Social Impact Program Strategy:
Identifying priorities and getting buy in 

In today's episode, we discuss how to focus your social impact program strategy, identifying key opportunities and how to get internal buy in from employees and leadership. We also explore when to change priorities and how to communicate that change. Finally, we walkthrough a worksheet on selling your social impact ideas and go through a client study on how this is done.

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What we discussed:

Karl Yeh:  

So in today's episode, I'm joined by Kerry Lawrence, [00:00:30] who is the Internal Client Consultant focused on social impact and corporate community investment with Benevity. Thank you very much, Kerry, for joining us.

Kerry Lawrence:            Thank you. That was a big mouthful, wasn't it?

Karl Yeh:                      

Yeah, it was.

So today we're talking about streamlining your focus because it's so easy, especially with social impact programs to get caught up in so many different things, especially the seasonality of it.

And so many causes and issues [00:01:00] around the world that, "Hey, let's set up a program for this. Hey, let's set up a program for this." But if you spread yourself too thin, it's definitely not going to be successful.

So I guess let's start it off with how do you identify those opportunities?

How to identify key social impact priorities and opportunities


Kerry Lawrence:           

Yeah. I love that we're talking about this.

I find this is one of the most topical conversation pieces right now is how do we take it from an everything focus to laser focus.

So [00:01:30] when you're trying to identify these key priorities and opportunities, there's one thing that we all need to do that nobody likes doing, nobody wants to invest their time in, but it's the most important.

And it's just two words, it's fact gathering. Okay.

So we need to do this first. You need to know, and I'm sure everyone here on this podcast knows what your company mission is, what your values are and what the community needs.

You will end up [00:02:00] balancing these out.

So as an example, with Benevity, our mission is catalyzing good in the world through great technology and great people.

We value we over me and impact accountability, innovation, obviously authenticity.

So our communities need technology skills and opportunities, employment, equity, and belonging. The community needs are huge.

You need to know like, "What do you know, what do you not know about what [00:02:30] the needs are and who do you know?"

And we're going to get right into this a little bit later.

So you need to know those three components about mission, values and community needs.

You also need to know what the social impact objectives are that have been identified by marketing.

Yes. They have the research.

They know the facts in the marketplace and where the needs are and what the social challenges are.

So talk to them, find out what they [00:03:00] need to prove. What are your social responsibility objectives?

If you're on a corporate social responsibility team or you're working, maybe you're leading them, maybe you have a team, what are your objectives?

What social metrics are being tracked by your environmental social governance team, otherwise known as ESG.

You may or may not have one.

I know there are a lot of clients that are trying to set this up, but the S in ESG, social, what are the metrics that your team is trying to track within that?

And are [00:03:30] there any other frameworks that you're using?

We're going to talk a lot about frameworks later and in another episode, I think we're going to be talking more about metrics, but you'll need to know what those facts are.

And then finally, and most importantly, what are your executive investor and board needs and requirements. I'm going to give you a use case in a moment to figure out how to analyze and organize those facts.

But right now, if you want to identify them, you need to understand all of what I just mentioned.

Karl Yeh:                      

So when we're talking about fact finding [00:04:00] and data gathering, how much do you include your team members and everybody else in the organization?

Which kind of leads me to the next question is how do you communicate these priorities and identify these opportunities?

Do you list these opportunities and then go back to the team?

Or is it more of a collaborative effort? And then you set the priorities with the team as a whole.

How to identify and communicate social impact priorities to your team


Kerry Lawrence:           

Great question. [00:04:30] It really depends on what resources you have.

I've worked with clients that it's just them trying to do all of this.

And then I've worked with clients that have a team of 100, rare.

And everyone here is probably like, "Oh my gosh, I wish I had 100 people on my team." But it's collaborative.

And I would like to say collaborative delegate, and it's baby steps.

You're not going to be able to find out all of these facts in the beginning, but presumably finding out your mission and your values is going to be easy. You'll have that.

Community needs is a bigger [00:05:00] project.

And for me, it might just start for yourself and what your relationships are like with those charities that you know very well.

You're going to know and have a good sense of what those needs are.

When it comes to working with other teams, I would absolutely delegate and start working with other people to figure out what that is.

And you don't have to overwhelm yourself with the facts.

You just need to know enough.

Finding out the executive investor and board needs is a little bit different, absolutely delegate and start looking for your internal relationships that will be able to help you understand [00:05:30] the core needs and requirements by them.

