What are the stages of corporate citizenship?Building nations through social impact

In today's video, we discuss the stages of corporate citizenship, how it has evolved over the past year and how practitioners can create more meaningful programs for their companies. We also explore employee expectations from their social impact programs, what makes these program difficult to implement and why social impact practitioners should consider themselves nation builders.

This is Part 2 of our series on Corporate Citizenship. Watch or Listen to Part 1: 

Difference between Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Social Responsibility: Trends for 2022 and beyond

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What we discussed:

Karl Yeh:

So today, we have two special guests. The first one, you already know, Janelle St. Omer who's the Regional Vice President at Benevity. And our other guest is Chris Jarvis, who is the Co-founder of Realized Worth..

Janelle St. Omer:

Thank you for having me today, Karl, and hello everybody. I am thrilled to be back again with Chris Jarvis to speak on corporate citizenship and all the things [00:01:00] that we've seen change over the last year.

I think, Chris, you can agree like most practitioners, the last year has really been an interesting time in terms of our work as CSR or corporate citizenship practitioners, whatever you call yourself. It's been an interesting time for all of us, so let's dig right into the conversation.

Chris Jarvis: All right.

Janelle St. Omer:

So Chris, I think the first thing, we'd love to hear from you your perspective, how has corporate citizenship changed over the last, I would say, 18 months?

How has corporate citizenship changed over the past year?

Chris Jarvis:

[00:01:30] We did some work at first, a couple of companies who we're working with, they wanted to sort of understand how other companies may have been shifting the dollars.

And you, Benevity, also did an excellent report and it was amazing to see the top 10 funding organizations. Some of them shifted around, right?

Like St. Jude's I think dropped from number two to number 10 or something.

So they stay in the top 10, but what came up from out of nowhere, NCAAP and some Black Lives [00:02:00] movement work and rightfully so, as well as pandemic oriented or health oriented stuff.

That was for us, when we were looking at companies, that was the biggest shift. And what was also interesting is how companies were sort of influencing that shift.

So if companies were signaling, these were the most important things, and these are legit organizations that we are funding as a company, we saw employee dollars, follow that.

In the moment of crisis when I need a little bit of good framing to understand [00:02:30] what's going on and makes sense of it since making, that signal from the employer was very influential.

Janelle St. Omer:

Absolutely. I would agree with you.

I think we obviously saw it in some of our data and more conversations that I have with practitioners. There is an entirely different orientation it feels like 18 months later.

One around how companies fund organizations from that community investment or grants perspective, more openness to partner, [00:03:00] perhaps less hoops for a nonprofit to jump through.

I think more of the concept of kind of trust-based philanthropy.

We certainly saw a lot of companies shift their definition of volunteering to acts of kindness or expand or definition rather as well.

In addition to, as you said, some of the giving trends were really different over the last year with education, social justice causes, and long-term sort of humanitarian crisis organizations as it relates to COVID. So [00:03:30] we're certainly seeing it as well.

And I think that one of the big questions that a lot of folks have is, is this going to continue?

Or do you think we're going to go back to where we were March the 10th, 2020, prior, to our world changing? What are your thoughts on that?



Will the changes in the past year remain or revert back?

Chris Jarvis:

Yeah, we're going back.

Yeah. I mean we have the civil rights movement, everyone went back, I mean, we were going back.

Part of it is a fairly [00:04:00] colonial manifest destiny mixed up with charity philanthropy approach to giving that's in all of our systems more than anything.

Did you see the movie on Netflix Coded Bias?

Janelle St. Omer: I did not, no.

Chris Jarvis:

Oh my gosh, this black woman she's sitting there and she's realizing the face recognition isn't working.

She puts on a white mask. It recognizes the face.

It can see the face, but it couldn't see her face.

So this is how the [00:04:30] documentary kicks off.

Anyways. Apparently we are putting all of our bias right into the AI and machine learning and it's reproducing.

And that got me to thinking, I'd be interested to know what you think, how companies and solution platforms, structure giving is incredibly influential.

