This year’s 18th annual Charities@Work Summit examined changes around corporate social responsibility in the workplace and how companies are optimizing employee engagement to increase social impact.  The preconference and full-day summit were packed with panels of seasoned professionals, questions from attendees and engaging networking receptions. Here are a few of the CSR strategies addressed by our corporate partners during the summit.

Day 1: Problem solving and applicable solutions

As the preconference commenced, emerging leaders met to discuss what it takes to succeed, while getting advice and connecting with professionals in the industry. The panel started the conversation by giving the group insight into what has changed since the beginning of their careers in CSR and employee engagement. These experts revealed what they wish they had known when they started, including managing personal brands, getting buy-in from both leadership and colleagues, choosing a nonprofit partner and dealing with outcomes.

Adjacent to the emerging leaders’ discussion, other professionals gathered to do a Shark Tank-style session in which the attendees brainstormed solutions to some of the largest problems facing professionals in CSR today.

Some of the challenges included:

  • Connecting employees with company-chosen initiatives.
  • Applying programs at both physical and remote offices.
  • Defining and tracking the success of a CSR program.
  • Deciding whether employees should take the wheel and choose their own paths of volunteerism and engagement.

The proposed solutions brought together the experience of professionals in the room as they shared resources, challenges and successes. While the group didn’t solve all of the challenges, participants brought forth innovative ideas, discussed opportunities to co-create and challenged the status quo.

Day 2: Optimizing employee engagement to increase social impact

Employee engagement and CSR have evolved through the years, and in today’s landscape, conversation at the conference focused on the bottom line of social impact and business alignment. Leaders struggle to make the business case for program investment, and it has become more difficult to recruit and engage employees through an annual volunteer day. Each session of Charities@Work offered attendees actionable takeaways to implement successful social impact strategies.

Here are some spotlights:

  • Kevin Martinez from ESPN gave Charities@Work attendees best practices on how to make that change in your workplace. ESPN’s philanthropic strategy is to decrease the growing number of kids who are dropping out of sports. It is driven by committing to real challenges, integrating across the system and creating new value through storytelling. He stressed that, while it is important to know your competitor and how they operate, putting competition aside to collaborate is what it takes to actually move mountains. Kevin made the case that, if you want real change and improvement, leaders have to distribute their power of control and vision for social good. 
  • Marriott is ahead of the game when it comes to joining forces with their competitors to have a positive social impact. They successfully collaborated with their competitors in the tourism and travel industry to combat human trafficking through employee training. They found a topic their employees are passionate about and the bottom line is not the end goal. 
  • Tracey Burton of Target shared insight into how they’ve developed the best social impact strategy that aligns with her company’s business goals. Target’s strategy is to be intentional, especially when creating a companywide initiative. They produced “half-baked” strategies, then assigned roles and responsibilities to allow a space to co-create. Target knew there was importance in encouraging C-suite and senior level leaders to be present during the start of the conversation, which allowed for a collaborative effort in finding the philanthropic gaps. 

A common thread within all of the sessions was the use of employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are quickly rising to be a CSR professional’s best asset and strongest support system. They have been key to increasing participation, bringing in diverse ideas and ensuring inclusion, all while creating a safe and encouraging space for employees to thrive. They have been a catalyst in shaping what we think of CSR as today, and they are the future of the workplace. The concept of co-creation with employees and other partners thrives in this setting.

The effect of the Charities@Work summit is seen immediately through the connections made, ideas developed and the goals set for programs across the country. As for the future of employee engagement, the Charities@Work 2020 summit will continue to convene professionals in a space to co-create, challenge each other, and ultimately grow the impacts made by companies and their employees on our world.