Karl Yeh:                      

So how do you go about assessing if you need to change these priorities or change the opportunities, because there may be some times when something shifts or there's something that happens, for example, the murder of George Floyd, where your program might need to pivot to focus on that specific issue that's happening around the world.

How do you go about in assessing that and then how do you communicate with the team members [00:06:00] that you're changing that focus?

How do you know when to change your social impact priorities?


Kerry Lawrence:           

Yeah. Great question.

I think George Floyd is a really good example.

That is something as a larger corporation, we all know it's generally like moving the Titanic when it comes to changing things like that.

But I think your marketing crisis communications team understand, is always aware of where those needs are and what's important to your customers.

What's important to your communities.

And if there's something is that important to your communities and customers, that's [00:06:30] something that hopefully can easily be changed with your employees.

Assess the interest and activity level of your employees


So one part of creating a bigger impact is looking at what you can leverage.

And one thing you can leverage is where your interest is with your employees.

And if your employees are super passionate, which they will be about helping this or doing something about this, that's where you would start to look at what they're volunteering with and what they can individually donate with.

And that might be something that is more of a sudden program, where [00:07:00] you can test it, get it set up so they can donate to something like that.

And not that I want to keep pitching Benevity, but the Spark program or product that we have will let you do that. And I'm sure there's other ways that you can do that too.

But that would be more of something that would be employee facing.

Now, if we're going to be talking about how to communicate with your team members on this shift and this changed in priority, this is something that I am super passionate about because it is so hard. [00:07:30] It's hard to communicate that change because everybody has their own agenda.

So if we look at this, the first thing I like to think about is who might be affected by this priority shift, who?

Whose acceptance, support or approval must be gained to give the new priorities a chance to be implemented successfully?

And then I would ask myself these two questions, "Who is this? Who do I need to sell this to?"

And I love the word sell, [00:08:00] and we'll talk about that in a second.

And secondly, "What are the benefits to them and what are the possible objections they might raise?"

So my rationale is obviously if you make a proposal which will benefit them and their organization or their team, like your company, basically, then it would be illogical to be against it.

So I think it's really important to know who, what's most important to them and how are they going to object?

And if you go in prepared and we're going to talk about a bit of a worksheet, [00:08:30] I'm going to go through that in a second with you, Karl is what would that look like?

And then we're going to put a link in later in the description so you can download that. I felt like you wanted to ask me something in there though.

Karl Yeh:                      

I did, because it kind of triggered something that let's say you have a program and you've got total buy-in and it's for a cause that the employees in general all agreed upon and very passionate about.

But let's take the example of [00:09:00] George Floyd. And let's say that happened. Do you shift the focus?

Do you say, "Hey, we want to hold this for now and we'll focus on this for however long we do it?"

Can you take me through how you would navigate that?

Especially if your team has picked a priority and they want to continue with that priority, but you know on a grander scale, this current issue would have greater impact.

How to account for unexpected priority shift


Kerry Lawrence:           

Yeah. [00:09:30] I would say in the beginning, baby steps.

It takes a long time to build a new strategy and to create a new program.

So with George Floyd, if all of a sudden Black lives, not all of a sudden, obviously, but if you're looking at trying to invest in something like that problem, and what's happening within the communities of United States and Canada and all over the world, I would look at the baby step of how can you [00:10:00] have your employees quickly and easily donate and, or volunteer?

What do they need to do? What tools can you give them right now to be able to take action? So that would be a baby step one for what can you do for them?

Meanwhile, I would take a step back, honestly, and look at the bigger picture. If we're looking at what is the real problem here within the [00:10:30] communities, then I would start to look at that as more of a, how can we help solve the bigger problem around this?

And then I would start to gather my facts around:

  • Who is out there?
  • What are they doing to help solve this problem?
  • What relationships do we have? What relationships do we need?

And then how do we go through the process of, do we want this to be an open program where people can apply for funding or do we want it to be private and just have these relationships [00:11:00] with our causes?

What resources do we have to be able to do this? What's our budget? And then start looking at the success of your other programs.

So as an example, it could be, like with one client and I will talk about this later a little bit is that they were always focused on lower economic neighborhoods and helping with house building.

Well, they're a telecommunications company and realize, although it was making an impact, it wasn't really aligned.

And it wasn't really helping them solve the bigger problem they knew they had in the [00:11:30] marketplace, which I will talk about in a little bit.

So they refocused and pivoted to digital education, which was a big problem with seniors. And so this took a year and a half to get off the ground.

