Secrets to Expanding Employee Engagement in CSR Initiatives

By Heather Shapter

In early April, I attended the 12th Annual Charities@Work Best Practices Summit on Employee Engagement in Corporate Citizenship in NYC.  Charities@Work is an alliance of four nonprofit federations that serves as the cooperative voice for more than 2000 international, national and local charities.

Big Corporate Brands in Attendance

I really didn’t know what to expect, but was happy to see that of the 150 participants in attendance, many were from the likes of big corporate brands such as L’Oreal, Best Buy, JPMorgan Chase, TD Bank, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Chrysler, Toyota, United Airlines and Kaiser Permanente.

They came together because they share a common frustration – how to expand employee engagement programs and initiatives in response to growing employee interest. On making the business case for employee engagement, as one expert participant said, “been there, done that.” I find this is quite different from the Canadian landscape where we find we are still educating corporate leadership on the financial merits of employee engagement in sustainability initiatives.

For those who are also still making the business case for employee engagement, the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business is a great resource. The GSEI founder, Bill Novelli, shared at the Charities@Work Summit, a number of research findings on employee engagement.  The findings all point to that companies with more engaged employees do better financially – plain and simple. Gallup research documented  productivity increases of 18% and operating margins up by 27%, just to name a couple of the statistics.

Increasing engagement means increasing options for employees to engage

Companies came to the Summit, though to learn how to increase employee engagement. Employees want to be more engaged in sustainability initiatives. Companies know this is better for the company, but yet they are challenged with how to create more opportunities and to create opportunities that will be satisfying and a fit for what employees are looking for. Summit participants were very interested to learn from Gretchen Korf, Director of Finance and Social Responsibility at the United Health Group about what they do to have 81% of their over 100,000 staff volunteer in their giving campaigns.

This year, United Health Group began offering employees opportunities for microvolunteering as a new way to contribute to their communities. Using an online service called, United Health Group employees can find and complete microvolunteering challenges posted by nonprofits across the United States and around the globe that fit their specific skills and interests. Volunteering can be done in short bursts of activity, in some cases 15 minutes or less, on breaks or over lunch, for example.

At the Charities@Work Summit, we were guided through the microvolunteering platform and got to experience this incredible opportunity to make a difference in such a short time. It was so fun!

Technology empowers employee engagement

Many of the corporate participants as well as the not for profit participants were also very interested in how technology could empower increased employee engagement. Kevin Espirito, Senior Management, Community Engagement at Microsoft gave a great, practical demonstration of how MS has expanded its own employee engagement using its own core competency of technology. Workplace giving is one of its employee engagement measures. Check out this expansion…

When MS’ giving program began in 1983, approximately 200 Microsoft employees raised $17,000 for nonprofits. Today, more than 35,000 employees participate in the campaign, which is approximately 65% of Microsoft’s total U.S. workforce. This year they reached a milestone that really has them shouting for joy: their 30th Employee Giving Campaign, and $1 billion in employee contributions to more than 31,000 nonprofits around the world since 1983!

Microsoft’s annual Employee Giving Campaign takes place in the U.S. throughout the year, with a special push every October. You can feel the energy on the Microsoft campus as the campaign hits high gear, with more than 300 activities including a 5K Run, an online auction and other special events. Microsoft matches employee nonprofit donations and volunteering year round up to $12,000 per employee. Microsoft also helps employees find nonprofits that best match their volunteering skills and interests with our own in-house volunteering tool.

Microsoft also makes much of the employee engagement outreach technological tools available for free for not for profit organizations.

Call to Action

 One way to identify how engaged your employees are, is to identify the cultural stage of those employees. Find out more here.

Move your organization or team to the next stage in employee engagement. If your organization first needs to buy into the merits of employee engagement, go to the GSEI site and get what you need there to share with your colleagues.

If your organization has already bought into the business case or value of employee engagement, then get some initiative started.

If your organization already has numerous employee engagement initiatives underway, but there is a demand for more, than learn from some of the Charities@Work examples above to do just that.

Whatever you take on… Think big. Be bold.

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