And I'm wondering if inadvertently that the [00:05:00] thing with hidden bias is you can't see it and you don't know you're doing it.

Does the business and giving software platforms influence who receives money?

So everybody gets let off the hook if you're doing it and you can't see it, but it doesn't let us off the hook from asking an important question.

  • Am I influencing?
  • Who gets money and who doesn't for my company of a 100,000 people?
  • Am I single handedly in the how I'm building this program and structuring messages and buttons?

Have I really thought through the way I'm framing the message so that I'm not as an employer [00:05:30] signaling to you before now, the NCAAP they're way down here, they're harder to find they're at the bottom of the list.

We don't think it's that important.

So maybe you shouldn't either.

Nobody would say that, right, but inadvertently-

Janelle St. Omer:

But it's absolutely happening.

Even if you think of the way that companies will sometimes structure communications for a certain campaign or within technology.

And these are all tech solutions out there, you have something that's [00:06:00] right there at the forefront of your carousel, as an example.

That is you putting something at the forefront of your employee's attention to hopefully grab that attention.

So with whatever biases the practitioners may or may not have, or how they've selected those organizations or the messaging that they're communicating around the organizations for giving volunteering or otherwise, if they're encouraging employees to support, there is inherent bias that's built into that.

And I mean, companies, I think historically have argued the fact that, well we need [00:06:30] to support organizations that align to the bottom line of our business, but do you?

I mean, that's a question that I've always asked.

Yes. It makes sense if you're a bank that you do financial literacy programming, but I've often spoken to two folks about, well, a big part of what your corporate story could be is we intentionally empower and get behind the choices of our people.

And that is a core pillar of our program. In addition to financial literacy, as an example.

Chris Jarvis:

And then the hard work it comes from [00:07:00] how inclusive are we in onboarding non-profits to be found?

Are we just bringing the regulars that everybody knows?

Are we going out to those other ones doing really meaningful work?

Are we being an inclusive partner kind of thing? That's a ton.

When you think about it is like a few 1,000 people in the country influencing to a significant level. I know corporate funding is only what?

Do you know what it is? 5%, 10% of total giving in the United States?

Janelle St. Omer:

I believe [00:07:30] it's 10%. I can't remember it off the top of my head.

Chris Jarvis:

Okay. But still, that's a lot of, a lot of money that a small group of people are deciding who gets to deal with these issues in their community and who's dealing with other issues.

But again, Benevity has done a great job.

I remember back in the day, Brian it's choice, choice, choice and remember I was like, eh, I don't know if I want choice, choice, choice.

That sounds like a lot of work and people are crazy and they're going to give the weird things.

But relentlessly [00:08:00] with great temerity and tenacity, Benevity moved forward. And now that's the standard choice, choice choice.

But still in that, you still have to curate it in a way that people can find that at 1.9 million nonprofits.

Janelle St. Omer:

You do.

But I think that it also comes down to a few other things.

Education on community needs before taking a giving action

So I think in some cases it is how you are educating your employees as well, or encouraging them to take them on an experiential journey of learning.

And then specific call to action. [00:08:30] Sometimes there's only the call to action.

Here's a campaign, make a donation, go out and volunteer.

What about the learning of the needs in your community first and foremost, so that when something is presented to you in terms of this plucker of choices, you can actually make an educated decision as to how you spend your dollars or your time.

Chris Jarvis:


Yes, you should be saying that everywhere.

Everybody should be saying that.

We about experiential first learning, which means you have to have the experience in order to create [00:09:00] the curiosity to really receive the information, which is exactly what you just talked about.

Janelle St. Omer:

Yeah, it's really important.

I think that oftentimes UX people will think about the journey of the end user in terms of using a technology, but other people, including CSR practitioners, we're designing experiences for our people.

So how are we thinking through how we're designing those experiences?

So how are we bringing them to the place where they are then going to make a decision to participate in a campaign or [00:09:30] not?

How are we exposing them to the service recipients at an organization or the people who work at the organization or the realities of the challenges that exist in a particular area right down the street from your office?

