A recent Deloitte survey showed that 90 percent of companies reported a significant and positive increase in employees’ overall leadership skills as a result of their involvement in pro bono and skills-based volunteering programs organized by their employer. For many companies seeking to attract, retain and develop talent, corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs are a great – if overlooked – way to integrate people, process and philanthropy.
The corporate world is moving away from the notion of “giving back” a portion of their earnings to improve the world around them. Instead, modern, for-profit companies such as Whole Foods and TOMS have built their entire strategic business models around a purpose-driven approach.
According to Deloitte, “the concept of pursuing a double or triple bottom line – seeking to maximize financial, social and environmental impacts – has gained traction among large, established firms and emerging enterprises alike. This has also provided more opportunities for purpose-driven professionals to pursue personal passions while working within the corporate world.”
Smart companies include employees in their CSR strategy, integrating them into sustained activities that satisfy their desire to contribute to society and expand their skills. Here are three ideas from outstanding purpose-driven professionals that you can try in your own organization:
1. Authorize EBRGs to fund non-profit organizations.
Employee Business Resource Groups (EBRGs) bring together likeminded employees for the purpose of raising awareness about diversity and inclusion and helping organizations overcome obstacles to employees’ career progress. They also provide valuable insight for the business into key constituencies. EBRGs generally attract highly motivated, engaged employees and provide opportunities for project management, leadership roles, and interaction with executive sponsors. At PSEG, the members of the company’s EBRGs bring their passion and expertise to the communities they serve. Every EBRG receives a budget for making modest, but meaningful financial grants to the non-profit organization of its choice. The funding comes from The PSEG Foundation.
“We base our giving strategy on our customers’ need and the business need,” says Ellen Lambert, president, The PSEG Foundation, and chief diversity officer, PSEG. “We teach employees about what the issues are for our consumers and how our business might help them with those issues. That is how they are able to select non-profit organizations for their volunteering activities.”
Two years into the program, PSEG employees have developed a scorecard to measure the impact of the grants they make and to guide their future decisions. “In many corporate giving programs, there is no room for failure,” says Lambert, “and that puts pressure on the non-profit as well as the company and the Foundation.” The smaller EBRG-directed grants allow a margin of error and give employees the opportunity to learn how to assess the worthiness of a non-profit.
2. Empower employees to serve as they wish.
“We are a retail bank, so we can’t close the branches during business hours to have our employees participate in one group volunteer activity,” says Jane Kurek, executive director, The Provident Bank Foundation. Not a problem. In 2016 Provident Bank’s employee engagement team conducted an online survey of its employees to ask them how they wanted to support the communities the bank has served for more than 100 years. The employees’ responses flooded the team with great ideas that have been transformed into action. Provident Bank also recognizes employees’ volunteer activities in media announcements and on its website.
From the survey responses and guidance from executive leadership, the team redesigned an employee-driven initiative, called Commit to Care. Through quarterly volunteer events, bank employees can select the causes they want to support through their talent, time and personal contributions.
The Provident Bank Foundation was established in 2003 by Provident Bank to enhance the quality of life in the region through support of not-for-profit groups, institutions, schools and other 501(c)(3) organizations that provide services in communities served by the Bank. And, when The Provident Bank Foundation makes grants to non-profit organizations, the checks are presented by local bank leaders.
3. Match employees’ charitable gifts.
Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Foundation is one of the nation’s largest private foundations whose mission is to improve the health and health care of all Americans. Its employees are in the business of granting funds to advance the work of worthy non-profit organizations. “Our employees are great believers in our mission and share a strong philanthropic spirit,” says Fred Mann, vice president, Communications, RWJ Foundation. “As individuals, they are involved in supporting good causes they care about, and the Foundation supports their choices through a very generous matching gift program.” Indeed. RWJ Foundation will match up to five times the value of an employees’ personal gift to a qualified non-profit organization.
Make the choice to voice opinions.
Choice is the overarching theme in engaging employees in corporate social responsibility. The more decision-making power employees have over how charitable funds are directed, and how volunteer hours are spent, the more likely they will be invested in the causes the company supports with them. Engaged, purpose-driven employees also make the best ambassadors for the company and all its business practices, including CSR. As a result, some companies are enrolling and training employee ambassadors to use social media to spread the word about their philanthropic agendas and activities.
“The biggest trend in foundation communications is social media,” says Mann, who also served many years as a member of the board of directors of The Communications Network, which is affiliated with the Council on Foundations.
“Social media isn’t a little thing; it’s everything,” says Mann. “The concept of sitting back and plotting a campaign around an issue and closely monitoring it is out the window. With the fast pace and interactivity of social media, foundations can generate not just interest, but also action for people to do something about social issues.”
When those messages come from employees, they are even more powerful and influential. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, “people like me” are the most trusted population – nearly twice as much as corporate and government leaders. When employees are willing to promote their corporate responsibility work and their pride in their employer that supports it, their reach is broad and perceived as more credible than any other source of information.
Business leaders who shy away from “allowing” employees to post their opinions on social media are missing an opportunity. By providing social media guidelines and encouraging employees to tell the company’s social responsibility stories using their own words and photos, companies build a foundation of mutual trust and collaboration.
In our practice, we work with leaders in business and non-profit organizations to leverage the power of the full range of communications – including employee engagement and social media – to tell compelling stories that inspire and motivate people. Want to know more? Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.