With its annual Giving in Numbers Report, CECP provides important insight into the trends shaping the world of corporate purpose. This year’s report offers something we haven’t seen yet. It’s the first real look at the new normal in corporate social responsibility after the disruptions of 2020.
With data from hundreds of corporations reporting on their CSR and ESG practices and outcomes in 2021, the report gives us a snapshot of how corporate leaders are responding to new expectations around social impact from employees, consumers, investors, and community members.
Last year’s iteration gave us a deeper understanding of how events in 2020 disrupted corporate purpose. This year offers a chance to see which changes have crystallized to become permanent and where the old ways of operating have returned.
1. Employee participation remains the crux of corporate purpose
Program leaders are still struggling to get employees engaged in community programs. Without employee participation, these programs struggle to make an impact both internally and externally.
According to the report, volunteer program participation was at 17% in 2021, a big drop off from 2019, when that number was 29%. COVID had an impact, but we haven’t rebounded much. In 2020, participation bottomed out at 16%. So far, volunteer participation has risen only 1% since then.
Shifting the lens to corporate giving and matching, 94% of companies offer a matching gifts program. However, in 2021, only 19.7% of employees participated. Compare this to the highs of 2019, when participation was at 24.7%.
COVID is to blame for some of this decline. But when 77% of employees say that company-sponsored volunteer opportunities are essential to employee well-being, those pre-pandemic numbers don’t look all that great. Employees want to participate, and employers have the programs. But there’s a big disconnect.
For CSR programs to be successful and sustainable, employees need to feel invested in the processes and the outcomes. Program leaders need to center the employee experience.
During the Impact Studio Conference, Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas, managing director of corporate insights & engagement at CECP, shared her take on how many companies are reorienting their programs as they embrace a stakeholder approach. “I do believe that companies have identified that their stakeholder number one is their employees,” she says.
Take action: Center the employee experience to make giving and volunteering as engaging as possible.
2. Personalization continues to drive volunteer participation
People want to be valued as individuals. When employees can bring their personal experiences, talents, and values to volunteer work, they tend to show up more.
Skills-based volunteering refers to opportunities that allow individuals and teams to use their professional skills to help nonprofit organizations. The Giving in Numbers 2022 report shows how tapping into employees’ unique expertise drives participation. At companies offering skills-based volunteering, the median number of hours volunteered was 46,795 compared to only 13,011 at companies where volunteer programs were not tailored to employee talents.
Despite this success, the percentage of companies offering skills-based volunteer programs (including pro bono service and/or board leadership) fell slightly to 73% in 2021, down from 74% in 2020.
For program leaders looking to boost and maintain participation, tapping into skill-based volunteering is a proven strategy. Alongside that, make space for employees to bring their personal values to the volunteer work.
Jen Carter, global head of technology & volunteering at Google.org, has seen that volunteer opportunities which weave personal experience and expertise together can create a transformative experience for employees. “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.”
Take action: Incorporate skills-based volunteering and make space for personal connections to inspire employees to get involved.
3. Flexibility and support emerge as key to employee engagement
Employees are busy, and they’re balancing a lot. They need CSR programs to meet them where they are. Leaders need to focus on providing flexibility and support.
When it comes to corporate giving, employees are more likely to participate if they have a choice in where their dollars go. According to the Giving in Numbers 2022 report, the average participation rate for “open choice” matching gift programs was 21% in 2021. The median dollar total for open-choice programs is $2.06M. Compare that to limited-choice programs, which have an average of 16% participation, and median dollar total of $.95M.
To help employees volunteer, companies need to provide volunteer time off (VTO) as well as flexible volunteer opportunities that fit into their lives. The Giving in Numbers Report shows that the median number of volunteer time off (VTO) hours offered to employees was 16. The most commonly offered VTO policies were 8 hours (37%), 16 hours (22%), and 40 hours (7%) per year. Whatever the number of VTO hours, giving employees the flexibility to volunteer at their convenience is a key to greater engagement.
With the rise of remote and hybrid work, virtual volunteering is still a very popular program. Domestically, 86% of companies offered virtual volunteering in 2021.
