Leveraging the Power of Colleague Engagement

Whether you work for a small business or a Fortune 500 corporation, your company is likely to leverage feedback from employees in order to grow and succeed. When launching new products, good companies engage their employees early in the development and work hard at communicating the rollout to all its employees. If an employee has a good idea for improving customer service, an effective business will listen and act. When a company wants to enhance employee retention, it relies on employee feedback and takes steps to make the business an even better place to work. While this concept of engaging employees has become standard procedure across many business lines of today’s successful companies, its value is still overlooked in an area where it can be just as useful and beneficial – corporate giving.

Recent employee surveys relating to corporate giving and building recognition programs for employees’ philanthropic efforts have confirmed for Citizens Financial Group that engaging colleagues in corporate giving efforts delivers tremendous benefits to the company and its colleagues. Those benefits include contributing to a loyal and happy work force, recognizing the role of colleagues in CFG’s donation of 1% of pre-tax earnings each year to charities, and ensuring colleague participation in the direction of corporate-giving dollars.

Citizens was pleasantly surprised at the high participation rate of colleagues who responded to a recent online survey on volunteer efforts. While 40% participation in online surveys is the national average, more than 75% of CFG colleagues responded to the company’s survey on volunteerism, reinforcing the notion that employees want to be heard on corporate-giving matters. Respondents reported volunteering more than 335,000 hours in 2006, a number that is equivalent to donating more than $6 million based on the hourly wage for volunteering by the Independent Sector. Tracking volunteer hours not only helps quantify your company’s total giving, it also helps value employees’ individual efforts.

Another 2007 survey asked each CFG employee to take a minute and mark his or her primary area of giving interest – youth, arts and culture, environment, social services, and education. More than 10,000 colleagues responded and an overwhelming 60% said their first choice for directing CFG’s corporate dollars is the area of youth support. Surveying employees is a good first step toward achieving colleague engagement in corporate giving.

Understanding the results and taking action must follow to be fully successful. When CFG heard about the great importance its colleagues placed on supporting local youth, it communicated to colleagues that it now directs 20% of its annual giving to youth programming and will increase funding in this area throughout 2008. To further support volunteerism efforts, CFG enhanced its “Colleagues in Action” volunteer program and presented employees annually with Be Inspired Awards when they perform exemplary service to the community. In addition to this recognition, CFG provides $2,500 to the non-profits of each Be Inspired Award winner’s choosing.

These are just a couple of examples. Each work force is different and each of the communities where we do business is different. It makes good sense to use your colleagues’ feedback to better meet the needs of your communities and the interests of your colleagues. 

A deep commitment to giving back to the community can profoundly enhance your company’s brand. We’ve found this to be true at Citizens, where we have grown from being ranked as one of the top 10 banks in Rhode Island in the late 1980s to one of the 10 largest commercial bank holding companies in the United States today, constantly entering new communities, states and regions along the way. Critical to our success has been our ability to meet the specialized needs of the local communities where we do business and expand charitable giving with our growth.

Basing corporate giving on a percentage of profits each year instead of annually budgeting an arbitrary amount for charity has allowed us to increase philanthropic dollars by 500% in the last six years. Employee engagement in corporate-giving efforts continues to be invaluable. 

Your colleagues’ engagement in corporate giving will deliver similar results for your company. The strengths of our businesses are tied directly to the successes of the communities we serve. Employees are often our eyes and ears for identifying a need in the community.

When a local youth center needs renovation in order to continue operation, a local bank teller may be the first to hear about the opportunity to support the capital campaign. If Habitat for Humanity is building a home in a neighborhood, a regional manager has the resources and the drive to organize a team of volunteers. If a homeless shelter needs assistance with paying this winter’s heating bills, a local branch manager will be empowered to act and help identify a solution. CFG owes many of these everyday acts, which benefit all of us, to the power of colleague engagement.

This article was written by Blake Jordan who is senior vice president and director of corporate giving at Citizens Financial Group, Inc. This piece is currently featured in PR News 2008 Guide to Best Practices in Corporate Social Responsibilty, Volume 2. To order a copy or get more information, please visit http://www.prnewsonline.com/store/9.html