What are we doing to essentially make it real for individuals to actually understand the part that they can play in this broader sort of ecosystem of social issues that exist around us?


Corporate citizenship professionals: How do we create experiences for more impactful engagement?

Chris Jarvis:


And if you understood that, [00:10:00] if you took that perspective and you thought about the part of the company that makes widgets and money, and then you thought about what you do.

Being a Nation Builder

You are creating experiences like you just said, where people can get informed, not telling them what to do, not telling them what to think, but get that experience, get the information, make some choices about where they sit with it, but you're defining a nation.

Everybody else in your business is making stuff and selling stuff, which is really important [00:10:30] for your business to stay going.

You are a nation builder.

It's not just finding a park to pick up some garbage at, everything that we do in this corporate citizenship space with giving and volunteering.

We need to be thinking hundreds and hundreds of years into the future and nation builders. You are giving experiences to people where they can become the best version of themselves and live into it, and then give that to their family and friends and spread it across the country.


And usually tell me if I'm wrong Janelle, but typically CSR practitioners, corporate citizenship practitioners kind of feel like they have to fight for the right to be there to justify their existence, because it's about widgets and making money.

But the bigness of their role. I mean, if we really, that's a heavy thing to carry, that's a big responsibility,

Janelle St. Omer:

But the moment that we're in right now, I think is the moment that CSR practitioners need to be [00:11:30] blowing it out, never before have we been invited to the table to weigh in on as many things as we're being invited for right now?

So I think that the tide has been shifting with Larry Fink and so the tide has been shifting for a while in terms of moving from a nice habit to a strategic business imperative.

So I feel like we're all kind of there, but it's the, okay, now that we're there, how does it actually show up?

And I feel like over the last 18 months, how it shows up is what's [00:12:00] really changing and to your point, and I absolutely love the points around being nation builders.

That is oftentimes what drives corporate citizenship practitioners.

The fact that they realize that they can harness their employees' enthusiasm and passions and interests and turn them into an agent of change.

When I was a fundraiser.

And even when I was on the corporate side myself, my mindset was always, I didn't necessarily care exactly what an employee was going to do.

I just wanted to make sure that I gave them all of the possible [00:12:30] information that they could need to make that decision as to whether or not to give or to volunteer.

So even if they left the company that I was supporting from a fundraising standpoint, they would hopefully be a donor at the other company, or if they left my company that I was working with, when I was doing employee engagement, then they would be a volunteer at the next company that they went to.


Because something inside of them had been activated to understand the importance of corporate citizenship, standing up, making a difference.

And it had nothing to do with the [00:13:00] bells and whistles of the actual program that I was offering at the time.

Chris Jarvis:

Yeah because they've internalized all the intrinsic motivation.

It's that kind of coming together of who I am with this thing, it's my identity. Yeah. I don't need a hat at that point.

Janelle St. Omer:


So to that point, Chris, what do you think about every corporate citizenship practitioner really needs to be thinking about right now?

We're halfway through 2021, which is insane to me. [00:13:30]

So as we think about the rest of the year, we even think about we're in 2021, we're tracking towards 2030 and the SDGs, which I know you were a big part of impact, 2030, what should practitioners be thinking about?

What should every social impact professional should be thinking right now?

Chris Jarvis:

Probably what we have been thinking about in the past, except now I think there's a big light on it.

And maybe like you said, a few minutes ago, a lot of opportunity to come to the table and to show up, right, this is the moment or a moment.

There'll be other moments, but this is [00:14:00] your moment for the time that you're going to have the role.

And it is if your CSR corporate citizenship program is fairly early on, like, it's mostly about, paperwork, counting hours, collecting data, but you're not proactively creating space to take that next step.

How do we move from collecting data and talking about what we do to actually proactively creating space, to have that experience in the beginning, to learn for those individuals and that's important.

And you mentioned Larry Fink a few minutes ago, it's important when we start to stand up and talk like that, that we can look behind us and everybody who's standing behind us go, well, I know what he's talking about because that's what I think too [00:14:30].

And I think I live it right?

I wonder in some of these companies, if after making a big statement, you look behind them.

