The category is corporate citizenship and the theme is innovation. What are the trends this year? In the past three months alone, Realized Worth’s leading clients have posed questions such as:
- What can we do that will set us apart in the next five years – how do we become the brand that changes the way corporate citizenship is done?
- How can we think bigger? How can our volunteer programs show what we can really do for the world?
- How can we make sure that what we’re building now will matter more to employees in five years?
On the other hand, some clients – recognizable, influential brands – are still struggling for budget, headcount, and permission to build something that matters. But even at this level, the questions are about innovation. I have never been asked, “How do we maintain our current level of engagement and participation?” Nor have I been asked, “How do we stay where we are?” At least in theory, companies are not interested in maintaining status quo. (Innovation is more challenging in practice, but let’s save that for another article.)
So, what are they interested in? What does innovation mean in 2019?
1. Beyond Volunteering
The number of companies who worked with Realized Worth this year to expand their current programs beyond traditional volunteering increased by almost 100% compared to the three years prior. Typically, this shift starts with a simple step: change the name of the program and how the program’s volunteers are organized across the company – including more localized employee volunteer leadership, and more formalized roles and titles (this step is always accompanied by careful change management). For example, TD Bank’s former volunteer network has been reconfigured and relaunched to strategically align with their global employee engagement program, The Ready Commitment. Realized Worth partnered with TD to transition their program into this new expansive and inclusive branding approach. TD has made The Ready Commitment a company-wide brand that touches all aspects of day-to-day work, and their Ambassador program is an integral part of this. Now, trained Ready Commitment Ambassadors are empowered to help employees get involved in a wide range of citizenship activities that fall under a specific set of focus areas. The new program is not constrained by the idea of traditional volunteering and remains business-aligned and focused on the transformative power of community involvement.
For some companies, “beyond volunteering” means intentionally integrating the function and purpose of volunteering and giving programs. Altria’s priority is to support their employees in the ways they want to contribute to the community – whether that’s volunteering, financial donations, team events, fundraising, etc. In a word, they want employees to act, and that may mean different things for different people. Act Ambassadors are trained as experts in what’s available and how to take the first step, so employees aren’t left to figure it out on their own.
For companies with a larger global footprint, beyond volunteering is an important way to acknowledge cultural and geographical differences. In some countries, such as post-communist Eastern Europe, the term “volunteering” carries unpleasant correlations with a difficult history. In Germany, volunteering is more often associated with clubs and hobbies – individual volunteering is much less common. In Singapore, volunteering may be connected with religious activities; in Dubai, volunteering and financial donations are often seen as one and the same. In China, volunteering and giving are both complicated due to the country’s nonprofit structure. Companies like SAP have embraced a multi-faceted approach to address these differences head-on. They work to make sure their citizenship efforts are positioned in a way that naturally aligns with the cultural values of the different countries in which they are based. Depending on what works best culturally, some of these countries are given the opportunity to receive training and to capitalize on the company’s workplace giving platform. In other countries, where skills-based volunteering, giving, or other types of activities work better, they are given the freedom to act as good corporate citizens in whatever way works best for them.
For these companies and others, expanding their programs beyond volunteering is about more than reconfiguring the former program into something more inclusive. It’s also about deciding what matters, figuring out what works, and measuring it. So, what does measurement in corporate citizenship look like these days?
2. Measure What Matters
In 2019, Realized Worth delivered three times the number of benchmarking reports than the year before. This surprised us! With innovation as an overarching theme, we found ourselves asking, “Why are companies so eager to compare themselves with other companies?” Does innovation mean doing better than other companies – or does it mean doing better than the industry has yet imagined possible? The answer, as it turns out, is both.
When it comes to benchmarking, companies are not just looking for what other companies are doing, but what they’re measuring. “Measure what matters” is not a new idea. The problem is, we’re only just starting to find out the answer to the implicit question, “What actually matters?”
Metrics most companies collect: *
- Number of volunteers
- Number of community-related events
- Number of non-profits and/or supported causes
- Number of dollars donated
*Companies have various titles for these categories such as “lives impacted” which may allow them to report less concrete but equally legitimate numbers
Metrics some companies collect:
- Correlation of community involvement to HR engagement scores
- Correlation of community involvement to retention
- Correlation of citizenship programs to recruitment of top talent
- Stories of volunteer impact
Impacts all companies want to report:
How community involvement…
- Contributes to essential skill development
- Decreases employee error rates
- Increases company loyalty
- Increases employee engagement
- Increases recruitment and retention of top talent
- Increases positive brand awareness
- Contributes to healthier communities
Many of these impacts do exist (see our recent article, Just the Facts), but most CSR departments are working within time and budget constraints that tempt them to sacrifice important priorities to the tyranny of the urgent. Many a well-meaning CSR manager has said, “We’ll get to the strategic part later. Right now, I just need to get this thing launched.” While the urgency is understandable, smarter companies slow down and make decisions that strategically contribute to a specific set of short-term and long-term targets. Sacrificing this early step is easy to do, but carries with it far-reaching consequences. To that end, there are two questions smart companies ask when they’re deciding what matters, and as a result, what to measure.
1. Why does this program exist? This question is not, what’s our mission statement? Or, what makes this program sound important? It is: “If this program doesn’t ________, we’re shutting it down.” It doesn’t have to be complicated. For one company the answer was, “If this program doesn’t get people to participate who have never participated before, we’re shutting it down.” For another it was, “In 3 years, if this program isn’t the stated reason some employees choose to keep working here, we’re shutting it down.” Know why your program exists and what the stakes are. Answers like “increase participation” and “make a difference” are unacceptable. Make it specific. Make it something you could take a picture of once it’s achieved. The point is, you need a litmus test – a single deciding factor – that will dictate how you set up your measurement framework. It will guide your indicators, show you whether you’re succeeding or failing, and allow the flexibility to make adjustments as you go.
2. What am I measuring? Once you know why your program exists – and you know it with the kind of conviction that means you’ll shut it down if it doesn’t happen – you can decide what to measure. Work backward from your “why” all the way to “lead” and “lag” indicators. Lead measures track specific, critical activities that lead to your “lag” measure – or your why. While a lag measure tells you if you’ve achieved the goal, a lead measure tells you if you are likely to achieve the goal. You need both. Long-term goals can often be too rigid, while disconnected short-term goals lose sight of the “why.”
Smart companies use these two questions alongside a robust logic model or theory of change. What they end up with is a measurement framework that allows easy tracking of short-term metrics that lead to long-term, meaningful impacts. Measurement doesn’t have to be a mystery – and we don’t have to wait on someone else’s research to get the results we want.
Big budgets or small budgets, well-resourced or struggling for headcount, you can get ahead of the curve by expanding your definition of volunteering, training employee leaders to help others find their way, and measuring the things that lead to what matters.