How do you best engage employees about corporate/internal CSR efforts?

When deciding to allocate resources to corporate CSR efforts, employee engagement and alignment with core business strategies are key.

Shannon Baker
Principal, director of PR and social media, GatesmanMarmion+Dave

Michael Fields
Director of philanthropy, ITT Corporation

Francesca Karpel
Senior manager, internal comms, NetApp

Sharon McIntosh
Senior director, global internal comms, PepsiCo

Susan McPherson
SVP, Fenton Communications

Shannon Baker, principal, director of PR and social media, GatesmanMarmion+Dave:
When deciding to allocate resources to corporate CSR efforts, employee engagement and alignment with core business strategies are key. By utilizing a participatory approach from the start, in which all staff takes part in the design and implementation, you can effectively engage your strongest brand ambassadors - your employees.

In some ways, small and midsize companies have an advantage when deciding on CSR activities because relationships at smaller organizations - between management and employees, between employees and clients - are more familiar. Employees function as ambassadors to the streets within their own communities and understand what and where the needs are. Solicit feedback and suggestions through internal surveys, emails, newsletters or social media, and reward employees for ideas used.

Employees will be more engaged in CSR programs if their voices are heard and if there is an executive-level commitment that supports the efforts. Therefore, once the program is determined, management should make it formal and consider offering time off for company programs. Create a committee that will be responsible for championing the efforts and that will commit to providing regular communications regarding sustainability initiatives, volunteer opportunities, and workplace giving as they relate to your program.

Engaging employees with CSR is a powerful tactic that produces tangible results in the form of retention, recruitment, and creating brand value in a new business landscape where turning employees and market influencers into brand ambassadors adds more value to a company than the old marketing tactics.

Michael Fields, director of philanthropy, ITT Corporation:
At ITT, bringing corporate citizenship to our global base of 40,000-plus employees requires the right tools and tactics. Fortunately, we've seen a tremendous level of support for our corporate citizenship program, ITT Watermark, launched in 2008 with the mission of providing and protecting safe water resources for communities in need.

Engagement is especially high during our annual company-wide celebration of employee volunteerism, known as Global Impact Month, which kicks off on World Water Day, March 22. We inspire employees to take action during this month - and year-round - by implementing the following best practices:

  • Create a spectrum of engagement. Watermark offers a variety of ways for employees to get engaged, ranging from highly involved to turnkey. During Global Impact Month, we provide resources for staff who want to orchestrate their own local event, as well as offer low-commitment online activities for those who want to engage, but have limited time.
  • Reach employees where they are. Our global presence means the best way to reach employees is often online. As part of our 2010 Global Impact Month celebration, ITT sponsored a Watermark Facebook donation campaign, offering a $1 donation to Watermark partners for every post, comment, or "like" during the campaign window. In just one week, Watermark's Facebook audience, comprised primarily of ITT employees, generated more than $5,000 in support for Watermark partners.
  • Lead by example. As sites around the world implemented their own Global Impact Month campaigns, ITT headquarters also planned several activities, including an art auction and water awareness events, to demonstrate that our commitment to corporate citizenship begins at the top.

Francesca Karpel, senior manager, internal communications, NetApp:
Harnessing the passion and commitment of your employees for causes that set their hearts afire, and then empowering them with various internal communications channels and tools is a great way to embrace CSR activities at your company.  This is especially true in companies that don't have formal programs in place and instead enable CSR efforts to happen either by osmosis or organically at a grassroots level.

A key first step to making this happen is encouraging staffers to pursue philanthropic activities that are personally important to them on behalf of the company. By embracing these activities, which are focused on creating a positive impact outside the organization, companies can indirectly engage in CSR efforts that are born at an individual level.

The next step is to empower employees to promote their external philanthropic activities internally. Allowing them to utilize company websites, volunteer networks, email distribution lists, meetings, internal newsletters, and online communities are some of the most effective ways to help individual staffers gain support across the broader employee base.

It is also important for organizations to provide ongoing internal communications support for these philanthropic activities after they've been launched. Employees can share their successes widely and increase awareness and support for their outside organization or cause.

With this strategy in place, one employee's desire and ability to help others in need can be greatly fueled by the ongoing support of the organization, creating a cascading effect across a wider employee population that, in turn, has both a positive impact on the community, and organically boosts a company's efforts at promoting CSR.

Sharon McIntosh, senior director, global internal communications, PepsiCo:
It starts with mutual trust between your company and your employees. We have a wonderful story to tell about our global commitment to Performance with Purpose - delivering sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for our people and our planet. Our employees are one of the best ways we can amplify that story.

In fact, the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer found "conversations with employees" remain one of the most credible sources of information about a company - ahead of news coverage, online search, or ads.

It's an enormous opportunity.  On Facebook alone, an average user has 130 friends. Multiply that by our nearly 300,000 employees and that's millions of trusted conversations.

We kicked off this effort in May through social media training.  We call it Social Media and Responsibility Training - or SMART U.  It's based on three months of research. Employees told us they were proud of PepsiCo and were being asked questions about the company by friends and family. They also said they'd love to share their PepsiCo pride - as long as we explained our social media policy, educated them on social media tools such as Twitter, and gave lots of examples to help them tell the story - which we did.

Interestingly, employees also asked us to help them share company-approved links and information, so they could engage online without worrying about inadvertently sharing confidential information. Based on their suggestion, we recently enhanced our internal electronic daily newsletter to include a "share" feature for selected articles.  Now employees can immediately share those articles with friends or family on their personal Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accounts.

Every company has staffers who want to help share their employer's CSR story. All they need is a balanced combination of tools, trust, and training.

Susan McPherson, SVP, Fenton Communications:
Discussions around CSR are ubiquitous these days given the rapid growth of social media engagement, increased pressure on our global natural resources, and daily reminders of the increasing impact on climate change.

Employees can be your largest brand advocates and also help lead the charge for ongoing sustainability within your company. But without being asked, they will not step up. Below are some key tactics for engagement:

  • Full-staff participation. Involve all employees when communicating about your CSR plan creation, as well as noteworthy updates. Consider deploying polls and surveys among associates. Individuals who have a vested stake in the creation of such a platform will more likely want to remain involved, share information with colleagues, and spread the word outside the office.
  • The proper channels. Use the most suitable tools to communicate and share information, whether it's email, the firm's Intranet or corporate social network. In other instances, the lunch room, break room, or area around the water coolers might be the best areas to showcase CSR engagements, company achievements, and promotional material.
  • Recognize leadership. Showcase those specific employees who take an active interest in sustainability.
  • Make it fun. Consider using gaming to engage your employees. There's a reason Foursquare, Angry Birds, and FarmVille are wildly popular. Gaming needn't be a technical play, but you can use contests, surveys, or other playful activities to share and educate employees about sustainability, fair labor standards, philanthropic endeavors, and other key components of your CSR programs.

The Takeaway

  • Decide on a program that is meaningful, interesting, current and fun, and involve employees from all level.
  • Be sure to provide staff with the tools they need to communicate about their CSR efforts with the rest of the company.
  • Show employees there is an executive-level commitment to CSR programs.
  • Engage with staffers about the company's CSR programs early and often.

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