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

Some Practical Changes You Can Make to Your Employee Giving and Volunteering Program to Improve Business and Social Outcomes
Jun 28, 2012 6:00 PM ET

If Engagement is the Goal, You Need to Think Differently

At the same time that companies are recognizing they are underachieving in the returns from their programs, businesses are trying to embrace the tremendous power and diversity of the crowd.  [Btw, if anyone thinks that we can solve all of the world’s social issues through donations from high net worth individuals, transfers from government or the current extent of corporate giving, they live in a different world than me.]  To be the change we seek, companies need to engage and cultivate throngs of grassroots or “citizen philanthropists” as Carol Cone and subsequent writers have coined them.

This isn’t as hard as it sounds, particularly since people care more than ever about giving back.  People have a desire to add this kind of meaning to their lives – both inside and outside of work – so there is a broad opportunity to connect with employees based on something other than what they’re being paid or what perks they have.  Most people already have a cause or pillar that they care deeply about; connect with them on that and you should create an element of glue or loyalty that is enduring and difficult for your competitors to supplant.

But make no mistake: engaging people broadly requires empowerment, choice and a measure of democratization, not arm-twisting.  It requires a year-round strategy and commitment that features choice, flexibility, convenience and creativity, not just a once-a-year campaign that seeks to hit a number and then “shuts off” until next year.

A New Definition of Impact

So stop measuring success based on how and to whom you hand out fish.  Foster and measure the breadth and scope of your participation.  Consider these simple steps:

  1. Broaden Your Matching Program.  If you want to capture more of your employees’ charitable activity, you need to broaden choice.  Matching is the main reason they will participate in your program, so be strategic about it.  Use more of your charitable dollars to foster investment and engagement by others (eg.  match to any 501(c)(3) that is in good standing, but match at a higher rate to those causes that are strategic to your company.  And make sure it’s easy to donate and easy to get the match!
  1. Make Your Volunteering “Grants” More Flexible.  In fact, a better step might be to think less about grant making and more about strategic incentivizing. Many companies will offer a “dollars for doers” or similar grant to a cause where an individual volunteers, based on the number of hours that the person contributes.  Most often, there is not only a cap on the hours (ie. the total grant) but also a threshold below which volunteering isn’t recognized with an investment by the company.  The cap likely makes practical sense, but the threshold really doesn’t – especially if engagement is the goal.  If I’m a single mom or dad and can only devote 10 hours instead of 50, should I really feel like my contribution doesn’t matter to the company?
  1. Delink Rewards or Grants from Specific Causes.  This is related to the above point, and again is especially true in Volunteering programs and dollars for doers (DFD) rewards. If you have corporate volunteering opportunities that are strategic to the company, you obviously want broad participation. There are many people who care deeply about a cause, but may not be able to volunteer there (typically because the cause can’t accommodate volunteers easily – such as a Sexual Assault Crisis Centre).  You may want me to participate corporately at the Local Soup Kitchen, but I really care about the YWCA.  If I can earn my DFD reward by volunteering at the soup kitchen but donate it to the YWCA, I’m far more likely to don your t-shirt and get out there...
  1. Use Charitable Gift Cards Instead of Just “T&T”.  We have several clients that use the charitable gift card functionality within our workplace giving software to issue branded employee and client appreciation rewards.  This gifting of “donation currency” is not only a strategically aligned alternative to typical “trinkets and trash”, but will engage people in giving back to campaigns or causes you present.  You’ll get more people engaged in your program, create opportunities to expose them to your community investment initiatives and create a landscape impact under your brand.  It’s just another way of deploying existing budget in ways that will engage others, rather than just the ultimate charity recipient.

Doing these simple things doesn’t mean you have to abandon your strategic pillars or causes, it just means you’re doing things more broadly than you have in the past. (Note: you may need a new breed of workplace giving and volunteering software to support you in this!)