card that allows them to donate to the cause, or causes, of their choice. These brandable gift cards can also be purchased to give to those outside your organization; as a promotional or seasonal item, or by employees for personal use. Drive recipients (who may not just be employees) to a branded redemption site where they see matching offers from the company, connect your brand with your CSR strategy, etc.
- Enable grassroots giving in any amount – Because you’re using an automated platform that aggregates across many integrations, there should be no need for minimum donation amounts. Microdonations of any amount should be welcome. Use the power of the crowd to create a feeling of giving back, regardless of the financial means of the user.
- Move metrics that matter; measure them in real time – Being able to measure and report on progress and ROI is critical to stakeholders. Workplace giving can be a powerful part of your employee engagement strategy but only if you have the data to make strategic decisions. Timely reporting is another benefit of fully automating the process.
- Don’t pay a fortune for it – If you consume Software-as-a-Service built on a true platform, the solution should be plug-and-play, so you’re not reinventing the wheel every time. Don’t build a jet when a cool car will do (and burn less fuel!). And most of all…
- Make it easy (and fun!) – However snazzy, a tool or program is only effective if people are using it. Ensure the entire experience is convenient for both employees and administrators. It needs to be extremely easy to use, highly visual, and provide more to employees than just a “digitized” pledge form that they set and forget.
The potential to engage employees around causes and social good programs – and the appetite of companies to do a better job at embedding their CSR/CI and social good programs into their everyday operations – is the only reason my company exists.
Cause marketing campaigns are an established part of many organizations customer engagement strategies and have been proven to influence buying behavior, loyalty, retention, etc. The same principles hold true for employee relationship management. Coming off a couple of years of challenge in most organizations and with employee engagement reportedly at an all time low, implementing a new or revamped workplace giving program can have a profound impact on your organization, your employees, and your community.
The prospect of putting a “plug and play” solution in place that doesn’t require a large PO approval, invite the need for extensive internal IT resources, or invite huge change management issues, should be one of the easiest, most tangible, lowest cost and potentially impactful things that an HR group could do this year to spark employee engagement.
How might this manifest itself on the status quo?
Fired up, passionate employees. Deciding how/when/where to give is empowering and has been proven to increase engagement and employee satisfaction. Your employees want to give back, but they want to do it on their terms. Fostering an environment where they can support causes that they choose (and that you’ll help them do it) sends a good message about how you view them and the importance of their values and opinions.
Strategic community investment. Employee empowerment in this context need not come at the expense of abandoning your existing or evolving strategy or chosen causes for social good programs. The flexibility and choice extends to the employer as well. The right platform will support any and all charities, and permit you to aggregate them, localize choice, etc. You empower choice and gain the benefit that comes with democratization, but create bias towards corporate strategic causes through matching offers and other incentives.
Changing a landscape that needs it. Let’s not forget, there is a social mission in all of this. Charitable organizations, especially smaller local organizations, are struggling to generate revenue at a cost per dollar that would make sense for most businesses. When companies focus only on a handful of charities, this exacerbates the problem, as the rich charities get richer. Democratizing choice at the employee/user level also democratizes access to funds at the charity level. You may never have heard of some of these smaller charities that do great works, but your people have.
Redefining impact. One of the frequent refrains for not wanting an open or expanded choice program is the fear by corporate management that it will dilute the “impact” of their corporate giving. Often, the definition of impact in the conventional model is the size of the cardboard check that a single charity receives. As we have seen with the Grameen Bank and the microfinance bonanza that it hatched, there is tremendous impact in seeding a large number of worthy causes with relatively small amounts of funding. And besides, let’s face it: a big part of the impact you are looking for with these programs is with and upon the employees, no?
Implementing or revamping workplace giving is an excellent way to boost employee engagement in your organization. Unlike most other drivers of engagement, it doesn’t require mass organizational change or a big financial investment.
Identifying objectives and having a discussion around desired outcomes is critical to the success of the hack. Here is a list of questions to get you started. Including employees in this process will net you even better returns.
- Does your organization have an existing workplace giving program? What are the participation rates? What is the average donation? What percentage of donations are matched? How many causes do you support, either with corporate donations or through matching. Do you have any employee feedback on these programs? If yes, have you acted on it?
- Do you measure employee engagement in your organization? How about ROI on corporate social good programs?
- Do you have any existing relationships with causes or charitable organizations? Would you like to keep working with them? Do you think they resonate across your entire workforce demographic? If you use consultants in this area, do they have an interest in maintaining the status quo of donees?
- If you could do so easily and cost-effectively, would you allow employees to donate to any cause that they wish (or at least a broad subset of the universe)? Could you deploy your corporate donations budget more effectively by using matching?
- Would you match donations to all causes? Just corporate causes? Just selected causes (ie health-related charities)? Would it be powerful for you to create your own causes under different pillar banners?
A good first step for any company that is interested in the subject matter, would be to review the resources referenced below.
The team at Benevity Social Ventures, Inc. - Benevity is a software company that helps businesses realize a greater return on their (increasing) investments in social responsibility, community relations and cause marketing. Benevity is a for-profit social enterprise; a hybrid corporation that has a for-profit model but also pursues a strong social mission as part of its overall mandate and vision. We are a bunch of regular folks who are here to do something extraordinary: change the landscape of philanthropy and help companies engage the people that matter in their social good programs. We don't pretend to be better or greener or more socially conscious than anyone else, but we fundamentally believe that the space in which we operate is badly in need of our creative, passionate and tech-savvy people. We’re here to be disruptive and where it makes sense, to put a big X through the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” old-school mode of thinking around the issues we address, like workplace giving.