Give Your Employees a Better CSR Experience With the Right Technology
An innovative corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy can substantially improve employee participation and workplace pride. Yet cultivating experiences that allow participants to give back in meaningful ways requires a scalable and inclusive solution. What's the best way to launch and improve a CSR technology platform?
Last month, CyberGrants’ Rob Livada, SVP of Solution Architecture, and Sasha DeMarre, Director of Solution Architecture, sat down with independent journalist Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza to discuss launching a successful CSR strategy, meaningful ways to engage employees, and the importance of impact analytics. Check out the full webinar here!
Don’t have time to view their full conversation? We’ve got you covered. Explore key considerations and insights from their discussion below.
What is the first step in implementing an effective CSR strategy?
When you're planning to start your CSR programs, don't worry about going too big. Our most successful clients start very small and allow their CSR strategy to grow over time. Initiating something as simple as a volunteerism program is a great first step towards engaging your workforce in CSR. And that engagement factor is key to a successful and impactful program. Your organization should enable and cultivate a grassroots involvement within your employee base. By giving them a tool and a space to begin communicating and collaborating on community-based needs or local causes, you can scale your program from there. Employee engagement is crucial to an effective CSR strategy.
A common pitfall is to focus too heavily on budget and the monetary component of CSR like matching gifts and payroll giving. When you’re just getting started, there are much simpler (and just as effective!) ways to break into the CSR space. Instead, lean into your employee base and uncover ways they’re already giving back and find out how your company can support those efforts—this is a great way to get your foot in the door.
Another key factor to consider is how your CSR strategy will tie into your company’s mission and values. This will help you clarify the “why” behind your actions and help to foster more intentional CSR programs. By aligning corporate philanthropy with your company values, you’ll be able to hone in on where you want to direct your efforts. Is your company focused on clean energy? Food insecurity? Or childhood literacy? Once you’ve identified cause areas that align with your company’s mission, it’ll be easier to get leadership and employee buy-in.
How do you recommend enabling employee-led CSR efforts?
At CyberGrants, we experienced how impactful employee empowerment can be firsthand. Each year, we host an annual pajama drive where employees donate pajamas to support Community Giving Tree and The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey. When this initiative began, it was organized by just a handful of employees. They communicated their initiative company-wide to drive participation, and with leadership buy-in and support, they were able to grow this program year after year. Today, it's a company-wide event where each individual is assigned a team with the goal of donating the most pajamas. A little friendly competition can go a long way and really drive participation as well as greater impact.
We’re a relatively small company with around 200 employees but we were able to collectively donate nearly 4,000 pajamas last year alone. This really demonstrates the power of employee-led initiatives and how, when a company listens, it can have an incredible impact. So for those just starting out with a CSR program, listen to your employees, find out how they’re already giving back, and with company support, you can take their efforts to the next level.
For companies without dedicated CSR staff, who do you recommend to administer their initiatives?
This is a really common roadblock that we see every day. A prospective client will knock on our door and say, “Hey, we need help but we don’t have anyone to run with the program.” We tend to start with HR professionals that manage benefits programs and recommend integrating your CSR offerings with specialty benefits. Just like you have PTO policies in place, you can just as easily offer Paid Volunteer Time Off (VTO) and manage and track those hours within your HR portal. The key to successfully doing so is communication. If your employees aren't aware you offer CSR benefits, they won’t be able to participate.
Although we often see HR as that first point of contact, executive buy-in is key to scaling your programs. Leverage the power of your company’s leadership team and encourage them to communicate giving opportunities across multiple channels, divisions, and markets. Pairing HR and executives can lead to a power couple for building a CSR program and encouraging participation.
Do you have any recommendations or best practices when making the case for an allocated CSR budget and resources?
You have to look at employee acquisition and retention. We’re living in a very hot job market right now and for companies looking to grow, they’ll need to be able to attract and retain their top talent. Being able to present your employees with a benefits package that goes beyond paid time off and encompasses employee giving is extremely compelling to existing and prospective employees. There’s a plethora of research to support the importance of social impact programs during the recruitment process. Over two-thirds of employees care about working for a socially responsible company—one that just doesn’t put something on the website, but instills it in everything they do.
As more of our customers stray from a corporate-led CSR strategy and lean into employee-led efforts, increasing engagement and participation rates becomes simple. As a result, more and more of our customers have begun to engage their workforce in CSR from day one. As employees are being onboarded, their employers have begun to capitalize on this opportunity to engage them in conversations around giving and how or where they want to allocate their time and money.
By opening up these lines of communication during the early stages of employment, your workforce will be more excited about your social impact programs and more inclined to get involved. This is also the perfect opportunity to make employees aware of any existing programs you already have in place and how they can participate. During the onboarding process, share stories about how others within your organization give back. When employees see how their colleagues participate, they’ll want to get in on all the social good too!
How do you implement a program that allows your workforce to respond rapidly when a disaster or crisis emerges?
