5 Trends from Benevity Live! 2023

Forums and Conferences, Trends & Best Practices

Over 1,000 “Changemakers” gathered in San Diego last week for the Benevity Live! event, among them, 4 members of our own RW team. Here are our reflections on the top trends we heard: 

Cautious Optimism Around AI

Benevity CEO Kelly Schmitt’s welcome included an AI-generated talking photo of herself (cool if not a little eerie), which set the stage for plenty of sidebar conversations around AI tactics and comfort levels around adoption. There were no formal sessions on using AI for social impact and most practitioners we spoke with had more questions than answers. But even the most AI-phobic in the crowd were likely inspired by the promise of science and technology for good by a wildly impressive 17-year-old engineer named Gitanjali Rao, who closed out the conference by sharing just a few of her inventions. One example: an AI-powered service called Kindly, which detects words that could be considered bullying and, as teens type messages on their device, provides two options: edit those it flags as problematic or send the message as-is (Rao explained it as “kind of like spellcheck but for cyberbullying”). 

Volunteering as the Holy Grail of Engagement 

Volunteering was a key focal point of this year’s event, not surprising given the easing of the pandemic, return-to-work mandates and hybrid teams looking for ways to connect authentically. 

Benevity’s State of Corporate Purpose report revealed that, among users surveyed, 86% have active volunteer programs which contributed to a 61% increase in recorded volunteer hours on the platform, equating to a whopping 14.3 million volunteer hours in 2022. 

Economic uncertainty and tightening budgets are also driving companies to refocus their purpose efforts inward to center investments on their employees and local communities – a trend Benevity is calling “Quiet Giving”. 

Building volunteer champion networks and scaling globally were two big points of conversation over the week. The most-often cited objectives had to do with engagement numbers (e.g. percent of employees engaged, volunteer hours). This hyperfocus on the quantitative aspect of employee volunteering didn’t leave much room for discussion about the deeper, more qualitative (and we’d argue, more critical) objectives that can be achieved through volunteerism including increased empathy, mindset shift and community-centric relationship building.

Addressing Climate Change Through Intersectionality 

By 2050, over 1 billion “climate refugees” may be displaced from 31 vulnerable nations, Al Gore taught us in his opening keynote. He painted a grim picture of a future plagued by every type of natural and manmade disaster imaginable if the world doesn’t course-correct soon. 

While “global warming” may feel like an unsolvable, faceless issue, the overlap that a warming planet has on affected humans, such as indigenous populations, people of color and women can help us wrap our brains around the fact that we are the ones who will pay the ultimate price. 

Brandi Halls, Chief Ethics Officer at LUSH, gave an example of how this intersectionality comes to life at LUSH, which has opted to lean in to support indigenous populations. While indigenous peoples make up only 5% of the world’s population, they protect 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. LUSH supports efforts to preserve native lands and culture for these “frontline defenders” by creating awareness and channeling funding to land defenders and water protectors around the world. 

If Al Gore’s prediction that we are in a “Sustainability Revolution” (that has the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution coupled with the speed of the Digital Revolution) is to come to fruition, it will likely be because we start speaking more directly to this intersectional overlap to help people internalize exactly what – and who – is at stake. 

DEI as a Team Sport 

Contrary to public commitments after the murder of George Floyd, many companies are pulling back on their investments in DEI initiatives and headcount. DEI positions are seeing increased churn as their functions are relegated to under-resourced areas of the business. 

To effectively act against deep-rooted systemic issues like racism, The Rainbow Disruption’s Jarvis Sam suggested we make DEI a team sport instead of setting DEI executives up to fail with a mandate to undo a 75-year history of marginalization in 2 years. Sam recommends tying executive bonuses to DEI targets, setting team DEI goals and democratizing DEI so there is collective accountability. 

One critical overlap between DEI and social impact initiatives: Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), another popular session topic at this year’s event. Often sharing a focus on giving and volunteering for specific communities, ERGs also help foster a critical sense of inclusion and belonging. 

Best practice discussions included clear and frequent communication between social impact and ERG leaders, sharing training and other resources between volunteer groups and ERGs, creating a “seat at the table” within social impact governance structures for ERG delegates and co-creation of events and education events. 

ERGs help create a way for employees to serve as both advocate and activist, two key ingredients in making meaningful advances in systemic issues, according to Sam. 

Burnout Is Real 

As always, we found the social impact practitioners in attendance to be incredibly generous, authentic, ambitious and…tired. “Tiny teams doing less with more” continues to be the modus operandi for purpose-focused teams. We continue to be amazed, if not slightly distraught, about the quantity and quality of the important impact-focused work these incredible individuals consistently crank out. Because they care deeply about this work, their communities and their colleagues.  

We feel beyond honored to call many conference attendees consulting or REV clients and are grateful we were able to spend some quality time together in San Diego. But most of all, we want you to know that we see you and how hard you work. Please be kind to yourselves. Pace yourselves. The world needs you and your brilliance now more than ever. 

Megan Strand

Director of Strategic Consulting

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Realized Worth helps you take a transformative approach to volunteering. We work with companies to create scalable and measurable volunteering programs that empower and engage employees, focus on empathy and inclusivity, and align with your most important business objectives. Talk to us today to learn more!

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