One of the greatest benefits of a community involvement or corporate social responsibility (CSR) program is that it allows organizations to engage their employees on a variety of different levels, which ultimately drives overall engagement in your company.
As I discuss in my book, A Million Dollars in Change: How to Engage Your Employees, Attract Top Talent, and Make the World a Better Place (Wise Ink, 2018), this is really important because employee engagement is critical to the health and well-being of your company (read: any company). A highly engaged workforce is a CEO's and HR leader's dream. Why? Because engaged employees will go the extra mile to ensure that your company keeps winning. These folks want your company to do well because they understand that when the company wins, everyone wins. But unless your employees feel an emotional connection to your company, engagement won't happen.
Companies that are socially responsible and strong advocates of community involvement have higher levels of engagement than companies that are not actively supporting their communities. Research shows that demonstrating social responsibility in the community is a key driver of employee engagement. However, studies have also found that fewer than 10 percent of midsize companies use their community involvement programs to drive employee engagement. There are several reasons for this disconnect. First, many midsize companies do not have dedicated resources to manage and monitor their CSR initiatives. Without dedicated resources and a strategy and plan for creating social impact, sustained engagement is pretty much impossible. Also, many companies support their communities via donations. This "checkbook philanthropy" approach provides little to no opportunity for employees to be engaged in the program outside of making a donation.
There are a lot of opportunities for engagement via volunteerism and other activities, such as fundraisers and collection drives for food and clothing, to name a few. HR and marketing departments can play a big role in helping promote community involvement and encouraging employee participation.
One of the best ways to help promote community involvement at your company and drive engagement is to create a group of employee ambassadors specifically for this purpose. Serving as an ambassador provides employees with a hands-on role in supporting your company's good works, and that's very powerful.
Studies show that employees in general want to feel like they are contributing to more than just a company's bottom line. Finding out what is important to your employees, whether through casual conversations or a more formal survey, is a good way of engaging them in the process of creating a CSR program. However, involving them in the actual development and execution of the program is far more empowering. Ambassadors can help plan and coordinate community involvement activities and gather feedback about the program from their colleagues and peers. The group can help develop programs that promote service through volunteerism. If you have multiple locations, your organization can create regional teams that work together to ensure alignment of purpose and practice across your enterprise.
There are many benefits to having teams like these in your company. First, it solves the resource issue. Having volunteers who are ready and eager to assist you is a godsend because, let's face it, resources are precious commodities in any organization. Second, being part of a team that is tasked with developing programs and activities focused on making the world a better place speaks to a purpose-driven culture. Open the team to employees at all levels of the organization so that participants can engage with people they otherwise might not get a chance to speak or work with during the course of their day.
Finally, as any HR leader in a company with multiple locations knows, the further you move away from headquarters, the more isolated and disconnected employees tend to feel. Having regional community involvement ambassador teams helps rally employees around a cause and generates a sense of inclusiveness and shared purpose. Even if your company is smaller in size or has only one location, the team connects people around a common goal. Whether you have 2,000 employees or 200, everybody wins.
Alessandra Cavalluzzi advises both corporate funders and nonprofits and is a sought-after guest speaker and panelist at HR and nonprofit events. She currently oversees corporate giving, fundraising and employee volunteerism for a multibillion-dollar company with over 6,000 employees around the world.