CSRinsights: Creating Incentives that Drive Engagement

Perhaps employees don’t say this out loud, but it’s often a question that comes to mind:  Why should I get involved in CSR programs?  Most employees already work 40 hours a week, so devoting a hour of volunteering is just as valuable as donating $100 (both being as equally challenging  to extract).  But we know an inherent ‘generous’ attitude exists for us as human beings, so how can we stimulate this generosity?  


This edition of CSRinsights passes along some best practices and insights on how to incentivize employees to join your corporate social responsibility programs and initiatives, which ultimately drive engagement and the bottom business line.  

1. Make Your Programs Viral

There’s a reason why employees may not be participating…they don’t understand how to!  Frequently, employees aren’t even aware of programs taking place, leaving them confused and/or absent from volunteer and giving programs.

Therefore, the crucial first step (communication) should start at the top and ripple towards the bottom, with peer to peer encouragement happening in between.  You should yearn to make your programs viral with three simple communication methods in mind: Make it Simple, Make it Good and Make it Matter.


Make your programs viral and something worth talking about.  If you think you’ve communicated your programs, communicate some more!  Senior executives  can outreach to middle management about employee volunteering and giving programs, which encourages middle management to educate employees.  This initial top to bottom communication tactic eases employees  to become knowledgeable in programs, increases viral peer-to-peer discussion and creates social incentives to donate something, do something or volunteer for the first time.   

For those who do not participate, more than three-quarterssay that understanding the program and how it works would motivate them to participate, according to LBG Associates and LBG Research Institute, a community involvement research firm and publisher of “Motivating Volunteering in Tough Times,” 2009.

2. Create Program ‘Cheerleaders’ that offer Spirit and Support

Wouldn’t it be great if you had internal ‘cheerleaders’ to incentivize and motivate other employees to participate?  As talked about earlier, they could increase viral communication about programs by enthusiastically talking about the latest volunteer project or fundraising venture.

Though we refer to the word “cheerleader” because we think it serves better metaphorically, these program leaders are better known as “Champions” throughout corporations  because they do so much more than spread do-good energy that motivates others.  They, literally, serve as  program resources that can answer peers’ questions and concerns, as well as, provide any additional training for internal CSR programs and/or tools.

For example, Dell builds a strong 400+ team of engaged Champions who serve as the programs viral leaders.  Those leaders spearhead group challenges, create global volunteer recognition programs and utilize messaging tools to entice employees to become more engaged.


In addition, Cummins Inc. utilizes Community Needs Assessment Leaders to evaluate the possible intersections of skills that can be offered relative to the specific needs of a community.  They assign leaders (volunteers) across the globe to assess the community needs and design proactive, specific programs for that area to carry out Cummins community involvement initiatives.

3. Match and Multiply the Impact

Matching gift programs may be one of the most well-known ways to incentivize employees, so we won’t talk too much about it. If you currently have a matching program in place, you know it’s a sure way to attract and engage employees because their donation will immediately multiply its impact.  But we have some refresh tips for you as well,  so don’t skim just yet.

Year-round matching, workplace giving campaigns and disaster relief matching programs are a few matching tools to incentivize employees to give monetarily, especially if volunteering time is tough to fit in schedules.   If your matching programs are a bit dated, try amending matching eligibility requirements to part time and retiree employees; use communication tools to raise alertness and support; and expand matching to payroll deduction and mobile to increase giving/matching contributions year-round.  

On the rise, disaster relief matching programs have played a major role in donations from employees in recent past years, increasing from 1% in 2009 to 7% in 2010, according to CECP “Giving in Numbers 2011.


4. Leave the Door Wide-Open for Volunteering

Gateway , by definition, is a means of entry or access.  Therefore, Gateway Volunteering is a tactic by which you can create a company-wide single day, week or month(s) event dedicated to making volunteering accessible to all employees – old and new.  Gateway Volunteering acts as an open door that recruits first-time volunteers to engage in a new experience with ease and allows for experienced volunteers to stay involved and engaged due to the company’s culture.

To exemplify, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) dedicates the whole month of October to global volunteering.  In 2010, they hosted their first annual global volunteer month.  As a result, a thirty percent increase from 2009 inspired employees to volunteer in fifteen AMD sites. 

21% of employees stated that they would not be a volunteer if it weren’t for their employer’s encouragement, according to Society for Human Resource Management. 75% of employees want to get involved in their company’s cause-related efforts through company-sponsored volunteer days, according to Cone’s “2010 Cause Evolution Study.”   

5. Tap into Creative Competitions and Gamification

Most individuals possess a natural competitive drive within them.  Definitely, as CSR leaders, we should tap into that.  Companies must make engagement into a fun challenge, using game-based schemes (gamification) to increase donations and enhance commitment to a cause while also making participating interactive and rewarding.  A high-fan fare campaign, challenge or contest can help build a volunteer-friendly workplace culture, according to BCC “Mapping Success in Employee Volunteering.”  

Establishing  a contest increases engagement because an individual gain of satisfaction and/or motivation occurs when an employee compares their performance to others.  Take, for example, the following volunteering competition:  a one-time challenge where different business units compete and volunteer 25 hours in a certain amount of time to receive a $1,000 grant donation to the non-profit of their choice.  It uses gamification to rally up awareness, interest, competition and engagement.   

Gamificationdrives engagement and enables people to view and compare their  real-time standing with peers.  This influences their peers and/or gets them to consider donating something, doing something or going somewhere for the first time, according to JWT “Social Good Trend Report.”  

6. Dollars-for-Doers, With No Time to “Do”

Dollars-for-Doers, the act of a corporation giving to nonprofits in recognition of employee-volunteer service, is the most frequent employee-volunteer program used by companies this year, according to CECP “Giving in Numbers 2011.” 


The program may seem as if it does not increase employee engagement or popularity amongst employees due to a low median percentage of employees participating (7%).  However, there was an increase from 2010 when the median percentage of employees participating was just at 3% (CECP “Giving in Numbers 2011”). 


Dollars-for-Doers should not be criticized as an employee-volunteer program incapable of working, for there is another reason why employees do not volunteer — lack of time.  Seventy percent reported they do not have enough time to volunteer (2011 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey). 


Since, the minimum threshold to be eligible for Dollars-for-Doers is usually 40-50 volunteer hours a year, we propose creating a lower threshold of eligibility hours.  As noted, not all employees have the extra amount of time to volunteer.  Thus, decreasing the threshold for Dollars-for-Doers motivates and enables more employees to volunteer in their local communities. 


7. Volunteering on the Clock

You’ve seen the dismay of working 40+ hours a week and then packing on more hours of volunteering.  But what if you made volunteering part of the work day?  Paid time off provides employees an incentive to receive a day off from a regular day-to-day work schedule and help a cause they care about.  

Most CSR leaders feel like they might have a hard time selling this one, but if you look at the numbers, it’s an increasingly popular initiative program.  By managing a maximum or minimum threshold of volunteer hours and putting in place parameters, paid-time off volunteering is not so off-the-wall thinking anymore.  In fact, the program is quite successful , allowing for a new influx of employees (especially those that lack the time) to join the CSR initiatives.  Not to mention, there are plenty of business perks to gain from volunteering with coworkers, including the harnessing of communication skills, leadership and teamwork.

59% of companies offer a formal paid-release-time program, according to CECP “Giving in Numbers 2011.

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