When it comes to seeking understanding about developing effective employee engagement strategies and programs, the average online search produces a plethora of tips, ideas, research, opinions, and sometimes even conflicting information. What does seem clear is that one of the most critical elements of successful engagement is enabling employees to make progress in meaningful work. But what does that mean, how does a workplace go about it, and… then what?

There are workplaces that have managed to ‘crack the code,’ meaning, they have built and have ownership over a process that successfully moves their employees through an ongoing and dynamic cycle that has at its core: strategy and goals alignment; stakeholder input; the establishment of mutual purpose that can be connected to desired impact; and, of course, measurement and assessment and adjustment. Called the Engagement Continuum, this concept certainly isn’t new. But its applications are changing the way employers are approaching how they inspire the critical ingredients of employee motivation and action.

The engagement continuum defines a path that’s meant to be walked side-by-side by leadership and the workforce; it is a journey, an exploration, and a living, interactive process where everyone plays a role. It’s about identifying the intersection where corporate goals meet with employee purpose in a way that also addresses the issues impacting society and our future.

Building a flexible, adaptable roadmap that allows for employee input and ideas.

At The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), they’re building engagement around sustainability with the perspective that acting in a sustainable way is not only good for the planet, but is also beneficial to their business and the communities where their people live and work. To-date Guardian’s accomplishments include reducing the company’s energy consumption by 25% in its IT areas, resulting in both lower costs and less environmental impact; the opening of a new LEED certified building on their Bethlehem campus that will support a 30-40% savings in water usage and investment in 100% renewable energy; and establishing a Sustainability Council whose job it is to identify initiatives and inform employees around the company’s sustainability process.

In 2016, the company is seeking to launch regional employee Green Teams and establish a new printer fleet that will reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 84% and paper consumption by 10%, for a projected savings of more than $25,000. Guardian is just getting started, and they turned to EarthShare as their partner for support on the path to deepening their employees’ investment in these shared goals.

“We chose to partner with EarthShare because of their strong ability to deliver meaningful information and best practices coupled with thoughtful advising on environmental practices,” says Michael Carren, Guardian’s Head of Strategic Philanthropy. “It’s important to Guardian that we not only educate and engage our employees in our support for sustainability, which EarthShare has a rich history of doing, but also that we learn from the best practices of others, engage in dialogue across sectors, and build our strategy in a way that will create the greatest social, environmental and business value possible.”

To start, EarthShare is supporting the establishment of the critical employee-driven teams that will work in each of the company’s locations to create an annual plan of activities to involve their colleagues in environmental stewardship.

Guardian’s first Green Team Manual is in development. EarthShare is also supporting ongoing communication on environmental issues and activities, including driving participation in the company’s recent Environmental Stewardship Fairs with messaging and program branding delivered strategically via their internal platforms.

This strategy includes encouraging employee participation in green behaviors and activities at work and at home through communication that promotes understanding of their role. The partnership will also provide ongoing content to help achieve clarity about how business sustainability goals benefit the environment and communities where Guardian operates. Whether driving participation in Guardian’s printer return program, or delivering modern green lifestyle tips that meet employees where they live, Guardian is communicating a shared sustainability vision in ways meant to capture the hearts and minds of employees, while offering ways to plug directly into that vision.

Helping employees recognize a purpose within the workplace that translates to their job and connects with broader organizational and community goals.

Further along the engagement continuum is the result of this awareness- and connection-building investment: employee commitment, action, and outcomes. According to Gallup, factors that are crucial to achieving this stage of engagement include giving employees an opportunity to do what they do best, giving them a voice in the workplace, and ensuring they have the support they need to encourage their development. AT&T hits the mark on each point with their longstanding Do One Thing (DOT) program.

“…Do One Thing (DOT) is an invitation to employees to think about their daily actions and pick one change they can make that will have a positive impact on themselves, their community and/or the company… But the real beauty of DOT is its ability to create culture change. After all, once you start engaging your employees to change behaviors, they will push the company to do the same.”*

Cultivating employee brand ambassadors who mentor and build goodwill, internally and externally.

AT&T recognizes that empowering employees to choose the things they care about and giving them ways to talk about it prevents DOT from becoming a chore or an unwanted responsibility. Allowing employees to share what they’ve learned and accomplished in both internal and public forums is the added element that truly elevates the success of the DOT program, by establishing authentic employee champions. The company’s engagement program gives them creative avenues to talk about what matters to them and what they’ve achieved, in their own voice.

The success of AT&T’s DOT engagement program can be heard in the testimonials of the most authentic brand ambassadors – their own employees.