The key to enabling employee giving during a disaster or crisis is constant communication. When an employee is first hired, you may inform them of your CSR offerings but if you don’t continuously encourage employee participation or implement incentives, they’ll likely forget this is even an option! For example, you may partner with NPOs or offer matching programs that would enable an employee to respond to a crisis. But if they’re not constantly reminded, your participation rates will plummet. Consider implementing recurring reminders via your company newsletter or something more in-depth like lunch and learns with your CSR software provider. It’s certainly crucial to communicate how you enable employee giving during a crisis, but it also has to be multi-channel and ongoing if you want to achieve maximum social impact.
Another key way to ensure you’re employees are engaged in rapid response is to offer multiple ways to give and flexible forms of giving. Historically, corporations could only respond if an emerging crisis was classified as a national disaster and the Red Cross was deployed. This is no longer the case. Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, our customers have developed agility in their giving programs and enabled more flexible ways to support causes. Prior to 2020, volunteerism was almost always defined as going out into the field and attending in-person volunteer events. Today, volunteerism can happen from anywhere and encompasses a broader range of activities, including skills-based giving. The resulting flexibility that we’ve seen from our clients has made it easier for them to enable programs in real-time when a disaster or crisis emerges.
There has also been a massive uptick in employees helping employees. In recent years, there has been a plethora of climate disasters that likely affected your very own. As a result, corporations have begun to implement Employee Assistance programs (EAPs) where those who are experiencing hardships or have been affected by a disaster are eligible to receive monetary support from their company. Oftentimes, these funds are comprised of employee donations. Instead of donating to a local nonprofit, your workforce has the option to donate to colleagues or community members who have been affected.
How do you reward or recognize employees who participated in your CSR program in a meaningful way?
When it comes to recognizing employees for their efforts, the majority of participants won’t want anything in exchange. This would contradict what it means to be a philanthropist! Instead, your employees will likely want to divert the recognition to the cause they supported and shed some light on the nonprofit itself. To do so, consider creating a space for employees to share further information about the causes they support and how they give back. A great way we’ve seen our customers do so is by enabling a chat feed right within the CyberGrants platform. Similar to a social media channel, your employees can post photos, share stories, and engage with each other in an authentic and unfiltered manner. When it comes to recognition, prioritize spotlighting the causes, rather than individuals.
Similarly, when you’re considering ways to reward or recognize employees, think about how you can award them in a way that enables further social good. A rising trend in the CSR space, charitable spending accounts, does just that! Through a charitable spending account, your organization can award a certain amount of money to each employee for donation to a nonprofit of their choosing. Unlike matching gift programs, there’s no need to submit a matching request or record their participation—it’s done immediately! Beyond funds, you can also allocate a certain number of paid volunteer hours (VTO). Many volunteerism activities take place during the workday, making it difficult to balance both giving back and collecting a paycheck. By rewarding your employees with VTO hours, they’ll be able to enable more social good within their local communities.
How do you recommend companies leverage technology to engage their workforce in CSR?
The number one consideration should always be ease of use. We live in a digital world and if your corporate philanthropy programs rely on manual, multi-step processes, your employees won’t want to participate—it’ll be too complicated! This is where CSR software comes into play. By leveraging a single-platform solution that is accessible via mobile and web browser, easy to log into, and supports flexible forms of giving, your employees are sure to get engaged. Once you have this technology in place, the possibilities for CSR programs are endless! Here are a couple of tried and true ways to engage your workforce in social impact:
1. Matching Gifts: Amplify employee engagement initiatives with matching gifts and promote specific causes that matter to your employees.
2. Payroll Deduction: Give employees the chance to support causes they care about on a recurring basis with payroll deduction.
3. Credit Card Giving: Make it easy and convenient for your employees to give back by enabling credit card giving.
4. Virtual Opportunities: Display virtual volunteerism opportunities with featured organizations or let employees search for remote opportunities independently with skills-based filters.
5. Service Projects & Acts of Kindness: Track internal service projects or acts of kindness, like making and delivering cards for healthcare workers on behalf of your company.
When it comes time to evaluate your CSR programs, what kind of data should be collected, and which stakeholders should be involved?
In regard to stakeholder involvement, everyone should be included. Whether it's your employees, executive leadership team, or consumers, they all have a stake in how you’re driving impact within communities. Communicating your CSR programs can help attract and retain top talent and new customers, so sharing the impact your organization is making is critical for everyone involved.
Once you’re ready to collect CSR program data, it's crucial to be intentional with the data you’re attempting to pull. Think about what you already know and what information you’re missing, this will drive your data analysis. You already know that your workforce is giving and volunteering, but do you know what causes they’re aligned with? Who are they giving to? This is key in building your company’s impact story. For example, if you’re able to identify that 50% of the causes your employees support were environmentally oriented, you can align future programs with this cause area. Beyond that, how many hours are they volunteering? What’s the average gift size? Where are these nonprofits located? Once you have deeper insights into how and where your employees give, you can support their efforts and build your CSR programs around causes your employees care about. And if you can show your leadership team where employees want to give and how, they’ll be more likely to offer additional support and resources.