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Organizational Change
Want to Engage Your Employees in Your CSR Activities? Give Them the Power to Choose

Smart business leaders believe that an active corporate social responsibility program is an asset when it comes to attracting top talent. The data agrees. A recent study from Net Impact showed that 35% of American employees would take a 15% pay cut to work for a company committed to CSR, and that 45% would do so for a job that makes a social or environmental impact.

What too many leaders fail to understand, however, is that simply instituting a CSR program is not enough to keep top talent around. Today’s conscious employees demand more than energy-efficient lighting at the office and a thick annual report from their employers. They demand corporate social responsibility programs that give them the opportunity to become personally engaged in making a difference at work, and they demand a voice when it comes to choosing who benefits from their employer’s CSR efforts.

Giving your team a say in the way your corporate social responsibility program operates is a powerful way to encourage employee engagement, which in turn leads to improved retention and ultimately, positive bottom line results. Who doesn’t want that?

Here are a few examples of companies that are taking their employee engagement to the next level through CSR programs that give employees the power to choose:

Eileen Fisher and Climate Ride

For the last three years, global fashion company Eileen Fisher has encouraged employee participation in Climate Ride, a four-day, long-distance bicycle ride I organize that raises funds for and promotes environmental initiatives. Unlike most charity athletic events, Climate Ride allows participants to choose a beneficiary for their funds from a list of over 60 environmental, public health and cycling organizations. Eileen Fisher gives employees paid time off to participate in Climate Ride, and the company donates $1,200 to each participant’s fundraising effort. All full-time employees also receive an annual wellness allowance of $1,000 per year that many Eileen Fisher Climate Riders have used to buy their first road bikes. What really impresses employees about the initiative, however, is their freedom to choose which environmental organization they want to support.

An Eileen Fisher employee and Climate Ride participant explains: “The fact that I get to choose an organization I really care about to donate my funds to makes me feel so much more fired up about participating in Climate Ride. Actually, it makes me feel more fired up about going to work, too. I love that my company thinks highly enough of its employees and the things we care about to give us time and money to give back to causes we care about.”

PNC Financial Services Group and Paid Volunteering

PNC is part of a growing trend in which employers allow paid time off for volunteering, but unlike many of their peers, PNC’s isn’t simply planning an annual park cleanup or trip to the soup kitchen. Instead, employees can choose from a list of over 200 organizations for which they can volunteer and are provided with a generous allowance of paid time off (dependent upon seniority) to volunteer. As The Wall Street Journal notes, new hire Sarah Antonette chose PNC over two other companies vying for her in part because of the volunteer program.

AT&T and Do One Thing

Last year, AT&T rolled out a creative employee engagement-focused CSR program that asked employees to start an individual or team project to make one small change of their choice in order to help their company or themselves become more sustainable and socially responsible. Some employees chose to walk or bike to work rather than drive, while others chose to invite students to shadow them on the job. Saatchi & Saatchi S, the agency that supported the effort, reported that giving employees the opportunity to choose where to make a change helped participants engage with their communities in meaningful ways and resulted in a reduction to the company’s total carbon footprint. Though Do One Thing can’t be tied conclusively to revenue, AT&T did experience a 3.6% annual revenue increase during the year that Do One Thing was implemented.

These are just a few of the many examples of companies that are improving employee engagement and driving positive bottom line results through CSR programs that give employees the freedom of choice. If you’re interested in following their lead, you can find many others to emulate.

Remember, compliance and responsibility isn’t enough for today’s top talent. High-performing hires are seeking opportunities to play an active role in choosing how their employers give back, and if you don’t offer this chance, they might just go elsewhere.

What are you doing to give your employees the power to choose when it comes to CSR and social innovation?


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