“Simple actions can change an entire community; our employees demonstrate this every day with DOT,” says Jason Leiker, Associate VP of Community Engagement at AT&T. “Through DOT, employees are choosing to make small changes in their lives that are having a significant positive impact on them, their community and our company. DOT makes it fun and ultimately drives greater commitment.”

Where is your company on the engagement continuum? 

Whether you’re firmly en route to commitment and action or just getting started, you can join EarthShare, Michael Carren, Jason Leiker and other thought leaders at our interactive breakout session on March 29 to explore the stages of the engagement continuum and get best practice ideas for making your own program all it can be.

 Join EarthShare at the 15th Annual Charities@Work summit from March 28th-30th to hear more on the engagement continuum. Register here today.


About EarthShare:

For almost 30 years, EarthShare has supported nearly 600 of America’s most respected environmental and conservation organizations through the original crowdfunding – workplace giving. Today EarthShare is a strategic advisor and programmatic partner to the business sector, executing dynamic engagement and philanthropy programs focused on creating the tangible impact needed to ensure a flourishing future.

*Source: http://about.att.com/content/csr/home/blog/2014/01/five_ways_at_t_engag.html#sthash.cBEzVkjh.dpuf

What would profit and loss statements look like if they included factors like employee happiness, retention, job referrals and volunteerism?

In 1999, management guru Peter Drucker predicted the shift in the importance of a company’s most valuable resources.

“The most valuable assets of a 20th-century company was its production equipment,” Drucker wrote. “The most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.”


Drucker’s theory might have been aimed at accountants and investors, but I believe that it applies as effectively to a corporation’s human resources department as well as its volunteer program managers, community relations officers and workplace giving executives.

At EarthShare we take pride in working with our partner companies on prioritizing employee happiness and satisfaction. We reach them through creative volunteerism opportunities and innovative ways to keep them informed and educated about the causes and issues that touch them most closely.

Here’s what we’ve learned about how volunteer programs can boost the bottom line.

Connecting Volunteerism with the Balance Sheet

The success of a corporate volunteer program is typically measured through the number of hours contributed, the number of participants,  how many nonprofit organizations benefited and the amount of money raised.

In essence, though, companies are measuring how many employees the program appealed to and how those employees chose to participate. Most importantly, they’re also trying to assess whether the importance of community engagement is resonating with its employees as well as the impact  of the program.

It’s basically about quantifying success. A company can declare a volunteer program a success, for example, if employees were able to raise a certain amount of money to assist nonprofits in the Amazon or contribute a certain amount of time to plant trees, build playgrounds or rehabilitate a decimated forest. This makes the program an asset to the impacted community, as well as the company. For the company, it helps enhance its reputation, brand recognition and employee satisfaction.

Green Teams: Shifting Mindsets, Crowdsourcing Solutions

To help executives shift their mindset about how to characterize assets and liabilities — and establish where workplace giving, volunteerism, community involvement and sustainability fall in the profit-and-loss spectrum — EarthShare convenes Green Team meetings in several major markets.

The focus of these meetings is to allow change leaders to meet in a safe zone to discuss challenges (such as lack of buy-in from executive leadership, low employee engagement, budget cuts, lack of information, too much conflicting information, etc.), crowdsource solutions to those challenges and discuss emerging issues in sustainability and the environment.

“Without these metrics to measure ourselves against, we’d only have donors and dollars, and no context,” Wells Fargo’s Peter Dudley wrote in March on CSRwire’s Talkback.

“Ultimately, we would fall into the all-too-common trap of managing to the available measurements,” Dudley continued. “While presenting successful results in the short run, [that] could be very detrimental to the powerful culture of involvement we’re trying to foster over the long term.”

Often, however, these meetings evolve into discussions about how sustainability managers can engage their employees in understanding these causes and taking action. As the meetings strive to provide more tools to participants, they’ve also evolved as a venue for dissecting employee engagement. With many of these managers wearing multiple hats, employee engagement becomes one of many responsibilities — which can prohibit the company from investing more time in developing such programs.

Making Connections

volunteer-group“We got involved in the EarthShare Green Team Network because of the access they provide to peers and other sustainability professionals across industries. What makes the meetings truly valuable is that the attendees decide the agenda,” said Tyler Daluz, vice president for sustainability communications at Citi.

“That makes it easy for us to talk about our challenges and share different approaches with the objective of learning from each other’s experiences,” Daluz added.

What emerges time and again is for the need for information that educates employees and makes it easy for them to identify with the volunteer program.

