VolunteerMatch at the CMF12 Conference: Employees as a Cause Testing Ground

VolunteerMatch presented at the 10th annual CMF Conference in Chicago on May 30, 2012

At the 2012 Cause Marketing Forum conference, I was invited to share my one big idea for employee engagement in a session entitled “6 Big Ideas in 60 Minutes.”  Here’s what I settled on to share: Use employee engagement as a testing ground for cause programs.

I was joined by 5 other experts sharing their big ideas including Holly Thomas of Macy’s on creating an internal “Army of Ambassadors,” Sarah Harris of Incite on how media can help inspire, Randy Paytner of Care2 on rewards programs to drive loyalty, Anne Erhard of MSLGROUP on incentivizing consumer action, and Sarah Gofus of .ORG on why cause campaigns need a .org website.

For my 9 minutes with the audience, I set one stipulation that we all needed to agree on: employees care deeply about cause initiatives. Better yet, there are huge benefits to engaging employees in causes – and I shared a few of my favorite stats to illustrate this:

Once the stage was set – I shared three ideas for how the practice of employee engagement could be used to test cause program elements. The idea here is to help companies not only unlock the value of potential benefits I shared, but also help build a stronger program from the ground up.

1. Partnership Sourcing
Nonprofit partners are a critical component of cause marketing and must be chosen carefully. We can all think of one or two bad partnerships we’ve seen, and without naming any program specifically we can all agree – bad partnerships make bad cause marketing.

Employees can be a great source of partnership vetting, helping you to find an organization that has both mission and business alignment. Consider sending a group of employees for a day of on-site volunteering, or organizing a group of employees to take on a pro bono project with the potential partner. This will help you get to know the organization more intimately than you can on paper – finding a partner that matches your company’s issue focus, work style and culture before launching a national or global initiative.

2. Authenticity Check
Knowing how deeply employees care about their company’s cause initiatives, and how well they understand the culture and spirit of the organization – that makes them perfect “testers” of the authenticity of your cause program elements. They can help make sure the program rings true for the organization, avoiding risks associated with a program that appears to be just for the reputation.

Companies should consider convening an employee committee to take part in building the program – drawing from several departments and regional locations to ensure the organization is well represented. Another iteration of this idea is to conduct a pre-launch of the program to the employees, allowing time for feedback and modification if necessary before launching publicly. Either of these methods will help ensure transparency and alignment of all program elements – giving it a “sniff test” for potential risks before you invest in launching it publicly. In addition, employees are often your biggest program advocates, so finding what speaks to them will help your program catch on with others too!

3. Message Testing
The third idea I shared was to use employees to test program messaging. This is a step that typically takes place a bit later in program development, but is critical to finding what will resonate with audiences and capture their attention.

Employees can be used in one of two ways – to test program messaging you’ve already developed (such as program names, tag lines, key messages) or to crowdsource ideas and stories to help you craft program messaging. For example, an employee may already be volunteering with the nonprofit partner, or may have a loved one that suffered from the disease you hope to help solve – these stories will help put an emotional and human voice to your program, and employees will feel good about helping to craft the dialogue.

There are likely tons of other ways to engage employees in a cause program, and use the practice to test different elements before releasing a cause initiative to the public. I’d love to hear your ideas and see your examples of this in action to keep the conversation going and to help us all build stronger programs from the inside out.

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