The CSR Scoop - 6/05/2015

Jun 5, 2015 4:40 PM ET

With June upon us, it’s tough to sit inside at a desk all day and remain engaged and passionate about the work on the screen in front of you. A number of articles this week reference the challenge of employee disengagement and dissatisfaction, and we feel it more than ever during these summer months. Hope remains, however - and it’s not just because we know that cold, gray winter will soon return to make us appreciate the comfortable warmth of our offices. Companies are getting creative about how to engage their employees, grow new leaders, and inject passion back into the workplace. As companies align purpose and profit through innovative philanthropy, cross-sector collaborations, and pro bono service, we’re seeing tremendous social impact as well as workplace gains in engagement, happiness, and culture.

Read on to learn more about how thinkers and doers in the field are tackling business and social challenges simultaneously. And, in the spirit of June, we’d recommend treating yourself as a scoop of ice cream as you get the CSR Scoop!

The Scoop:

This week, Huffington Post announced the launch of a new publishing platform entitled What’s Working: Purpose + Profit.  The platform will feature stories, insights, and tips from cross-sector leaders about how businesses can look beyond the bottom line and work towards solutions for their employees, their communities and the world at large. In Arianna Huffington’s introduction to the series, she explains the impetus for its creation:

“There's no better time to put a spotlight on all that's happening in this arena. We are at the beginning of a new era for purpose-driven businesses…For more and more companies, shared value has moved from the periphery to the core, as companies see that what's good for the bottom line can also be good for the world, and vice versa.”

We’ve heard it time and time again: there is a latent risk of destroying business value and viability if organizations do not purposely and strategically create social value. But, in application, it can be tremendously difficult for companies to overcome an entropic business environment and stagnant corporate cultures that offer few incentives for “intrapreneurs” to drive change. Carlos Miguel Juri reflected on the mandate for corporate change after attending the Shared Value Leadership Summit a couple weeks ago, and argued that companies must take into account both internal and external levers in order to drive innovation and shared value.

Also at the Shared Value Leadership Summit, cross-sector experts discussed how shared value work fundamentally improves both employee engagement and business performance. The Pro Bono model was showcased as a successful tool that assists in employee engagement and leadership development by fulfilling employee demands for purpose-filled work and stretch opportunities. There are numerous examples of pro bono’s international and domestic success, evidencing its power as a generator of both employee motivation and community development. This blog post about the conference session includes experts’ advice for how to educate management about the value created by this pro bono work and how to inspire corporate engagement from the bottom-up.

We’re excited about Morgan Stanley’s innovative Strategy Challenge, a ten-week program in which teams of high-performing employees provide pro bono strategic consulting to nonprofits on a mission-critical strategic issue and then vie for the title of greatest strategic impact in a crowning competition. Seven years into the program Morgan Stanley has cumulatively delivered over 56,000 hours of service to 90 nonprofit organizations. By our calculations, that’s about $9,800,000 in community investment. Bravo!

Is there a misalignment between the company’s and the layperson’s definition of corporate “goodness?” GOODCorps launched a research study, striving to identify what “goodness” means to people in terms of companies, foundations, and brands. One of the findings we were most interested to read about is that   “people are the new ‘green’.” GOODCorps’ Maria Redin explains,

“Coming from the corporate side, you often hear, ‘Here’s what the company gives money to,’ and, ‘Here’re the sustainability efforts that we’re doing.’ I have to tell you, when we talked to people, we rarely heard them mention that. It was fascinating to hear, ‘What is that company doing for its employees?,’ and ‘How are they bettering the community?’…In the past, sustainability has been something that we’ve put a lot of focus on. I don’t think that’s gone away, but I think that there’s been a tremendous increase in awareness that employees and the people around the company are equally important.”

A perennial issue, leadership development is constantly sited as a top challenge facing organizations across the world. Deloitte University Press studies have confirmed a staggering capacity gap between companies’ leadership needs and the readiness of their leadership pipelines.

“In today’s competitive business environment and rapidly evolving world of work, organizations must continuously develop a robust portfolio of leaders who are ready to engage employees, push forward growth strategies, drive innovation, and work directly with customers.”

At Common Impact we’re always working to align our programs with these referenced leadership needs. On our projects, we take professionals at all levels of the organization out of their day-to-day workplace and place them in an unfamiliar nonprofit environment where they must consider organizational strategy and growth, creatively solve complex problems in a resource-strapped environment, and develop strong customer-facing skills as they partner with our nonprofit clients.

What other forms of experiential learning and leadership training are you seeing have success at your company? And for our nonprofit readers, what’s similar and different about the leadership challenges you’re facing in your own organization? Could cross-sector collaboration be a potential solution to nonprofit leadership challenges as well?

In yet another addition to the growing body of proof that investing in employee engagement yields business gains, Alex Edmans released a new paper entitled, Does the Stock Market Fully Value Intangibles? Employee Satisfaction and Equity PricesThe paper reveals a significant correlation between employee satisfaction and long-run stock returns. The strongest performers in both areas are the companies that view their employees as "human capital" and treat them as creators of bottom line value.

We all know that IT staff is absolutely vital to a business. And yet, corporate IT professionals are feeling underutilized and uninspired at work. IT employees are generally highly skilled, customer-oriented people, who crave opportunities to grow and innovate. Yet as technology innovation moves away from corporate IT departments towards cloud vendors, IT professionals are left feeling unhappy at work and pessimistic about their career growth.

