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Harnessing Employee Passions: Models that Work

By Courtney Murphy, Director, Strategic Engagement, CECP

July 2, 2014–The millennial generation is passionate about societal involvement, and companies are taking notice. At the 2014 CECP Board of Boards Roundtable, CEOs identified employees as the most influential stakeholder group in deciding whether to expand their companies’ community investment. CECP data show that 86% of companies match employee gifts, and that the median number of hours volunteered on-company-time grew by 37% from 2010 to 2013.

CECP decided to dig deeper at session held at the 2014 Summit, which looked at which approaches to employee engagement are proving most successful. Leaders from three companies led conversations on three priority areas of employee engagement through community involvement: employee giving, skills-based volunteerism, and measuring the ROI of these efforts.

Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director of Microsoft Citizenship and Public Affairs, shared tips on employee giving, which led the company to break their record last year by raising $113 million for 19,123 nonprofits worldwide:

  • View employee giving as part of your company’s culture and approach to being a good corporate citizen. At Microsoft, it’s a source of employee pride and a generous benefit, helping attract and retain top talent.
  • You can’t force employees to participate; seek to provide them with options and make giving simple and fun. Also, give employees the opportunity to donate where they want.
  • Make giving a year-round opportunity. Microsoft has their annual campaign in October, but the matching benefits are available all year long.
  • Message the employee matching benefits and impact stories through a variety of employee channels and communications.
  • Implement program changes in response to employee requests. Over this past year, Microsoft employee programs increased the annual matching limit from $12,000 to $15,000, and instituted a $50 credit for new hires to donate to a nonprofit of their choosing.
  • Scale programs and excitement through employee volunteers. Each year, Microsoft recruits hundreds of volunteers to help with our campaign.
  • Because employee matching gifts may vary by country based on local laws and cultures, outside of the U.S., Microsoft gives each employee a minimum of three paid days a year to volunteer in their community.
  • Create or re-invent your program as an employee benefit, rather than simply a philanthropic effort, for easier budgeting and better alignment with your company’s goals.

Pat Gottfried, Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, Apollo Education Group discussed their approach to skills-based volunteerism:

  • Apollo seeks to achieve the maximum impact with the nonprofits it supports by supplementing strategic grant making with skills-based or pro bono volunteer support.
  • Recognizing that the company’s strengths are in education, Apollo ties more opportunities to volunteer within that area of expertise with a particular focus on school and career readiness. Over 60% of the company’s volunteer projects are education-related which can be directly tied back to the mission of the company.
  • Apollo Education Group, like many companies, utilizes a wealth of talent in skills based volunteering—IT, Human Resources, Public Relations, etc. However, Apollo, being an education company, can harness faculty and alumni as well. For example their Cleantech Open partnership utilizes Apollo faculty as accelerator judges and WebEx instructors.
  • Employees at Apollo are allowed two days off annually on company time to volunteer.
  • A virtual 1:1 alumni mentoring program and a virtual reading program have also proven an efficient and flexible way to engage employees.

Jeff Senne, Corporate Responsibility Director at PwC, spoke about how the company is measuring the impact of their employee engagement on the bottom line. At PwC, employee engagement is at the heart of corporate responsibility:

  • Several years ago, internal research showed that PwC wasn’t engaging their top performers in their employee engagement activities, so they took a fresh look at their strategy, creating a continuum of activities from general volunteerism to their signature “Earn Your Future” financial literacy program.
  • As they evolved their programs, PwC saw a positive correlation between engaging in corporate responsibility activities and being a high-performing employee who stays in the job–providing a $165 million cost savings to PwC.
  • Today, 75% of PwC’s volunteerism is in the area of youth education (compared to 25% before the new programming).
  • A key to PwC’s progress has been forging cross-functional relationships with units such as Human Resources. The Corporate Responsibility department now has an ongoing way to confidentially cross reference their volunteer data with Human Resources data, to determine the business benefits in performance, recruitment, and retention of employees.

Each company has a unique culture and values, which should drive decisions regarding matching gifts, types of service opportunities offered, and alignment with human resources. Which approaches have worked best at your companies? We’d love to hear from you.