6 Trends Shaping Corporate Engagement Today

March 21, 2018 Jenny Lawson

Employee engagement efforts are one of the leading challenges and opportunities facing companies today. In our work to advance corporate social change leadership at Points of Light, we have the opportunity to listen to the ambitions and challenges of engagement leaders inside of companies. Each of them is trying to understand how to best serve their companies, their colleagues and their communities while staying at a comfortable lead ahead of others in the field or, at the very least, to keep up with new ideas.

Rachel Hutchisson, the Vice President of Corporate Philanthropy and Citizenship at Blackbaud and I recently had a conversation on this topic for their Champions for Social Good podcast. We started talking about how the field of corporate engagement has changed, and what trends are shaping the future of corporate social engagement. We discussed disaster response within a global company, the changing world of work and how it’s changing volunteering in the workplace, and how companies are expanding opportunities for customers and stakeholders to join their social cause support.

And like all good conversations, there was so much more to say than we had time for.

I encourage you to listen to the episode and read on to find out about three other trends shaping corporate engagement work:

The most important pro bono service for the decade ahead will be to bring the nonprofit sector along for the data revolution.

Business is the warehouse for technology talent and innovation. The nonprofit sector cannot and should not compete, but neither can it be left behind. We need to develop best practices and successful examples of how companies, of any size, can support the causes they already care about through the skills of the tech workforce. Members of Points of Light’s Corporate Service Council, like Blackbaud, are helping to grow this work. At UPS, drones are being used for delivery of medicines to remote clinics and being tested to explore disaster hit communities to improve rescue and response. IBM has a longstanding practice of building technologies to address nonprofit needs, offering pro bono consulting contracts in partnership with nonprofits. As the city of Houston responded to hurricane Harvey, even small collaboratives like Sketch City, jumped in to help, using their skills to develop a custom app to coordinate volunteers, nonprofits and resources. And we all witnessed the role that tech innovators like Tesla played in reconnecting Puerto Rico.

Data philanthropy stands to be the most transformational advancement in solving social problems.

Companies store data about our every move and use that knowledge to sell us products and services every day.  Imagine the possibilities for solving problems identified in community town halls all the way to the Sustainable Development Goals if data were directed at social solutions. It’s energizing to envision those same data sets helping us to understand how communities need and use support after a disaster, which investments are having the highest impact on social outcomes, how place-based efforts actually increase economic activity, which reduce health care expenditures or offer more diversity in food purchasing choices in low-income communities. But the biggest opportunity will also be the biggest threat. The nonprofit sector has neither the resources nor talents to engage, let alone capitalize, on the data opportunity. The average community nonprofit doesn’t have the capacity to even understand what data it might lend to these solutions or how to share, analyze and scale it. Social impact at the scale of our problems will depend on partnerships with the business community.

Businesses are increasingly embracing and finding social and business value in their role as social change partners and leaders – which is the next trend that’s changing the future relationship among business and employees, customers, and partners.

Just last month, a Harvard Business Review article by Aaron K. Chatterji and Michael W. Toffel , heralded the age of the CEO Activist. Leadership from the top is one of the key markers of strong community-minded companies that Points of Light measures in our annual Civic 50 survey. Using their voice and reach in communities around the country and around the world, companies are speaking out against anti-LGBTQ legislation, immigration policy and more. While big brands and their CEOs can deflect the heat, even smaller brands and privately held companies are finding and strengthening alignment with consumers and customers when they speak up. Driven by forward thinking companies, purpose connected employees and consumers this new clamor for a public stand will be a leadership role companies will continue to navigate.

For the social sector, these partnerships are different from the grantor/grantee relationship and call for fresh approaches to the roles and responsibilities of all parties as both work to share value and define clear standards for success.

Many thanks to our partners at Blackbaud, Edelman PR, Cone Communications and more for helping to shape these trends and inform the work of Points of Light.

What are you seeing in the sector?  I would love to hear from you at corporateinstitute@pointsoflight.org

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