Case Studies: UnitedHealth Group Shows How to Set Up a Pledge Campaign

Pledge campaigns are a great way to move an audience from thought to action. Participants make a personal (and often public) promise to make a difference… and in the process the stage is set for real social impact in the future and favorable metrics today.

Within the VolunteerMatch family of companies, we’ve seen pledge campaigns recently from at least four of our partners. Target is asking shoppers to pledge to read to children.  WE tv is asking its audience to pledge 24 hours of volunteering. Google has asked employees to pledge volunteer hours for MLK Day of Service. And UnitedHealth Group launched and fulfilled a pledge to engage employees in volunteerism for health.

So what should your company, school or organization keep in mind when designing a pledge campaign? With the end of year here, we’ve been looking closely at the program at UnitedHealth Group for tips. Here’s what we learned.

A Campaign to Help People Live Healthier Lives

UnitedHealth Group launched “Pledge 10 in 2010” this year to encourage employees to get involved in volunteer activities to help themselves and others in their community stay physically and emotionally fit. The program was launched in conjunction with MLK Day as a call to service. Employees who were just getting started in volunteering were asked to pledge 10 hours of service during 2010. Active volunteers were asked to pledge 10 additional hours to service over what they donated in 2009. With help from the campaign, employees not only did more volunteering in 2010, they trounced their 2009 numbers as soon as October, and ultimately logged more than 180,000 volunteer hours, a 106% increase from a year ago.

With such astounding results, we really wanted to learn more about what went into making the program such a success. Below are just a few of the key factors for Pledge 10 in 2010. We’re grateful to Sue Osten, Director, Office of Social Responsibility, at UnitedHealth, for helping us with all the moving parts.

Setting Concrete Goals and Tracking Progress

As a standout at VolunteerMatch and a recent winner of our Corporate Volunteer Awards for program excellence, UnitedHealth has already demonstrated a number of best practices in employee engagement. Ever present in their planning is the all-critical task of setting a goal.

By identifying a specific goal for “Pledge 10 in 2010” (a target of 145,000 hours) and comparing it to past records (an ambitious 22% increase over the previous year), the employee volunteer team knew how to gauge the success of its activities. For example, having a goal gave the team a way to motivate and remind employees as the campaign unfolded. By September 2010, for example, employees were at 93% of the goal, setting the stage for an energetic final push.

UnitedHealth took the measurement-orientation one step further by also tracking the number of nonprofit projects directly impacted by employee volunteerism. By year’s end, over 9,700 community projects had received some $2.8 million in volunteer support. Results like these communicated a sense of accomplishment and pride throughout the company.

Using the Tools

As any green thumb knows, it’s hard to grow a garden without the right tools. UnitedHealth characteristically takes deep advantage of their VolunteerMatch tool set, and with Pledge 10 in 2010 it was no different.

UnitedHealth leveraged their tool set to accomplish two main goals: to make sure the campaign both reached as many employees as possible, and to connect them with causes they were more likely to care about.

The core of the tool use was the creation of a branded “Pledge 10 in 2010” Event on their VolunteerMatch site as a location for actual pledge activities. Pledging itself was accomplished with custom questions for employees to directly attribute hours to the pledge and a thermometer feature to visually track progress.

UnitedHealth directed all employee volunteers to their VolunteerMatch accounts to track hours as well as check-in on the progress of the campaign, which made reporting much easier. Working with VolunteerMatch, the team also created an on-demand self-service training that could be shared across the company. One of the business groups got so enthused that they set their own tracked-hours goal and trained each employee on the importance of social responsibility and how to track hours to become eligible for the incentives.

With tracking built into the campaign from the start, it was much easier for the UnitedHealth team to use real-time metrics to drive participation. For example, the team could report that nearly 25,000 employees were using their accounts, up from 12,924 a year ago, with 70% of them having met or exceeded the 10-hour pledge by September.

Engage and Communicate

Not surprisingly, UnitedHealth Group made a number of smart decisions about communicating with and inspiring employees to participate – starting with truly engaging incentives for making a pledge:

  • New “United Volunteers” swag (t-shirts and MLK Day wristbands)
  • Yearlong incentives through  Dollars for Doers programs ($200 grants to charities after 30 hours of volunteering)
  • Random drawings for employee-directed grants (winning employees could direct $100 gifts to their favorite nonprofits).
  • Unique incentives for special service days – volunteers in opportunities that had “9/11” in the title or description earned participants a new “United Volunteers” lapel pin.

Communications came from the top down to inspire participation and a sense of community. Two executives agreed to co-sponsor the campaign, and quarterly memos were posted on the company intranet to update on progress and encourage service. To help employees follow through on their commitment, the UnitedHealth team sent a quarterly email update on total hours pledged and tracked.

To illustrate the movement that was taking place across the company, UnitedHealth also created video shorts showing employees involved in numerous strategic volunteering activities. Posted on the United Volunteers site, these quickly become some of the most-watched items on the company’s intranet. Many of these shorts were recorded at “Pledge 10 in 2010” events held in communities where there were active UnitedHealth volunteer councils already planning and organizing events.

Personalized Giving to Connect to Personal Values

Of course, volunteering is all about values. One of the most important components of “Pledge 10 in 2010” has been the ability for employees to make a personal choice about where they volunteered — an option that takes full advantage of VolunteerMatch’s network of 75,000 nonprofits.

But in a demonstration of the company’s own values, UnitedHealth took the idea even further. To participate, any volunteer hours completed with any nonprofit organization could qualify. Employees who chose to look for a volunteer opportunity outside of VolunteerMatch just had to log their hours with those projects, not with “Pledge 10 in 2010,” and those hours were automatically counted.

Looking Ahead to 2011

If UnitedHealth’s numbers hold true, they’ll see a volunteer participation rate of close to 75% – nearly four times the average rate for companies. More than anything, it’s this alignment of program design with employee and company values that has made “Pledge 10 in 2010” such as a success.

Looking at the actions from above, a pledge campaign might be just what your program needs to kick-off the New Year. Do you have other ideas to share? Or comments? Let us know!

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