I can distill this entire post into two sentences:
If you don’t believe in it, if you don’t feel it, they won’t either. And you need them to.
Some companies can be so focused on the bottom line they forget their businesses are human networks: customers who you want to prefer your company over others, employees whom you need to depend upon to be their very best, partners you can rely on and who can rely on you. Naturally, when questioned by Harvard Business Review, 71% of 550 company leaders surveyed believe employee engagement is “very important” to overall business success. And the correlation is real: Gallup surveys show companies with high employee engagement enjoy stronger morale and retention, and in turn, increased customer retention, productivity, and profitability.
Strategic corporate philanthropy programs can be an important piece of the employee engagement equation. Employees feel good when they know their company works hard to be a good corporate citizen. And employees feel good when they have opportunities to support important causes and be involved in the community.
Imagine what can happen when companies go the extra mile and find ways to integrate these two strands – corporate philanthropy AND employee engagement – into one unified and powerful strategy. What does it take to create and implement an integrated philanthropy + engagement strategy? Every company has unique assets to consider, and there is no easy off-the-shelf approach. But there are some key ingredients that can help to create the “special sauce”. Here are a few:
1. Leadership from the Top
The commitment to meaningful philanthropy and engagement starts with the CEO and the senior management team. All the banners and incentives and sweet talk in the world will not work if it’s not as real to you as you want it to be for your employees. If a cause is worth putting your brand name behind – ending homelessness, expanding access to healthcare, fostering creativity in teaching and learning – the company as a whole represents your true commitment. This is team-building at the most elemental level, and actions and attitude do speak louder than words.
When fueled by authentic commitment, corporate philanthropy carries a special meaning for employees. It aligns with corporate goals and shared values, and creates real benefit for society while also making sense for the business. When employees say proudly that philanthropy is part of their company’s DNA, we know it is authentic and powerful.
3. Opportunities to Engage in Creative and Meaningful Ways
Engagement can go far beyond participation in an annual service day or an occasional fundraising event. Employees can help to shape a company’s philanthropic strategy, guide grant decisions, identify nonprofit partners, organize important initiatives, offer valuable skills and expertise, and enhance social impact in countless other ways. In TPI’s 30 years of guiding industry leaders through this process, some of the best ideas for signature initiatives come from those who experience first-hand how companies interact with the communities they serve and in which they are located – your employees. Find creative ways to engage employees at all levels and at all stages.
4. A Hybrid Approach
Philanthropy is most effective when it focuses on one or a few social issues or goals. On the other hand, employees want to engage in the causes and community efforts they care most about. How can companies find the right balance between a centralized high-impact strategy and decentralized efforts that embrace a multitude of employee interests? One answer is to create a hybrid approach that combines the two: develop an overarching theme and giving strategy, and then allow for diverse and localized efforts within that unifying structure.
Employees want their jobs to be an important and engaging part of their lives. Surveys of millennials reinforce this point – but we see this desire in employees of all ages. We all want purpose, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves that has a positive impact on our communities and our world. Companies that build cultures of engagement and generosity are rewarded both within the corporate environment and on the bottom line. Those companies that understand the value of a strong philanthropic strategy that engages people in meaningful ways – and that figure out how to put these ideas into action – will be the ones that reap the rewards.