“These meetings are time well spent for us. EarthShare is a crucial connector and facilitator for our team in understanding environmental issues and giving us the right information to bring to our employees,” Daluz said.

Engagement at Work

Research backs up what Daluz and other attendees of our Green Team meetings often indicate. According to a recent survey by consulting firm Aon and Orenda Connecting, two out of every three employees feel more engaged at work because of their company’s giving program. A similar study by Cone Inc. echoed these findings: Twenty-eight percent of employees involved in their company’s cause program are more likely to be proud of their company’s values and 36 percent were found to be more likely to feel a strong sense of company loyalty compared to employees who are not involved.

And the No. 1 reason (cited by twenty-nine percent) for not getting involved? Lack of adequate or relevant opportunities.

Where, then, is the disconnect? Why are companies failing to connect their employees with opportunities that will truly leverage their motivations, energy and creativity to create positive change — as well as shifting their mindsets to counting employee happiness, retention, job referrals and volunteerism as assets?

As we facilitate these Green Team meetings, one thing is clear: While we can help companies connect with a variety of causes and nonprofit organizations, management’s real fulfillment comes when they see employee engagement increasing through these programs as well as witnessing the impact of that engagement firsthand.

Once that engagement is integrated into corporate culture, it will be become impossible for companies to account for their employees as anything less than prized assets.

Originally published on GreenBiz.

Register Now! Join us this spring, April 3-4, 2014 for the Charities@Work 13th Annual Best Practices Summit on Employee Engagement in Corporate Citizenship.  The Annual Charities@Work Summit is one of the country’s leading conferences on employee engagement and corporate social responsibility.  Attendees include Fortune 500 companies across all sectors of business, each with philanthropic and employee engagement programs of varying sophistication and a desire to collaborate on best practices for practical improvements.

The journey towards truly responsible corporations has seen many landmarks along the way so far. One of the most important is the rise of the sustainability officer within companies. The appearance of a dedicated CSR professional—especially those in the executive suite—is a sign that a company has truly begun to grasp the value, both social and financial, of being green.

But what about companies where it just isn’t feasible for one person to dedicate themselves to environmental issues? Or those companies that want to tackle more issues than they have bandwidth for at the executive level? One solution: the concept of a ‘green team’—a cross-functional, often cross-departmental collection of employees, who unite to solve problems within the company.

What can a green team do?

A green team can have a dramatic benefit on a company’s environmental and financial performance. Often, green teams are constructive in realizing reduced costs associated with resources and energy consumption through peer networking, forums, interactive sessions and change management across their departments. Its one thing for the company to decide on a goal of reducing its energy usage by 25 percent, but quite another to convince colleagues to change their habits in order to meet those goals.

Continue reading “The Anatomy of Green Teams: Igniting Change”

There is a reason why businesses and nonprofits routinely partner on delivering solutions and targeting crises. While the former can offer resources and funding, the latter can provide the manpower, the passion, and often the granular knowledge needed to address social and environmental issues that are often complex and multifaceted.

But what core elements make such partnerships successful, besides the usual suspect, funding? With a single bottom line, short payback periods, and quarterly reports still dictating how corporations operate, are cross-sector partnerships reaching their full potential? What about the crucial but little talked about role of employees in the final fate of these projects and their eventual success?

A Business Model for Impact

According to Kal Stein, CEO of EarthShare, that’s the missing piece of the puzzle. Or, as he puts it:

What nonprofit leaders need the most to help them solve the social and environmental problems they’re tackling is funding. But while the corporate world has done a great job in connecting and partnering with the nonprofit sector over the years there tends to be one glaring disconnect when considering relationships between the two sectors—and for once, it’s got nothing to do with corporations not doing enough.

Typically, when corporations get on board with nonprofits and charities, they do one of two things, often both: “donate corporate dollars (or goods and services in kind), and encourage employees to volunteer, often on company time.”

But what if companies went beyond simply offering their people volunteer opportunities, or making them aware that the company was using a portion of its profits to do some good? What if they were to connect their people directly with organizations, encourage them to become part of the funding-volunteering-driving strategic solutions life cycle, and truly engage them in a program of learning and contributing?

That question is what keeps Stein awake at night and drives the team—and products—at EarthShare, a national nonprofit that’s been working for more than 20 years to connect people and workplaces with effective ways to support critical environmental causes.

EarthShare: Connecting the Dots

Corporate dollars, workplace giving, and volunteerism occupy crucial places in the modern organization today. Study after study reveals that support for causes and contributions to social and environmental efforts give companies a higher status in society, leading to happier employees, satisfied consumers, and loyal suppliers.

