The Marriage of Measurement and CSR Breeds Healthy Corporate Volunteers


As the child prodigy of communications that made headway in tying PR to sales, measurement is now invading a smaller subset of the profession - that is, CSR - and giving practitioners whole new reasons to commit to socially responsible strategies: They can be measured, for one, and the jury has concluded that they actually are successful. In this case, the jury has manifested itself in the form of the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College and two of its members from LBG Associates, Linda Gornitsky, president and founder, and Jared Skok, VP. In 2005, Skok authored Measuring Corporate Volunteerism, a study that provides companies with knowledge on measuring their volunteer programs' success and identifying the value of corporate volunteerism. From that study, Gornitsky extrapolated a model she believes can predict this success with a high degree of accuracy. The key, she says, is not assuming "success" is one-dimensional. "We found that the success of a corporate volunteer program cannot, and should not, be based solely on the level of employee participation," she says, "but rather on how well the program is managed against its goals and objectives." Gornitsky's measurement model is based on a regression analysis of the volunteer program's parameters (based on scores from employees, as well as quantitative numbers including level of participation, number of hours, etc.), which include: Staffing Levels Program Structures Budget Levels Employee Participation Senior Management Participation Training Work-Release Policies Providing Paid Time-off Recognition Internal Communications External Communications Measurement & Evaluation Through what amounts to some hardcore numbers crunching, the regression analysis then ranks the predictors' importance based on how employees scored each parameter; thus, PR managers can choose which to focus on when "all" isn't an option. "The model says what you should do to develop a successful program," Gornitsky says, emphasizing that the results should only be used internally to help shape and strategize, as well as to get the CEO on board. Based on the study, which surveyed corporate execs from Fortune 500 companies, successful corporate volunteerism hinges on PR managers devoting their limited time and resources to the key components that most often rank in the top five: volunteer recognition; the structure of their programs; increasing budget levels; enhancing internal communications; and establishing work-release policies. (Notice the absence of employee participation in this equation, which, Skok suggests, will come naturally if CSR strategies are well-founded.) "By establishing a structure which makes it easy for employees to get involved, as well as want to get involved; by educating and informing them about how to get involved; by providing opportunities for employees to get involved and/or volunteer during the workday, companies will not only significantly increase employee participation, but they will visibly see a significant increase in the overall success of their corporate volunteer programs," Skok says. But making said volunteer programs so easily accessible to employees and highly esteemed by management takes some legwork on the part of PR executives. The first (and perhaps most difficult) step is convincing the C-suite of the overall CSR benefits of volunteer programs, and then initiating their own participation. Approaching the CEO with the measurability of these volunteer programs is a giant leap in the right direction. After all, as the study suggests, corporations are making it easier for employees to donate their time: 85% of companies surveyed now allow employees to volunteer during the workday, while 42% of senior executives believe their companies should provide employees with paid time off to volunteer. "Companies stumble when they don't talk to employees about what they want to do," Gornitsky says. "You have to offer them alternatives that are important to them." She also underscores them importance of giving employees flexibility during the workday to volunteer; while work away from the office might initially seem unproductive for the corporation, strong CSR programs are good for the company's overall well being both externally and internally. For example, companies with a history of being socially responsible - such as General Electric, Microsoft and Office Depot - also have a good track record when it comes to corporate reputation, brand awareness and community relations. Frank Ovaitt, CEO and president of the Institute for Public Relations, echoes the importance of integrating measurement and CSR, especially, as he puts it, in the form of measuring relationships. Corporate social responsibility initiatives, including volunteer programs, are defined by relationships between volunteers and their causes, employees and their managers, the corporation and its audience. Ovaitt describes the most notable relationship when it comes to CSR as being the "communal" one, where "both parties provide benefits because each is concerned for the other even when they might get nothing specific in return," as is the case in many CSR programs. Contacts: Jared Skok, 301.528.5773, lbgassoc@comcast.net; Linda Gornitsky, 203.325.3154, lbgassoc@aol.com; Frank Ovaitt, 703.568.5611, iprceo@jou.ufl.edu

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