Balancing Employee Passions with a Central CSR Strategy

Abraham Lincoln famously said: “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” As many corporate social responsibility (CSR) professionals will recognize, this rings true when defining your CSR strategy.

Employees who are passionate and driven are a huge asset to any organization, but when so many employees are passionate about so many causes close to their hearts, how can CSR professionals manage this against their core objectives and corporate values?

In this post, we’ll explore a few ways CSR professionals can balance their program and strategy with the demands of one of their most important stakeholders: their employees. We’ll share insights from Jamie Inn, Vice President, Director of Volunteerism and Employee Giving at U.S. Bank about how they managed to achieve a balance by putting frameworks in place.

A Balancing Act

In any area of a company, having a clear strategy and focus is essential for success, so why should CSR be any different? As brands can’t try to be everything to everyone, CSR programs must recognize this and define their strategy accordingly.

Nobody wants to discourage an employee who is passionate, and it’s even harder to say “no” if there is a personal reason they care so much about a particular cause. That’s why it’s so important to have a clear framework and clear guidelines when it comes to CSR.

A clear, concise and accessible CSR guidelines document can help employees understand the broader goals of the company and why you can’t support every single cause. Your guidelines should outline why it’s important that brand and company strategy aligns with CSR efforts. Having these set guidelines and published documents can be especially valuable in situations when you do, unfortunately, have to say no.

Having some flexibility in the guidelines, as shown in the example below from U.S. Bank, can also be useful. However, that flexibility needs to apply to everybody, and no exceptions should be made for individual causes.

U.S. Bank Volunteers

How U.S. Bank Redefined their CSR Strategy

Before 2016, U.S. Bank partnered with many organizations as part of its CSR efforts and local markets were allowed to define their own strategy. The Foundation and Community Relations Team recognized that, as a collective, more good could be achieved if they put processes and frameworks in place.

So, the team started by asking a very important question: What does U.S. Bank stand for in the community?

They then worked to define their core CSR values and in January 2016, “Community Possible” was born. From this point on, every CSR initiative they did — including volunteering — fit into three dynamic pillars that defined their core CSR values:

  • Work: Workforce education and economic prosperity
  • Home: Neighborhood stability and revitalization
  • Play: Artistic and cultural enrichment and learning through active play

By defining a strategy and putting these three pillars in place, U.S. Bank ensured company-wide CSR efforts reflected the organization’s core values. Alongside the definition of the core values, guidelines and resources were put in place for U.S. Bank employees that still gave them some flexibility and choice, including:

  • U.S. Bank Community Possible Employee Center: A one-stop shop equipped with the VolunteerMatch network, where employees can search, sign up for and track volunteer activities.
  • U.S. Bank Volunteer Day: 4 to 16 hours of paid time off to volunteer (VTO).
  • Dollars for Doers: A company match of $5 per hour from a minimum of 5 hours to a maximum of 20 hours to the organizations where employees volunteer.
  • Matching Gifts: A dollar-for-dollar company match to maximize employees’ charitable donations: $50 minimum gift up to $1,000 per calendar year (up to $3,000 for nonprofit board service).

Volunteering for Maximum Impact

In a further initiative, acknowledging that contributing to the board of a nonprofit (as opposed to non-skilled volunteer work) would have a far greater impact, U.S. Bank began offering a training program to teach their employees the skills they need to do just that.

“Board service is a very impactful way to give back to a nonprofit,” explains Jamie. “We wanted to get more employees involved with that type of work and also develop leadership.”

Employee Engagement and Impact
Diagram courtesy of the Taproot Foundation

Following the example set above by U.S. Bank, providing resources and some support to causes outside of the CSR policy (such as ‘Dollars for Doers’ or VTO) can demonstrate to employees that you recognize and value the causes important to them, and you can still tie your efforts back to your core strategy.

You can also offer recognition to employees who volunteer and contribute to their own causes, perhaps in the form of a quarterly prize drawing or an honorable mention. And, you can draft a set of internal communications and social media guidelines to help employees spread the word about their work.

In summary, the potential impact of a streamlined program is much larger than that of individual employee’s volunteering for different causes. As we’ve seen from U.S. Bank’s example, putting a strategy in place, along with clear guidelines that explain what your CSR policy is and what causes you stand for, can help employees understand the need for structure and framework and why you can’t always champion an individual cause.

Learn how the VolunteerMatch network can power your company’s volunteer program.


2 thoughts on “Balancing Employee Passions with a Central CSR Strategy”

  • 1
    Matt on September 11, 2017

    Hey all,

    Great piece, but the “Learn how the VolunteerMatch network can power your company’s volunteer program” link is broken!

  • 2
    Tessa Srebro on September 11, 2017

    Thanks for pointing that out! The link is now fixed.

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