It took a really long time, but in the meantime, they could easily get skills from their volunteers or from their employees to help with getting out there and start to volunteer in that area. And that was a very quick, easy win.

Karl Yeh:                       You were describing about working through a tool.

Selling your social impact ideas worksheet

Kerry Lawrence:           

Yes. This tool, [00:12:00] I love it. It's very simple.

We can all do it. We all love worksheets.

Some of us don't, but I love a good worksheet.


So this one has basically four questions, name your new priority focus.

So for example, I'm going to use this telecommunications company again.

You want to dial in on digital education for seniors.

So that's your new priority focus and you would list what the problem is, but that is your focus area, right? Who is the listener?

Who are you trying to sell this idea to? So it could be C-suite. [00:12:30] So I'm going to say, in this case, they are used to supporting housing in lower economic neighborhoods.

They have those relationships.

They're very proud of those relationships. So this is a big sell.

 What problem of the listener will this priority idea help them solve?

So for example, there's a gap in the market. We know seniors want to keep land lines and don't get how the new services work, or they don't know how to get the support for it. [00:13:00] Right?

Marketing have identified that as a problem or as a challenge.

Then the last question is, what specifically do you want the listener to do? What do you want them to do? Well, you want them to accept that supporting housing in lower economic areas is not helping with solving this particular gap, which is a need. Am I right?

So if you know the answers to those questions, then you're going to do a little bit of brainstorming and there's going to be four quadrants.

One, why should this new priority be implemented? List the benefits.

What is the evidence?

What are the facts surrounding [00:13:30] this?

What are the listeners' possible objections? And how might these concerns be overcome?

You are going to go in fully prepared, because we all know that we all have really great ideas that we want to pitch and sell.

And I get A plus for enthusiasm generally, but I will be super enthusiastic.

But then when it comes to answering all the objections, sometimes I don't have all my ducks in a row. And this is what is most important because they have what their need is and what their problems are.

And you need to be able to prove [00:14:00] through facts that you can solve.

Karl Yeh:                      

Is this something that you would maybe give to whoever you're presenting to, let's say to your leadership team, executive team, is this something that you pass around prior to that meeting to get them on board or something that you actually want to provide context and explain through?

Kerry Lawrence:           

I would provide context and explain through.

I think you just have to do this exercise.

So as we all know, when you know it, and then you say it out loud and then you do it again, you feel more comfortable talking [00:14:30] about it.

This is just something that's a conversation, but it could be an official proposal too.

I have clients have been working right now.

There's one in particular I'm thinking of that it's been two years of them gathering facts and trying to put this pitch together. And I am going to talk you through a client use case, which is my favorite one in a moment to tell you through how they did all of that.

But in this case, they came prepared with this.

They knew what these facts were so that they could pitch to the C-suite, which is what they did in the end.

Karl Yeh:                       Awesome. Well, when you [00:15:00] mentioned about a client case study, let's go right...

Client Case Study: Selling Social Impact Ideas

Kerry Lawrence:           

Yeah. Let's talk about this case study.

We're going to show something right now. So I'm going to walk you through this.

So this client, I'm a not going to give you their name.

I really want to, because I love the guy that facilitated the entire team through this. I just think he's amazing. But anyway, this client is a big bank in the US.

And so what they did was they realized that their focus areas were very general, as a lot of focus areas are.

There was education, STEM, [00:15:30] environment which is a very general focus area. For me, I like to think of focus areas as problems.

What are you trying to solve in the communities?

What problems are you trying to solve?

So this client went out, they obviously had a few more resources, but they gathered the facts.

They did all the work to figure out what the problems needed to be solved in the community, what their customers cared about, what their CEO, C-suite, cared about.

They gathered all these facts.

What were their values as a company?

What was their [00:16:00] mission as a company?

They put all these stuff together in one big, huge package.

Then what they did is they decided to split out the program that they wanted to develop, their community investment program, into 10 segments.

And this is what we're going to be looking at right now. They got a team of 100, that's right, 100 diverse stakeholders. So they pulled in volunteers who were employees, managers, higher level people.

They pulled in people [00:16:30] off the street, like their customers and they pulled in charities. So some of their charity relationships.

They pulled in all of these people, 100 and split them into teams of 10.

And I'm going to show you this in a second and you're going to all see this, everyone, and their 10 segments right now were number one, evaluating and how to decision on grants.

That was one.

An organizational chart.

So what does this whole program look like?