People are like yeah, we make widgets and we sell money, dude.

I don't know what this is about, but it's a great marketing angle.

That is not what you want happening from behind you. [00:15:00]

So you have to give everybody an opportunity to get in on your language by having experience so that they can internalize it and find their own words for what you're saying.

And if we're not doing that work, you come across like a performative ally a little bit, right?

Like our brand says, we think there should be more equity in the community and in the world, but we're not changing our pay bands or pay structures.

This again is the hard work of going back and doing the internal [00:15:30] work.

But that's my hard work too.

It's 52 year old, white male.

It's like an awful, awful process to dig around in all of the junk that I have going on inside of me.

But I can't do this if I'm not willing to do that.

And companies can't do this, if they're not willing to do that as well.

So I think that's a big consideration when we're thinking about this journey, but if you can move from that, we're collecting data and talking about what we do too.

We're proactively creating space for people to have these experiences so that [00:16:00] the people behind me are saying what I'm saying, have their own words for it.

You can begin to go to the next phase, which would be in citizenship, which would be one that you were talking about, which is a very engaged, integrated.

Now we're kind of doing this in the warp and woof of it is, is a connected.

It's like moving from the bean which you can pick to a bag of beans in the grocery store, which has more value to making a cup of coffee at the [00:16:30] corner store on the way to work, which has more value too. Starbucks, which is an experience, right?

So when I talked about engagement, we're talking about now, we're not just thinking of giving, serving you coffee, giving you an opportunity to go out in the community and do a program, giving you an experience where you're on a journey of understanding.

And self-revelation the internal work, which allows me to move past performative ally to true ally.

That's where you're going.

You can't skip one of these stages.

You kind of have to move through them, but you're going pass program [00:17:00] to something that feels a lot more like belonging.

And then ultimately you want to get up into transformative stage for corporate citizenship, where our people are the product and at that true state, you're at that nation building we're great kind of space.

I don't know if anybody can really stay there forever, but I see that.

So the answer to your question, what would I say to people looking at the future, the era of service around corporate citizenship, we're [00:17:30] all moving past that.

You got to catch up.

Don't feel bad if that's where you're entering, but you got to get there because we're all moving to experience from there, we're actually going to get serious.

But at this transformative approach to community investment, where we're all changed by it, and we passed the new normal onto the future generation.

Karl Yeh:

From your research, what do you think today employees are expecting from their programs though?

What are employees expecting from their social impact programs?

Chris Jarvis:

Depends on who you're talking about.

That's a good question. If you're talking about people, most of us don't formally volunteer.

So if you [00:18:00] take acts of kindness out and you think about a formal directed, structured experience, the data says, one out of five American adults do that, for example.

I know there's a bunch of different data sets in Canada, but having worked in nonprofit sector, we're not overrun with volunteers in Canada either.

Employee Engagement Stage One: Looking for a new experience they can enjoy

So if you've never volunteered, you're looking for good time.

I just want to go out and I want to see what the scenes like.

I want to have a good time, I want to meet some people, I want to have some fun, [00:18:30] I'm want to feel good.

Give people in that first stage, a great experience.

Give them an opportunity to fall in love with this new idea of volunteering.

Because most of us we know about it, we've heard the word.

We're not morons, but we've never actually gone and tried it.

Have a good experience and then an invitation to come back.

Employee Engagement Stage Two: Taking on an identity through their activities

Now, if you're talking about people who are volunteering multiple times, three, four times a year, and they maybe are about 50 to 100 hours, that group needs a chance to be developed.

They're getting emotionally engaged [00:19:00] to Janelle's point earlier, they've moved from an extrinsic to intrinsic motivation and now they need to be developed opportunities to lead opportunities, to step out, to define themself in the doing of the thing.

That's really important in terms of identity shaping.

They are taking on an identity in that second stage.

Employee Engagement Stage Three: Inviting others to find their identity

The third stage, they're now inviting other people to find their identity there in that third guide stage.

And that's a small group of people.

