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Make the most of giving back

October 15, 2009

Fast Company recently ran a great piece suggesting an “arms race of goodness” wherein companies compete to do the most good and generate emotional engagement with their brands and products in the process.

One of my favorite quotes was, “When you mean it, convincing customers doesn’t take as much shouting.”  One example Made to Stick authors Dan and Chip Heath point out proves that authentic corporate social responsibility is also a great employee engagement tool.  The commitment of National Instruments to empowering its employees to volunteer their time in innovative ways to support education in math and science – a cause close to the company and carefully aligned with both its mission and products – is cited as a contributing factor in an employee turnover rate 50 percent less than the industry average.

So how can companies follow their lead and link corporate philanthropy with their business goals relevant to employee engagement?

  • Make it easy. One of the most common reasons employees don’t volunteer is the perception that there isn’t time for it with all of the competing priorities.  By creating structured programs that fit your mission, vision and values, it is easy to make a business case to leadership for flex time and company time to be dedicated to employee volunteer work. Create formal policies and foster a culture that values and rewards giving back in tangible ways.
  • Measure it. Your employees’ expertise is as much of a resource as any you have, so find ways to measure the value of the company time they dedicate to causes you support.  Report these figures to your charitable partners so they can recognize you for them, and also make sure to tabulate them alongside powerful narratives in your annual corporate social responsibility report.
  • Mean it. Senior leadership must underscore the commitment to volunteerism by setting the example of pitching in themselves. And it has to be an ongoing commitment – even when times are tough and when no one is looking.
  • Document it.  Designate an in-house paparazzi team – and they don’t always have to be from your communications staff – to capture and share the magic.  From bloopers to tearjerkers, get and share a video, audio, image and text record of every employee volunteer opportunity you can.
  • Create community around it. If you’ve considered creating an online community for your employees, the company’s volunteer efforts can be a great topic to use as a focal point for a pilot.  Using online tools like Ning and Yammer, you and your team of volunteers can safely share photos, comments, and more in a private network managed internally.
  • Make it a team effort. Sharing the experience of a beach cleanup, 5K or food drive can be a great way to reinforce existing relationships among employees and create new ones.  It can also be a positive step beyond the traditional management/staff roles that allows real connections at a human level.  Strong ties to colleagues are key indicators of employee satisfaction, so finding ways to build and support them can significantly enhance retention.
  • Make it matter. Whether it is a robotics competition or a tutoring session, underscore not only the value to the company but the impact your employees and the company as a whole are having on issues of real importance. Make sure your employees feel they are doing something meaningful – both in the course of their 9 to 5 or as a result of being in an environment that understands the value of giving back.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 22, 2009 12:45 pm

    The “make it matter” part seems to take care of itself. When our company took part in a series of volunteer jobs this past year, everyone–to a person–found it a memorable and valuable experience that each was eager to repeat.

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