The State of Corporate Goodness: 2016 and Beyond

In February 2016, users of Benevity‘s SaaS tool gathered in San Diego to discuss the future of corporate philanthropy. TriplePundit was a media partner of the event. You can follow our coverage here.

Leela Stake, Penny Zuckerwise and Nicole Campbell chat after their panel.

Last month in San Diego, business leaders from the U.S. and Canada gathered to discuss the future of corporate philanthropy. They all had one thing in common: their firms use Benevity‘s industry-leading SaaS solution to manage their ‘Goodness,’ which Benevity refers to as all of the behaviors an employee can engage in that drive greater affinity with their companies while making a difference in their lives, communities and the world at large.

Once considered a mere box to check, corporate philanthropy — or ‘Goodness’ — is fast evolving into an essential building-block for a company’s culture and success in the 21st century. Everyone from employees to clients to consumers want to know what businesses are doing to improve the communities in which they operate. This is especially so with millennials and Generation Z.

With all of these Goodness experts under one roof, plenty of best practices were bandied about, and attendees came away with a better idea of how to leverage corporate philanthropy to create an engaged and diverse workforce, in turn generating an authentic brand and enhanced reputation.

Authenticity is king

With the advent of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, companies are fully visible and exposed. Sure, they can put on a good face in their public relations. But chances are, if they have skeletons in their closet, it won’t be long before customers find out. In short: Authenticity is king in the digital age. Leela Stake, SVP of corporate responsibility and global impact for communications firm FleishmanHillard, said her company often analyzes something she calls the “authenticity gap”

“What we found is that there’s been a growing divide between brand and reputation: What companies say about themselves is often very different from people’s experience with them,” Stake explained. “So, how do you bridge that gap?”

FleishmanHillard analyzed nine drivers of good corporate reputation and found that only half of them relate directly to a company’s products or services. The rest touch on things like how the company treats its employees, the environment and the communities in which it operates, she continued.

With that in mind, adopting corporate Goodness programs — and communicating them effectively to all stakeholders — moves beyond a nice-to-have and into a vital component of maintaining a good reputation among customers, employees and even job recruits. “Taking Goodness programs outside of a silo and looking at them as a driver of corporate reputation is really important.”

‘Little wins’ are key to C-suite buy-in

Penny Zuckerwise, founding head of corporate social responsibility for investment and financial services firm Guggenheim Partners, has some advice for folks hoping to earn C-suite buy-in for corporate Goodness programs: Start slowly and build up — one little win at a time.
“Don’t think that you have to come up with something that’s absolutely awe-striking to be able to get engagement,” Zuckerwise advised. “Try to learn about the senior members of your team — what creates emotional resonance with them?”

Once you learn more about what makes your firm’s top leadership tick, use this information to plan a small event like a volunteer day or a social media campaign. Utilize not only money, but all of the tools in your toolbox, from your employees to your client relationships — what Zuckerwise calls “creative capital.” As buzz spreads around the office and employees begin to take notice of these new Goodness programs, the folks in the C-suite will take notice, too.

“If you have a couple of little wins and you start from the bottom up, that kind of creative capital will get to the C-suite, and it will make the C-suite players feel good about what they’re doing — it will engage them.”

Leverage Goodness to engage diverse talent

“When I look at corporate Goodness programs, they really are a tool to attract and retain talent,” said Rachel Heffner, diversity, inclusion and innovation catalyst for Intuit. “At the end of the day, our workforce is changing; our population is changing. So, we need to look at how we can use our corporate Goodness programs to engage more diverse workforces.”

To pull off this feat, Intuit uses its giving program data and annual employee survey to learn more about what causes matter most to its team, Heffner said. Ask questions like: What are employees passionate about? Do they feel included in corporate Goodness programs, and what more would they like to see?

Ideally, the demographics of your company should match those of your customers, Zuckerwise added, using Verizon as an example: Around 60 percent of Verizon’s employees are female or minority, which is about the same percentage of women and minority consumers who buy the company’s goods and services. The best workforces, Heffner explained, are the most diverse workforces — and understanding what makes your employees tick is key to creating a corporate culture that attracts candidates from all walks of life.

Focus on your values, but give employees broad choice

“The problems of the world today are too complex for any one sector to solve. So, it’s a missed opportunity for businesses to not be thinking about what they are uniquely qualified to do to move the needle on important issues,” Stake explained. “That said, it’s also important to recognize that … different employees have differing perspectives and passions, and you want to allow room for choice.”

So, for example, if you’re working on a matching gift program at a food company, your firm may want to emphasize its work with hunger relief because it naturally meshes with company values (what many call a ‘vertical’ approach). But some employees may be more passionate about education, the environment, autism or another equally worthy cause. So, while you want to be sure to include plenty of hunger-relief charities in your matching-gift solution, it’s also important to give employees the option to donate to other nonprofits that more closely align with their values. This creates ‘horizontal’ engagement.

Stake pointed out that enabling choice often piques employees’ interest and gets them onto the tool. Then, you can use the tool’s communication elements to share your company’s focus on and passion for hunger relief efforts, engage employees and invite them to get involved in the business’ priority initiatives.

From CSR to PSR

A complement to the element of choice is creating a sense of ownership on the part of employees and crafting a culture in which they feel personally aligned with the company’s Goodness missions.

“We talk a lot about corporate social responsibility or CSR, and one of the things that we’re adopting at our firm is PSR, personal social responsibility, and really fostering that through our matching gift program,” Zuckerwise said of her company, Guggenheim Partners.
Through the program, Guggenheim gives each employee a $100 gift card to award to the nonprofit of his or her choice. “We have 2,800 employees,” Zuckerwise explained, “but we touch 1,000 nonprofits through that program. And employees get to choose and to give to whomever they like, so that PSR piece really engages people.”

Employees expect to be involved

“In parallel to the things that we’re seeing in the technology sector and how consumers are so involved and a part of the products that are actually being created, when it comes to engagement programs, employees expect to be a part of it,” said Nicole Campbell, principal of Goodness consulting for Benevity. “They expect to co-create or are hoping to shift in that direction.”

“Engagement is a must-have for many employees,” Campbell continued — saying community impact opportunities are especially crucial for companies looking to woo millennial employees. A 2014 PwC study found that more than half of recent college graduates are seeking a company that has CSR values that align with their own, and 56 percent would consider leaving a company that didn’t have the values they expected. Subsequent studies back up this notion that millennial employees are seeking purpose, not just a paycheck.

One thing is clear: We are in a new era of corporate Goodness that is becoming a core driver to business success.

Learn more about how Benevity engages people in Goodness.

Image credit Edison Miclat for Benevity 

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Mary Mazzoni

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist with a passion for storytelling and sustainability. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, Earth911, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and the Daily Meal.

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian with an interest in climate resilience, clean tech and social justice. You can contact her at

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