Unfortunately, flexibility is trending downward. The percentage of companies offering flexible schedule and/or paid-release time was 84% in 2021, down from 87% in 2020 and 90% in 2019.
Patricia Toothman, social impact manager at Splunk, believes in empowering employees to participate in whatever way they can. “Whether you have time to sit at your kitchen table and put together a kit for a local hospital, or you can take a walk for an hour and fundraise, support the cause, or donate your own funds and get that matched by Splunk, we offer so many different ways for folks to engage in what feels right for them,” she says.
Take action: Prioritize flexibility and offer choices to make room for everyone.
4. Social justice and equity remain top priorities
In 2020, many corporate leaders made pledges around social justice and equity. The Giving in Numbers 2022 report shows that companies are not pivoting away from those issues. They are following through on their promises to support this work.
Case in point: social justice and racial equity grants increased 90% from 2020 to 2021. A median 24% of total community investment budgets was allocated for these focus areas.
Alongside funding community grants, many companies are investing in DEI internally. 85% of companies are increasing their investments in DEI resources—including staffing, training, and initiatives.
As promising as it is to see this follow-through when it comes to racial justice and equity, it’s worth considering how these issues intersect with other urgent causes, like environmental justice. Though environmental programs had the second highest growth rate between 2019 and 2021, it remains the least funded program area in comparison to others.
Finding that intersection point can help leaders make a deeper impact. For instance, where do social and environmental justice overlap? Taking a more holistic approach to social change can drive progress.
Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas believes it’s imperative that companies consider how issues intersect. “I do believe that companies are understanding that for them to truly achieve the equity in society that they are promising they want to deliver—again, they’re looking at it internally and they’re looking at it externally in the communities—that they have to understand that systemic poverty or systemic racism exist because systems haven’t been changed and invested in. You can’t just find one little piece and fund it. You have to really look at the totality of interconnected issues to be able to then address how to support that,” she says.
Take action: Shift to a holistic approach to deepen your impact and improve outcomes.
5. CSR & ESG become central to the future of your business
When the pandemic hit, many businesses stepped up. But even as the more urgent pressures of COVID are receding, investments in CSR are not slowing down. Leaders now recognize that social impact is a pillar of long-term business success.
Though the report shows that community investments decreased 20% from 2020 to 2021, it’s worth noting that median total community investment is up 20% since 2012 (adjusted for inflation). The nature of community investment is that it ebbs and flows. The decrease in 2021 can be attributed to a reduction in COVID-related funding.
More telling, the headcount of CSR teams grew from an average 9.75 full-time employees (FTE) in 2019 to 11 FTE in 2021 (+13%). From 2017 to 2021 headcount grew by 12% even though total company headcount decreased by 8%. Even as companies decrease overall staffing, they are still growing their CSR teams.
It’s good to see the investment in these teams growing. Because the people doing this work need support. Angela Parker, CEO and co-founder of Realized Worth, has seen high expectations and low funding have a severe impact on CSR professionals.
“You take social impact practitioners and you say, ‘now your job matters more than ever and you’re just as exhausted as everybody else’. I cannot tell you the difference between now and five, 10 years ago—the number of people that I run into at a conference and I say, ‘how are you?’ And they don’t even pretend. They just say, ‘I’m tired, so tired,’” she says. “It feels almost unethical—the ask that we’re putting on social impact practitioners and saying, do this very important thing in a rich company and do it without funding.”
Take action: Invest in CSR teams and resources to support long-term success.
Looking for more insights about the future of corporate purpose?
Dig into our Impact Studio on-demand episodes.
Keeping an eye on the big picture
As you build your CSR program, it’s important to focus on the mechanics, on getting employees to show up. But remember that’s not the only goal. You never want to lose sight of the bigger picture.
As Angela Parker says, “We’re not just trying to achieve some participation goals. We are trying to drive social movement.”
And Carmen Perez, founder and partner at Better Next, reminds us what it takes to make real change. “My motto is really, make progress, don’t require perfection,” she says.
To hear more insights from leaders who are driving change in the world of corporate purpose, step into our Impact Studio. Our five podcast episodes give you actionable advice about how to build your CSR programs (and your career) around a clear purpose.