A recurring question presented to Realized Worth is – what kinds of companies are interested in engaging their employees in corporate citizenship?  In other words, are some types of companies more naturally interested than others?  It’s a fair question and the answer can break down in a number of ways.  In the weeks to come, we will be posting The Brand Series: a series of articles that put a finger on the pulse of four major industries, asking the question – how does this brand engage employees in their CSR/philanthropy? 

Who Engages Employees in Citizenship:  A Tale of Four Retailers

Target, Walmart, Sears and Kmart.  All are major players in the retail space. All are a huge supplier of jobs, a middle-house for the goods of signature suppliers, an expected neighbor within the American mall landscape, and at some level, maturing corporate citizens.  A robust corporate citizenship prowess addresses a number of factors:  sustainability practices, supply chain ethics, philanthropy, workplace giving, employee volunteering, and more. All of these companies have initiatives of note that seek to address these areas.  But, for purposes of this article, here’s the question: are these icons of retail intentionally engaging their employees in their citizenship endeavors?  And, if so, what are they doing?  What follows is not a report card on overall citizenship, but rather a deeper dive into each one’s strategy for engaging their employees in the citizenship initiatives surrounding employee volunteering and workplace giving.


Target is definitely serious about citizenship.  Case in point, their annual CSR report reads like a prize sample!  Many reports speak of citizenship programs with noble and eloquent verbiage, but the accompanied boatload of ambiguity makes it difficult to discern what the company actually accomplished. Not Target!  In their 2011 report, they state up front that their goal in yearly reporting is to: “explain their progress, indicating whether—and why—we are on track or in need of improvement for specific goals; state new goals and update reporting measurements to match industry standards.”  And, they follow the Global Reporting Initiave (GRI) 3.1 framework for their reports to ensure they have some measure of third-party integrity.  Gutsy!

You get a flavor for their bold, transparent reporting in their stated goals regarding employee volunteering.  In 2010, their report stated that employees volunteered 430,000 hours, and declared a goal of making that number 700,000 hours by 2015.  In the 2011 report, they noted they were up to 475,000 hours already.  These hours included a variety of initiatives dedicated to supporting strong, healthy and safe communities, from renovating elementary school libraries, to donating food to the hungry, to giving blood and responding to disasters.

Beyond clear and ambitious goals, Target also understands that however a company wants to engage employees, the company must have a strategy that empowers employees at the grassroots level and leverages the social capital of internal champions.  Along these lines, Target has appointed a well-being team and a grassroots network of ‘Well-being Captains’ across the company to share well-being tools and resources, and provide constant encouragement to employees. Target subscribes to the model of well-being articulated by Tom Rath and Jim Harter in their book, “Wellbeing:  The Five Essential Elements.”  They write, “Wellbeing is about the combination of our love for what we do each day, the quality of our relationships, the security of our finances, the vibrancy of our physical health, and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities.”  These well-being captains encourage employees to set goals around five areas of well-being, including the fifth goal of giving back to the community.

In addition, Target has appointed ‘Community Captains’ at every store.  These are proven leaders in their communities for whom volunteering is already a deeply held value.  Their job is to rally employees and make service and giving more accessible by offering ‘ready-made’ activities, resources and information.


Walmart has rolled out some bold and creative citizenship initiatives that leverage its scale and core competencies.  For instance, in 2010, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation launched “Fighting Hunger Together” – a $2 billion cash and in-kind commitment through 2015 to help end hunger in America. This initiative leverages Walmart’s size and resources to provide nutritious food and the Walmart Foundation’s ability to grant funding to nonprofits.  Donations of cash, food, refrigerated trucks, mobile pantries and other resources are changing lives across America.

Walmart clearly wants to engage employees in this initiative, but it’s not clear how they are doing so.  Their website reads, “part of this commitment involves mobilizing Walmart associates and customers. For example, Walmart’s logistics team is lending their expertise to help food banks become more efficient in their operations.”  These statements reveal that engagement is on their radar, but, aside from a one-off example, they don’t really tell us a whole lot in terms of what they are doing to strategically bring scale to engagement.  These sentences are a classic example of what report writers say when there is not much more to say.  Granted, the initiative is amazing, and they are not alone in lacking specifics. But, from all appearances, they don’t seem to have a creative and intentional strategy for engaging employees in signature causes.

That said, they do have strategy for engaging employees in causes that employees care about, a good ole ‘dollars for doers’ program.  Through Volunteerism Always Pays (VAP), Walmart Foundation awards grants to eligible organizations where employees volunteer to the tune of $13 per volunteer hour.  Since the launch of this program, associates have volunteered more than 7 million hours of their time. In 2011, the efforts of Walmart associates generated more than $13 million in local grants through the VAP program.  As far as programs of this kind, 13$ per hour is no small thing, and demonstrates Walmart’s commitment to put real skin in the game to mobilize employees to make an impact.

Sears & Kmart

The Sears Holding Company is a retail conglomerate formed in 2005 by the merger of Sears, Roebuck and Co., and Kmart.  Of the companies highlighted here, SHC is seemingly doing the least in terms of a creative, strategic approach to engage employees in citizenship.  They should be commended for having ambitious philanthropic initiatives that are strategically aligned with signature causes.  For example, reflecting their commitment to health, Kmart has been the number one corporate contributor to St. Jude’s Thanks and Giving campaign, three years running ($6.3 million raised in 2011), and they have a 29-year relationship with the March of Dimes that surpassed $100 million in contributions in 2012.  Further, they have mobilized employees to raise money for signature causes while they work; that last question at the cashier is a certainly a way to bring employees on board.

However, SHC hasn’t really put skin in the game to motivate their employees to make an impact. For example, SHC has a volunteer program of sorts, but it lacks substance.  They describe their ‘serveyourway’ initiative as  “an associate driven, company – enabled volunteer program that is designed to help associates get involved in their local community.”  But when it comes to articulating what that means, their site merely tells us that SHC uses VolunteerMatch to help employees know where to volunteer.  And, that’s really it. There’s no mention of goals for volunteering or workplace giving, no dollar for doers program, no appointed internal champions, no recognition or awards for employees who volunteer, and no providing of ‘ready-made’ events that make volunteering more accessible for employees. While they are committed to sustainability and philanthropy, they have not yet rounded out their citizenship profile through strategic employee engagement.

So…What do we really know?

This is all great information, but what does it really tell us? These brands boast great initiatives with impressive numbers – but are they really taking advantage of the power of these programs? A engaging program will reflect not only the activity but will also clearly communicate the impacts of that activity. If you’d like to engage in a dialogue about how to use this kind of data to create a compelling story that will engage your stakeholders and your employees, join us for a 15 minute webinar on October 16 at 12pm EST. (Register here.) In this webinar, Farron Levy of True Impact and Chris Jarvis of Realized Worth will discuss the difference between activities and impacts – and how to talk about your program in a way that goes beyond numbers. Click on the link for more info and to reserve your space.

Eventbrite - What's the True Impact of your Employee Volunteering program?

 To read more about our perspective on this topic:
Thanks to Brent Croxton, Associate Partner at Realized Worth, for researching and writing this article.
If you’d like our help with your employee volunteering or workplace giving program please feel free to drop us a line at contact@realizedworth.com or call us at 855-926-4678. Or take a look at the services we offer here.

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