But [00:19:30] I would say if you're talking to those second stage people, they need an entirely different message than come on out. It's going to be a lot of fun.

They're like, yeah I have serious work to do, man. It does sound like fun and maybe I'll come.

But this is me. It's about expressing myself.

So you have to meet people at their highest level of contribution.

Janelle St. Omer:

I think that's such an important point, meeting them at their highest level of contribution.

We tend at Benevity to talk about people along the spectrum.

The reality, there's not a one size fits all model.

So I [00:20:00] mean, Chris, I love that you just said, where your employee kind of the dipping their toe into your mid-level employee who needs to be more developed even how you communicate about your program to those employees has to be different because you're trying to get to your communications to really resonate, to hopefully inspire some level of action, right?

But I don't necessarily think that all practitioners think about their employees in that segmented way, they tend to say, we're doing a campaign. This is what we need to put out.

What have your observations [00:20:30] been in that regard?

Do corporate citizenship practitioners create their programs in stages?

Chris Jarvis:

There are very small, small number of people who have the job in CSR, corporate citizenship related to the people part, not the environmental stuff.

Because I know there are programs and training for that and there has been for a little while now, but there are not many of us who are in this role because I went to university to get this role. It wasn't like a masters in corporate citizenship.

I don't even know if that exists.

Maybe it does, but you know what I mean? [00:21:00] Most of us came from communication or marketing, never sales, almost never sales.

Yeah. That's it. Communication or marketing.

So in that mindset, I think of the transaction.

I think the thing, the move the mark on from not to buy, see my pickles, whatever it may be and communication to be sticky.

And for it to be something you want to rent real estate in people's minds.

And you [00:21:30] know what I mean with the messaging? I'm saying this, all wrong, I'm sure all of your marketers and communication, people just hung up.

But what I am going to say is that mindset is exactly the wrong mindset.

A great communication, a great logo, a great billboard always helps, but it's authenticating the real message. It's not the real message.

That medium is not the message.

If it is, if a flat screen in your lobby is the message, [00:22:00] the medium is the message, then you've got a program you're back in that early stage, you're probably collecting data, maybe offering a service and you're announcing a service.

You want people who embody the message who live it out. You want that champion network to be a primary distribution.

And when they're standing in the lobby, talking to somebody about the event, that person could look over and see on authentication of what I'm saying, because the brand is saying, yes, what he's doing, that we authenticate [00:22:30] that.

But it is not the primary invitation.

And it will, it can never be for this kind of thing. But if you're selling pickles, maybe it'll work, but those are two different things.

This is about my identity the other one is. Well, I guess if I really like a pickle, it could be part of my identity.

Janelle St. Omer:

Perhaps. So why do you think that some companies are really missing the boat?

Is it because of know how? Is [00:23:00] it because of culture? Is it because of business orientation to the work?

What is so difficult about this piece would you say Chris?

What makes a modern social impact program difficult to implement?

Chris Jarvis:

Yeah, I think it goes back to the reason businesses were invented to the corporation back in the Roman empire. It's this is the entity that makes stuff and sell stuff. That's what it's for.

And now there's this citizenship piece in here because we're no longer in the feudal system or surfs or massive factories during the industrial revolution, the [00:23:30] whole workspaces evolved.

So the thing that we started way back when, where we could, use people like machines until we invented machines, that's kind of gone now.

But we still have the vestige of a model given to us that's really good at that and not really built to give away stuff, make the world better by, you know what I mean?

Even the whole competition do or die, make the most money [00:24:00] grow every year.

That whole structure isn't necessarily conducive to it. So I find that the business, the private enterprise system is always trying to get rid of the limb that doesn't think the graft on is.

Yeah that's what I would think. But this era now is maybe going to be reshaping the corporation in some fundamental systemic ways.

Janelle St. Omer:

[00:24:30] Yeah, I think so. I mean, I feel like, I know you said earlier that we're going back and I feel like we might go back to certain things, but I feel like certain things are going to remain. So the focus on mental health in the workplace-

Chris Jarvis:

Oh, your time meant when you said, are we at a new kind of plateau? How did you say that?

