Almost 94 per cent of the biggest European companies offer their employees company time to volunteer, but too often the conversation about employee engagement in corporate social initiatives is about the ‘business case’.
We talk about how these programmes contribute to employee professional development, their commitment towards the company and talent recruitment and retention. These are all very relevant to get top-management buy-in, but by now this should be a given as there are numerous studies showing these outcomes. Hence, the time has come to critically question if programmes are actually making a difference for the vulnerable communities which they sought to support. To remain credible and legitimate among stakeholders such as customers, clients, media and social purpose organisations (SPOs), corporate social investors thus need to rethink their current practices and design social impact-driven engagement activities.
Based on our research we offer three suggestions to do so:
1. The starting point of every programme is to explore the SPOs’ needs and find the right employee engagement activity that fit their needs. Although this might sound self-evident, it is certainly not common practice. Many corporate social investors still approach their potential partners by stating: ‘This is what I am willing to share; can you use it?’ If that offer is not accepted with gratitude, some are disappointed and end up blaming SPOs of being rigid. But who is being rigid if we take social impact at the core?
2. Acknowledge that the SPO is the key expert in solving the social issue. They are knowledgeable about what works for their beneficiaries, how and why. Yes, you can be of support and you can bring valuable insights, but they work on those social issue on a daily basis, so allow them to take that expert role.
3. The best people within the business might not be the best people to support SPOs. Working in the social sector requires particular soft skills, like empathy and a proper understanding of the different dynamics that are at play in the social sector. Not everyone in the business –even at higher levels of seniority- might have these skills to the extent needed in the social sector.
Are you also re-thinking your programme and want to learn more about how you can put social impact at the core of your programme? Join the two-day training on 11-12 April 2019 of the European Venture Philanthropy Association and Rotterdam School of Management on scaling your impact through employee engagement.
Lonneke Roza is an Academic Researcher within the Rotterdam School of Management
Karoline Heitmann is a Corporate Research Associate at EVPA