Corporate Citizenship: How to go beyond employee engagement

In today's episode, we explore the current state of corporate citizenship and why just employee engagement may not be the best way businesses should be supporting non-profits and communities. We discuss the ROI of non-profits in a corporate partnership and non-financial resources companies can use to help their non-profit and cause partners.

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Rethinking Corporate Citizenship: Going beyond employee engagement

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become an integral part of how modern companies operate. But are Fortune 500 giants truly making the impact they claim?

CSR consultant Matt Gantz argues that despite increasing investment in CSR, many corporate citizenship initiatives remain superficial, prioritizing optics over outcomes.

Gantz acknowledges employee engagement serves an important purpose—retaining talent that cares about social impact.

However, he suggests companies should shift focus from “performative” efforts that boost PR to addressing nonprofits’ core needs.

The State of Corporate Citizenship

Currently, Gantz notes, corporate citizenship comprises “old” and “new” engagement models.

The old, episodic model involves activities like annual playground cleanups.

The new, skills-based model connects employee volunteers with nonprofits needing technical or strategic assistance.

Both approaches dedicate similar time investments.

But skills-based initiatives don’t always translate to implementation or lasting value, Gantz argues.

Some nonprofits feel overburdened managing well-intentioned but misaligned corporate volunteers.

That said, leading companies have pioneered more effective engagement programs. Google offers tiered volunteering options spanning site-based service, short-term projects, and six-month nonprofit sabbaticals.

Still, Gantz suggests Fortune 500s can do more to leverage their resources beyond employees.

Rethinking Authentic Partnerships

What does 21st century corporate citizenship look like?

First, companies should conduct needs assessments of current and prospective nonprofit partners. Understanding specific requirements will reveal new opportunities to assist with expertise, networks, or funding.

Approaches should align with a nonprofit's core goals, not just employee interests. As “new players” alongside traditional philanthropic institutions, corporations can address major funding gaps, Gantz says.

He advocates moving from output metrics like volunteer hours logged to outcome metrics like reduced attrition. This validates CSR as a talent investment.

But companies must also evaluate their community impact—an area ripe for innovation.

Bridging nonprofit needs with corporate resources

Where do gaps persist between corporate citizenship efforts and nonprofit realities?

Gantz argues episodic and skills-based volunteerism don’t address most core organizational needs. Fortune 500s in particular could offer so much more, from municipal connections to subject matter experts to flexible, unrestricted funding.

Consider the perspective of a nonprofit executive assessing a corporate partnership.

The opportunity costs of managing well-intentioned but misaligned volunteers may outweigh the benefits. And nominal grants tied to service hours often can’t be allocated efficiently.

Yet when aligned with their capabilities, companies can drive change on issues like environmental justice. Their political action committees (PACs) could advocate for candidates with bold climate platforms, for example.

Reimagining CSR 2.0

In closing, Gantz revisits the notion that employees are companies’ greatest asset. When it comes to serving communities, he disagrees. Cash and networks take partners much further.

Current CSR focuses first on workforce engagement to boost retention, recruitment, and reputation. But what if companies determined to drive social change commensurate with their influence? That’s the vision for CSR 2.0.

Rather than episodic volunteerism, it might involve lobbying local officials on a nonprofit’s behalf, funding program staff positions, or connecting partners to key decision makers.

The days of busing employees to paint park benches can produce great photo ops. But as societal challenges mount, companies must ask themselves: are we truly doing all we can?