4 Experts on How to Improve Employee Participation in CSR

A strong corporate purpose is a clear differentiator that separates one company from another—both for consumers and employees. 

But a clear corporate purpose doesn’t mean much on paper. You need the people in your organization to show up. That’s how you put your values into action. 

The trouble is: people aren’t showing up for corporate social responsibility programs. According to CECP’s Giving in Numbers report, corporate volunteer programs had a 17% participation rate in 2021. Giving and matching programs were at 19.7%. 

For corporate leaders and CSR practitioners, these low numbers are bad news. You need employees to engage because in reality, the success of your CSR program hinges on active participation. And active participation in CSR programs is tied to better retention and recruitment, and even more new business.

Luckily, during our Impact Studio conference, four experts shared their advice on how to improve employee participation in CSR programs:

  • Patricia Toothman, social impact manager at Splunk
  • Jen Carter, global head of technology & volunteering at Google.org
  • Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas, managing director of corporate insights & engagement for CECP
  • Angela Parker, CEO and co-founder of Realized Worth 

They give an inside take on how to make your program more engaging. 

Be transparent about goals 

It’s simple: if employees don’t understand what your organization is trying to achieve through its CSR programs, they’ll struggle to get on board. 

Patricia Toothman, social impact manager at Splunk

One of the main priorities for Patricia Toothman is to be clear about her program goals. Providing that clarity helps Splunk employees understand their role in making real, long-term change.

“That clear and concise direction makes it really easy for people to jump on board,” Patricia says. “When they know what they’re doing, they know the ‘why’ behind, and they know how they can make a difference, that’s truly the key of how we’re able to engage so many employees in our programs.”

Pro tip: Condense your goals and mission into a clear, concise message that explains how your CSR efforts fit into a larger vision of a better world. 

Make giving back personally meaningful 

Employees are much more likely to participate if they can dedicate their time and resources toward causes that they care about. 

Jen Carter works to create opportunities for employees to use their professional skills to solve problems that are personally meaningful to them. 

Jen Carter, global head of technology & volunteering at Google.org

“We had a Googler who faced homelessness who then was able to work on a project that made it easier for others to access affordable housing. And out trans Googler who had struggled with suicidality as a youth and also just happened to be a natural language processing expert who then was able to help the Trevor Project, which helps LGBTQ youth in crisis—to use AI to determine suicide risk level,” she says.“When you can find that perfect match of their interests and their skill sets and their lived experience, it’s just really incredible.”

Giving employees the chance to leverage their unique talents to make an impact helps them find a deeper sense of meaning in their work. 

“I think there’s also this professional meaning that comes out of realizing how valuable your skill set is, that maybe in the day to day of your normal job, you might occasionally forget how powerful it is and how it can be used for good,” Jen says. 

Pro tip: Allow employees to choose the causes they want to support. 

Give your leaders a strong voice

CSR should not be a top-down initiative. Employees must play a part in shaping the vision and direction of your social impact work. However, company leaders cannot take on a passive role. They must be champions of this work. 

Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas, managing director of corporate insights & engagement for CECP

Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas sees employees looking to leadership to advocate for and prioritize CSR.

“Employees expect their employer to have a voice on issues that years ago companies did not necessarily feel comfortable speaking out on,” Kari says. “And they specifically want that voice to be their CEO.”

Pro tip: Treat CSR programs like any other business initiative by having leaders highlight them in regular company meetings and communications. 

Create space for a transformational experience

Giving back to the community can have a profound effect on employees. The experience can completely change how they see the world and their place in it. 

Angela Parker, CEO and co-founder of Realized Worth

But you need to make space for this transformation. Program leaders must help employees connect their volunteer experience to bigger issues. To do that, shift your approach to social impact work from a transactional one, to one rooted in relationships. 

Angela Parker speaks to how this shift can make a deeper impact for the community and for employees. 

“In order to drive social movements, to change people from the inside out, you have to have experiences over time that are a relationship—a respectful relationship where we are not going to objectify or save those who we perceive as other. But where we are going to learn from and receive from and be changed by them and be transformed by them,” Angela says.

Pro tip: Give employees the opportunity to discuss their assumptions and expectations before and after volunteering. 

Build CSR programs for the future 

To create impactful and sustainable CSR programs, employees need to get involved and stay involved. Centering the employee experience is key. 

When employees feel invested in a social impact mission, you’re able to harness the full power of your team to make real change in the world. 

A CSR platform is the bedrock of an effective social impact program. It gives employees a seamless experience and frees you up from the administrative tasks that bog you down.

Instead of focusing on how to motivate people to participate, you can spend your time and energy doing more impactful work—building relationships, innovating, and crafting frameworks for bigger systems change. 

Looking for more insights about the future of corporate purpose?

Dig into our Impact Studio on-demand episodes.

Laura Steele

Laura Steele is a content writer and editor at Submittable focused mostly on the world of grantmaking and corporate giving. Her work often explores the connection between technology, equity, and social good. She also writes fiction and nonfiction. You can read some of her stories and essays at laurapricesteele.com.

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