How might we align charitable personnel to support [00:17:00] the mission and vision of us? KPIs tracking and reporting was the third one.

Application process.

How do we make this more efficient and equitable?

Areas of focus.

How might we determine who our company gives to and why?

What's our budget strategy? What's our marketing and communication strategy?

Employee engagement and involvement

What does that mean?

Sponsorship strategy How are we going to do that?

And then lastly, [00:17:30] learning and collaboration.

And so with each of these teams, they gave them that, how might we question?

And then they told them what a successful outcome looked like for each one.

So if we talk about areas of focus, particularly their successful outcome was we will build a model that clearly frames the giving priorities of our company.

So what they did was they split it all out.

They had a, I think it was one month.

So a four-week process [00:18:00] where they talked them through what design thinking was, they gave them all the facts.

They told them what their question was they had to answer and what the successful outcome was through.

And they told them how to diverge and converge. And you're like, "What is that, Kerry?" It essentially means, how do you go all the way out and just put every idea in under the sun and then how you decided as a team to converge, to bring them into what is most important.

And then lastly, what they did is on the final day, they each had to create a three-minute presentation, [00:18:30] presenting their ideas and for what they felt like to the senior decision making team.

The senior decision making team gave feedback.

They tweaked, they then got approval, they created an action plan and they implemented it making sure that their software and what they were using made sense with what their plan was.

Honestly, I was blown away by this because talk about how to gain acceptance.

How do you gain acceptance for change in your priorities is that [00:19:00] you involved a really diverse skillset. You had the facts, you curated the priorities, you created the action plan, you got acceptance, and then you implemented.

It seems like a lot, but it really worked well. And they did it within four weeks. Shocking.

Karl Yeh:                      

Four weeks. That's pretty amazing. Especially all those, you said 100 diverse stakeholders? That's a lot to-

Kerry Lawrence:           

100. Yep. But it's because they had split them into 10 teams of 10 with a very specific [00:19:30] focus area.

And they all had access to the same facts. So it wasn't like they were guessing.

I swear, this is where it gets confusing, when you are guessing what the facts are, when you're making assumptions based on what you don't know.

You have to rely on and we're going to talk about this in another podcast in terms of metrics, but you have to know what the needs are in your community and what's most important to your stakeholders, what the objectives are for marketing?

You have to know [00:20:00] all those things to help you with this.

You've got to otherwise, what are you-

The audience will tell you what they want

Karl Yeh:                      

And I think that's something that even, for example, me going through marketing, there's a lot of times we make assumptions.

We think, "This is what this person or this group of audience or this segment believes," and then we start building our plans over that, our own perceptions of what they believe without actually going out and regularly communicating, engaging, and talking [00:20:30] with that audience because their perceptions of whether the program, the brand or whoever it is, could be very different than our perception of what their perception is.

And then we make that mistake and then we're left wondering, "How come this didn't work? How come this didn't resonate?"

They will literally tell you what works for them.

Kerry Lawrence:           

Yep. They will literally tell you.

And I think this is the part, [00:21:00] and I worked in marketing too for a very long time.

And I can tell you that the fact gathering part and knowing the needs in the marketplace, whether you're in marketing or whether you're developing a social impact program or a corporate community investment program, you have to know that.

And again, going back to this rationalization, no one could argue with that, if you know what that is, and you put it together in terms of how that will benefit your business and how [00:21:30] to answer their objections, basically.

You just have to organize yourself. That's all that it is.

Karl Yeh:                      

So, Kerry, do you have anything else to add in terms of streamlining or focusing your priorities with your social impact programs?

Kerry Lawrence:           

No. I think that everybody who's listening today knows what your priority should be.

You may not be able to articulate the problem you're trying to solve and be able to understand if you can measure it. But I think that would be one piece of advice, know how to articulate [00:22:00] the problem within your focus area.

Please, don't just say, "Our focus is STEM." What within it are you trying to solve? So I think that is very important.

And if you can articulate that and provide the evidence for it and you know how to gain acceptance, that's the biggest key, because I'm telling you, every single person I've talked to, they struggle with gaining acceptance from higher ups who are very [00:22:30] passionate about this and have their own ideas about STEM.

So, absolutely download that worksheet and give us feedback if you feel like you've got a better idea for getting acceptance and you know some great ideas, feel free to comment. We want to hear.

Question of the Day:

How does your company identify social impact priorities? How do you sell your ideas and get buy in from employees and the organization?