Not coincidentally, IT projects are Common Impact’s most popular skills-based volunteering project type because IT is an area of critical need in nonprofits and because the projects enable IT professionals to stretch their wings (or their keyboard-bound fingers, as it may be), innovate in a new, different technology landscape, and attain professional fulfillment from donating their skills to a cause they care about.

Listen to Tayla Bosch, Western Union’s vice president for social ventures and internal communication discuss how NGO’s have evolved in how they engage the private sector on shared value efforts.

While past interactions with corporations tended to be limited to their corporate responsibility departments, nongovernmental organizations are increasingly working directly with business divisions to achieve their goals.”

This is a model that Common Impact has seen yield great success in our own programming.  As we see the ethos corporate citizenship increasingly permeate companies’ departments, we anticipate this form of direct partnership will become more and more common for intermediary organizations like Common Impact and for direct-service nonprofits seeking targeted, functionally-specific support.

Harry Broadman penned a Forbes article that makes the provocative claim that we need a fundamental CSR overhaul, or as he puts it, a “CSR reset.” The crux of his argument is that the CSR function must be incorporated directly within the business strategy decision-making process from the get-go, not siloed off to the side and added in as an afterthought.

We welcome Broadman’s push to bring CSR into the mainstream but, even more so, we appreciated one of his slightly less emphasized points: that it’s critical for CSR initiatives to be designed with the community’s needs in mind, rather than just the company’s objectives. A strategic, bottom-up assessment of community needs is critically important and a failure to conduct one “…may result in a project that only serves to validate, if not embolden, the objectives of the most powerful vested interests.” A partnership model is a secure way to approach corporate community-based work, in which a corporation collaborates – as an equal partner, rather than a white knight – with nonprofit organizations working day-in and day-out with a community or with grassroots community leaders who are intimately connected to the issues at hand.

Skills-based volunteering goes global! Since 2011, Moving Worlds has been running a “short-term Peace Corps for skilled professionals,” connecting ‘experteers (those who want to volunteer their expertise) to social impact organizations around the globe for skills-based volunteering gigs of various lengths. Next, Moving Worlds plans to take their program to the corporate level by partnering with companies who are already implementing skills-based volunteering, to provide international volunteering opportunities or “sabbaticals” for their employees. We’re thrilled to see global pro bono run by fantastic organizations like Pyxera and Moving Worlds transferring skills across sectors and across country lines!

In a Pro Bono Australia blog, Anne Myers, United Way Australia’s interim CEO reflected on her brief immersion in the nonprofit world and highlighted some of the core differences between the sectors. Some of her astute observations include:

  • Since donors want their support going directly to activities in the community, nonprofit overhead functions like administration, technology, HR, and marketing are seriously under-funded and under-resourced.

  • Nonprofit executives lack the extensive support services that exist in the for-profit sector, so they must have a more prominent role in some of the administrative and “in-the-weeds” work of the organization. Everyone wears many hats in nonprofit organizations, which has both positive and negative implications.

  • The boundless passion and motivation of nonprofit staff enables them to “do more with less,” accomplishing a tremendous amount with limited funding and capacity.

  • Lessons in the corporate world are sometimes not directly applicable to the nonprofit sector. The strongest corporate-nonprofit collaborations are grounded in mutual respect and a balanced approach to partnership.

These differences must not be understated when approaching cross-sector work. They need not, however, be viewed as a barrier to collaboration. With the appropriate preliminary bilateral education, such collaborations can be powerful learning opportunities for professionals from both sectors. Further, aligning the distinct yet complementary talents and perspectives of professionals from both sectors unlock significant headway on deeply entrenched business and social problems.


Common Impact goes to the Clinton Global InitiativeNext week, Common Impact CEO Danielle Holly will join fellow leaders from the business, philanthropic, NGO, and government sectors at the CGI America to discuss collaborative solutions for economic growth and social mobility in the United States. Danielle will be participating in the “Reconnecting Youth” working group, where she and fellow participants will brainstorm how to create employment pathways for youth, from early education through post-college. We’ll look forward to sharing some of Danielle’s reflections from the Initiative with you on the Common Impact blog. Stay tuned!
June 8-10, Denver, CO

The Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York is hosting a Forum on how Corporate Responsibility Trends are Changing Business Now. Get key insights on how business goals and responsibility practices can align to transform companies for the better.
June 10, New York, NY

The Foundation Center is sharing its Top 5 Tips for Meaningful & Manageable Outcome Measurement with nonprofit organizations looking to learn how to successfully measure and manage.
June 11, New York, NY

Next Thursday, tune into VolunteerMatch’s free webinar on Changing Corporate Perspectives: Workplace Volunteer Programs. Join Realized Worth Co-Founders Angela Parker and Chris Jarvis as they discuss the trends and challenges they’re seeing in corporate volunteerism and make recommendations for how to inspire employees to volunteer.
June 11, Online

Also at the Foundation Center, a free session on Building Sustainable Funding for your Nonprofit Mission. Learn how to implement mission-focused fundraising, make your organization more visible in the community, and identify and cultivate donors who are passionate about your organization.
June 12, New York, NY