By Bradley Depew
When we talk about CSR and sustainability, there is sometimes a tendency to speak as though the goals of business are simply opposed to those of social responsibility and sustainability. The accusation that CSR efforts amount to little more than a glorified form of PR or “greenwashing” is a familiar example of this kind of talk. The idea seems to be simply that businesses pursue profit, and the pursuit of profit is antithetical to the pursuit of social and environmental good. You can either do good or do good business. You can either be selfless or self-interested—but it is simply impossible to do both at once.
Surely this is simplistic. The best CSR efforts are precisely those that create a “win-win”: added value for a company in terms of brand image or improved supply chains (for example), and added value for stakeholders in terms of social and environmental good. CSR is fundamentally about recognizing that the three kinds of flourishing represented by the triple bottom line—”people, planet, profit”—are all linked. Social enterprises, like the company I work for, Bright Funds, are based on a holistic view: business flourishes in communities of flourishing people who inhabit flourishing ecosystems. It is self-defeating to think that a company can pursue one element in the triple bottom line (profit) and ignore the others: companies prevent themselves from being as successful as they could be by myopically focusing on only one kind of value.
Businesses thrive when employees give
Employee giving programs provide a clear example of how promoting value in the form of social and environmental good can be a way to promote value in the form of dollars and cents. The fact that they are a way to do good in the world that is also good for your company is one reason to think that employee giving programs should be a centerpiece of CSR strategy. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that the success of a company’s employee giving program is correlated with that company’s success more generally. To put the point bluntly: the better your employee giving program is doing, the better your company will do.
According to one recent study, there has been a major transformation in employee giving programs over the last ten years as more and more companies move away from traditional campaigns centered on a single federated giving program—typically the United Way—to “expanded” or “open” campaigns that provide employees with a range of options for where to give, and sometimes allow them to give to any charity they choose. This change is not surprising since, as the same study shows, offering employees increased choice and flexibility about which organizations they can donate to leads to increased rates of participation.
Engaged in success
Participation is the key concept here. In truth, that is what a strong employee giving program means: a program with a high rate of participation. Not only does increased participation mean that your giving program will raise more for charities—thereby increasing the capacity of your company and its employees to promote social and environmental good. Increased participation is also good for your business: research suggests that employees who take part in workplace giving programs are more engaged as a result of their participation. Combine this with research suggesting that engaged employees play a major role in driving business success and you have a strong case for the idea that an employee giving program is a way to combine doing good with doing good business.
This is compelling evidence that the motivation for our CSR practices can combine the commitment to promoting social and environment good with the concern for promoting successful business outcomes. We need not choose between one or the other. A strong employee giving program enables us to choose both: more money to nonprofits means better programs to improve people’s lives, more money raised by your company means better brand image and further opportunities to build relationships within your community, and engaged employees promote business success.
Drawn to doing good
Offering employees the chance to donate to the causes and charities of their choice is a way to help them feel that their work is valuable in a way that cannot necessarily be measured in dollars and cents. This matters. It matters because because a rewarding job is about more than just a salary. A study out of Stanford University found that 90 percent of MBA students would take less money to work for a company with a reputation for social responsibility and ethics. In a way, the results of the study are just common sense: people want meaningful careers. They want to feel like their work is about more than just earning a check to pay the bills. They want to feel like they are leaving their mark on the world and doing something valuable, and a strong employee giving program is one way to provide them with this feeling.
Attracting top talent is a key aspect of any successful business, and the most talented people want to work for companies that care about their values and provide them with an opportunity to make a difference in the world. This is perhaps even more true of the members of the Millennial generation who are increasingly making their presence felt in the workforce. Millennials care deeply about finding careers that are meaningful, and to them that is about more than a salary. When you offer your employees the opportunity to donate to the organizations and causes that matter most to them through the workplace, you are showing them that you care about their values and are committed to helping them promote those values.
Empowered and inspired
The example of employee giving programs shows that CSR can be about promoting all three parts of the triple bottom line. When a company offers its employees a way to engage in effective philanthropy through the workplace, that company is promoting social and environmental good at the same time that it promotes employee engagement, and engaged employees promote successful business outcomes. In short, the fact is that strong employee giving programs work. They work for our communities, for our employees, and for our businesses.
So what makes a strong employee giving program? One element of strong employee giving programs is that they make employees feel empowered to make a real, tangible difference and change the world. It is not easy to produce this sense of empowerment, but we can start by making use of tools like company matching and providing evidence (in the form of pictures and stories) of the results nonprofits have been able to create with employee donations. Bright Funds has developed a cloud-based workplace giving program that is focused on working with companies to empower employees to become effective philanthropists at work. Bright Funds also tracks which causes your employees are giving to so that you can see precisely what they care about and where they want to make an impact.
Whatever tools your company uses to create a strong employee giving program, one thing is clear: we should reject the idea that it is impossible to combine doing good with doing good business. CSR is about finding ways to create “win-wins” and recognizing that success is best understood in holistic terms that combine social, environmental, and economic value. When we seek out “win-wins” like these, our search is premised on the idea that sometimes helping others really is a way to help ourselves, and that it is simply a mistake to think that an altruistic act must not provide you with any benefits. Undertakings like employee giving programs show that all the terms in the triple bottom line can drive us to success.
[Image credit: rachel.anne, Flickr]