Just in case the listener is thinking, oh, what was this?

That sounds like they're having an argument. This sounds good.

Janelle St. Omer:

I asked if where we are [00:25:00] right now, the evolution that we've seen over the last year in our space, if you think they will remain.

And I think we're likely going to go back, maybe one thing.

So I agree with you to a certain extent. I also feel like there are elements in the company structured that have changed, and the changes will remain like a focus mental health, like a focus on belonging.

Even the fact of with all things being equal, consumer decisions, they're looking at [00:25:30] how a company perhaps aligns to their values.

Edelman Trust survey last year, looked at companies now as the most trusted institution.

Chris Jarvis: Yeah exactly that was crazy.

Janelle St. Omer:

I feel like there are some changes that will stay and hopefully what that then means for how practitioners feel about their ability to drive the work within their company.

I think that they'll hopefully feel a little bit more supported, I think.

Chris Jarvis: You know what I have to agree with you.

I would say I answered incorrectly. [00:26:00]

I think my initial point of view was how are as a civilization we've dealt with the power imbalances, especially as we think of a group of white individuals who used to own black individuals and the back and forth in this event, even though all over the past century.

But you've made some points that I would totally agree with. I think those structural systemic changes that we're bringing into the company now, I think you're right.

They will last because previous ones have lasted [00:26:30] it and definitely shaped us. So I would agree with that.

Janelle St. Omer:

Okay, cool. Great. Well, I think it'll be interesting to see, we'd love to have you back in the future to see at the end of 2021.

Chris Jarvis:

Wait it's not over, is it over?

Are you wrapping up right now? I feel like we're just getting good.

Janelle St. Omer:

I think we could talk for hours on end, but I guess actually, one final question I do have for you is, for a company who is either just getting started or a company who feels like they are on the cusp [00:27:00] of change, what recommendation do you have for that corporate citizenship practitioner who is holding up the sword?

They're fighting the good fight, what advice do you have for them?

Advice for corporate citizenship practitioners just starting their programs

Chris Jarvis:

Man. It's not only a good question, but I think the answer merits more consideration than I'm about to give it just because of the importance of the role of these individuals.

So maybe that's what I would say.

I would say the most important thing, the most important decision you can make in your role is to assume the true burden of the role.

[00:27:30] And if we are a nation builders, if that is the private sector with the influence with these large populations, with the ability to influence giving nationally by how we suggest things or what we say as a company, try on the full burden of it, go past an event, go past [00:28:00] the simple numbers.

You're never going to leave them, but you can move past them.

But at the same time, make sure that you have people in your community who can help you bear that burden because it's not your security alone, it's all of ours.

And you need to find your people to help you carry that burden.

As you carry their burden, it becomes lighter as well. But this is something that we're in together and just be open to how important is this role? Well, just ask yourself that question.

How important [00:28:30] is this role really?

Think way bigger, allow your mind to go way beyond what you've ever thought before.

Maybe what everybody else in the company has been suggesting or what your in-laws say when you go over to their place and they ask you what you do for a living and you say employee voluntary and they say, isn't volunteering free.

Why do people pay you for that? Forget all of that. Forget it. And imagine how big it is. Because it's bigger than we can imagine I think the role.

Janelle St. Omer:

I agree with you wholeheartedly, and I think just the last point [00:29:00] around nation builders.

In the last year have been having so many conversations about DE&I and the workplace and the ability to transform outside of the workplace because we are all people who exist in the world.

So if we are educated within our workplace around some of these most pressing social justice issues, we're then having different conversations with our family and our friends around the dinner table.

But to your point, even if I go out and have a really fantastic volunteer experience and I'm like, wow, [00:29:30] there here is something that I can make a difference on.

I should tell my family and friends.

Then we are, to your point, there's the ability of the internal becoming the external and really driving to your point this building of a nation, these nation builders who can actually transform our world.

So I think that's a great note to end our conversation on Chris.

Chris Jarvis: Very well said. Thank you, Janelle. Thanks for having me.

Janelle St. Omer: Thank you for being here.

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