If You Want Greater Employee Engagement, Redefine Impact (Part I)

Employee Giving and Volunteering Program Best Practices: Change Your Perspective on Outcomes
Jun 20, 2012 4:50 PM ET

If You Want Greater Employee Engagement, Redefine Impact (Part I)

Traditional objectives for workplace giving programs often focus on reaching a (well-intentioned) monetary target for a campaign or a cause.  At the same time, most companies are seeking to achieve broader measures of success from their programs, particularly around employee engagement.

This post presents a new view: if you want to achieve greater employee engagement and ROI, you need to change your perspective on what you’re doing. First we’ll identify the problem and in a subsequent post, we’ll identify a few practical changes you can easily make to achieve your goals.

On Definitions of Impact

We talk to a lot of companies who are looking to improve the level of employee engagement and other outcomes from their workplace and corporate giving programs.  Benevity has a pretty snazzy user-focused software platform that just happens to help companies do this.  But a recent comment from a largeco CSR program administrator reminded us that there is more at work in creating successful corporate giving programs than just great software and services; you need to pay attention to the goals…

“This is great; the best solution I’ve ever seen”, said the kind host, “but if an employee can easily give wherever they want, won’t that dilute our impact?”  Of course we never tire of hearing the first part of that comment, but the second part is the one that we’ll explore further…

The answer to the above question of course depends on your perspective.  If your goal is to hit a donation target for a single charity or cause campaign, I can see how one might think that enabling people to donate more broadly might potentially impact those efforts.  (Although, experientially, our user metrics show that a “rising tide raises all boats” and that when people are offered broader choice, they not only give to their causes, they’re also more likely to give to your strategic ones as well!).

So let’s say your target is a dollar amount, and you marshal a ton of corporate and charity resources to compel people to give.  Maybe even your senior management gets involved (which is great If done properly!) and firmly “persuades” people to give a certain amount based on what they earn or have done in the past.

You’ve hit your goal, but have you made the desired impact?  Maybe your employees feel like their giving has been dutiful, rather than altruistic, or that the chosen cause isn’t really resonant to them.  You’ve taken away the “feel good” aspects of it, likely making it difficult to engage them in other aspects of your programs.

If instead your definition of impact is focused on the level of willing participation in your programs and the extent that it ignites employee engagement around your brand, programs and culture, then you should never be asking the question posed above.  You need to ask different ones.

The Problem with the Status Quo

Many corporate philanthropy programs – including workplace giving programs – are still focused on “handing out fish”, rather than creating or engaging passionate fishermen (pardon the lack of a gender neutral term, but “fisherpeople” just sounds funny).  Companies field hundreds or thousands of well-meaning requests for grants, say no to 99.9% of them, and hope that the few that they do choose to support are sufficiently strategically aligned with their company and their brand that their customers and employees will be wildly engaged to hear that the company has given those charities resources.  Even then, the amount that most companies can or will give to their corporately supported charities isn’t really enough to move the needle on the issue or pillar, so it actually ends up being something of a lose-lose.  The company hasn’t generated the business or social ROI it is seeking, the investments don’t resonate with employees or customers, and the charity wants more.

Stay tuned for Part II where we’ll explore a few practical steps to help achieve broader engagement and ROI (without necessarily increasing your budget!).