In a perfect world, employee volunteer and giving programs are inspired by the very top of the corporate food chain. A CEO imprints his social values into the earliest DNA of the company and sets
a tone for giving back that electrifies employees. People want to work at this company partly or entirely because of its values-based mission. Even if the company’s business is just manufacturing widgets, the company has carved out a meaning for its existence that is more profound than its bottom line. And it’s this larger purpose which helps employees feel that their jobs are not only cool, but important.
But this isn’t a perfect world.
Quite often, corporate philanthropy directions are set by administrators, some of whom have many other things on their plate besides running the company’s social responsibility initiatives. But even when the company’s civic endeavors are these administrators’ sole focus, and they have all the time in the world to manage their company’s employee volunteering and giving program, it’s an uphill climb to maximize the potential of these programs when leadership isn’t paying attention.
According to a 2013 study by Boston College's Center for Corporate Citizenship, 97% of surveyed companies reported being allocated a discreet operating budget for corporate citizenship, compared with 81% in 2010. So if the budget is there, why are you invisible?
After all, how can employees be expected to get excited about giving back when the CEO doesn’t appear to care? And if the C-suite isn’t deeply involved in their organization’s community impact, it’s tough to make much of an impact at all, both within and outside of the company.
So what’s a CSR (or HR or PR or marketing) executive to do? If you want to get your company’s top dogs more engaged around your corporate volunteer and giving program, here’s a checklist of five helpful steps:
1. Attend volunteering events. And don’t just get leadership to attend, but make sure they roll up their shirtsleeves and pitch in. There’s nothing like working side by side with the CEO, sorting through donation boxes at a homeless shelter, or raking leaves at a nature conservancy, or reading to underserved kids, and so on, to make employees feel more connected to their company. Conversely, the absence of top management at volunteering events can make employees feel like the hired help executing a social mission that’s purely cosmetic. If you want to generate real social impact and deepen your corporate culture, it all starts with leadership showing up, and not just for a photo op, either.
2. Send some emails. Genuine ones, from the heart, about any aspect of your volunteering and giving agenda. Get your CEO writing about how excited they are to attend the upcoming day of volunteering (see step #1), or how much fun they had at the recent event, what the cause means to them, congratulating the team on their giving campaign, discussing some creative new fundraising ideas, forwarding a blog about the company’s civic activities, writing that blog to begin with. Whatever the communication, just communicate. The troops need to continually hear from their chief (and other chieftans) about the company’s social mission in order for it to remain relevant and inspiring.
3. Put your money where your mouth is. If you want employees to make donations, lead by example. Get approval for corporate matching - it does wonders to galvanize participation. Beyond that, get the CEO to make a personal donation, then make sure everyone knows about it. And if you’re really lucky, you can get your CEO to make personal matches for all donations, even at a small percentage, just to show how invested she is in the cause. Asking a CEO to personally commit to a few thousand dollars in matching dollars shouldn’t be a tall request of a highly paid leader of a successful organization, especially when it’s all a write-off, and especially when the fundraising and cultural dividends will far exceed that dollar amount.
4. Board up. If your leadership team isn’t sitting on any charitable boards, it’s time to get them serving. Philanthropic board positions offer a powerful opportunity to become deeply informed about a cause, shape an organization, make an impact, network with other like-minded individuals, discover new avenues for corporate involvement and assume leadership within a cause community. And charitable boards don’t just help your company with charity - they’re superb connectors into the business community as well, so there’s no excuse to not get involved. Help your CEO match up to a board that parallels your company’s social focus and then leverage that board position for greater company involvement in the cause.
5. Celebrate successes. Sure, it’s a program administrator's job to manage the brief and debrief of your company’s volunteering and giving events, ensuring that your team knows what to expect beforehand and then assessing later how it all went. But it sure makes a difference if leadership is involved with these group huddles, helping to fire up the team on the eve of a campaign and then being a part of the thoughtful analysis afterwards. And if the group has reason to feel particularly good about its efforts, it’s nice if the CEO is there to recognize the hard work and - better yet - lay out exactly what kind of real world impact this outreach had for the given charity or cause.