By connecting hundreds of thousands of individuals with environmental and conservation charities through employee engagement and giving campaigns at public and private sector workplaces across the country, EarthShare is making true engagement easy.

Continue reading “The Evolution of Corporate Sustainability: EarthShare Connects the Dots”

In more than 30 years of experience in workplace philanthropy, some of the most common questions I’ve encountered regard the role of federations. While increasing numbers of corporate leaders recognize the value of employee engagement through participatory philanthropic activities that support CSR initiatives and business strategy, it’s still perhaps not fully understood how the nonprofit federations fit into that.

And yet, when considering developing and administering a program that offers diverse (or focused) cause choices, meaningful volunteerism and educational opportunities, and efficient processing and distribution systems, a federation can be a company’s best friend.

As the traditional model of workplace giving has evolved this relationship is even more critical; federations have evolved as well in response to changing technology and partner and donor needs – while still bringing to the table decades of experience in the industry and direct connections with diverse charity members.

Why Charitable Federations?

Federations have traditionally been a feature of most workplace philanthropic campaigns for three main reasons:

  • Charities voluntarily choose federations as their representatives in the workplace. My federation was created by its founding member charities specifically for this purpose, and they continue to play a critical role in our governance.
  • Federations take on the job of evaluating hundreds of member charities annually.  This means workplace partners and employee donors can be confident that the organizations they choose to support meet the highest standards of performance and financial integrity. When you consider that there are currently more than a million 501(c)(3) organizations operating in the U.S. alone, this function is invaluable.
  • Charitable federations provide many benefits to companies, donors and charities. For corporate partners the federated model creates efficiencies in every arena — from providing a single point of contact that represents many charities, to offering resources that help reduce the cost of the program to the company. EarthShare’s online pledging technology, for instance – Give @ the Office – allows our partners to extend an inexpensive, effective way to make donations to our member charities, and beyond.


These benefits don’t stop at the administrative level; charitable federations are now offering complete turn-key programs and a range of activities to promote employee engagement.

At EarthShare we convene employee groups in several major cities for Green Team Forums. These free, private peer meetings unite professionals from a wide range of local industries in each city for candid discussion about corporate sustainability and environmental issues that affect today’s workplace.  As employees have emerged as one of the primary drivers of corporate sustainability initiatives, these forums also create a space for like-minded professionals to explore challenges and exchange best practices around engaging their workforces in those initiatives.

The EarthShare @ Work toolkit also offers educational and hands-on experiential opportunities. We can facilitate workbook supplemented discussion courses that combine education and social dynamics that engage employees in aligning their actions with sustainability initiatives; inspire them to innovate new ways of doing business; and create more focused corporate strategy.  Through our volunteerism program we work closely with employer partners to create enriching opportunities and events with our network of national and local environmental and conservation organizations.


Modern federations are consultants and advisors.

Many charitable federations understand that the face of corporate and employee philanthropy has evolved, and recognize the growing need to connect those activities with the bottom line. Helping workplace partners align their employee engagement and giving programs with market strategy and culture is part of the modern federation’s value proposition.

At EarthShare we specialize in connecting our employer partners with environmental charities and nonprofits. But for corporations to work successfully with any community, it’s crucial that missions align and the employees feel strongly about their cause choices and the results they’re supporting with their money and time. We also encourage partner companies to ask themselves the right questions when planning an employee engagement and giving program, something we outlined in a recent article.

Of course, the best planned program is for naught if it doesn’t drive employee engagement and participation.  Particularly during troubled economic times, helping employers address the challenges of building employee motivation is a needed service.


Efficiencies of federating your employee giving program.

One of the most important benefits of using the federated model – and perhaps the most misperceived – is the financial disbursement aspect.

Federations offer the service of aggregated reporting and distributions to many individual charities, and as we are set up for that purpose our internal systems can readily support the administrative aspects of processing a giving program.  Bypassing the federation and sending employee contributions directly to individual charities is much less efficient and costs the company and the charities in resources that could be better applied elsewhere.

From the company’s perspective, it is cost prohibitive to process pledge data and distribute monthly checks to numerous charities. Federations ensure accurate reporting and distribution of campaign results to the company, to donors and to participating charities.

For charities, federations eliminate the unnecessary expense and work engendered by having to process individual financial transactions. This allows charities to focus on and direct funding and manpower to their mission work instead of to administrative functions like reporting and processing – a fact that every donor can appreciate.


Connect, contribute, volunteer.

Today’s charitable federation offers seasoned guidance and resources to build the single critical element that drives participation: helping employees develop vital personal connections with the program and causes. Whether that means bringing in charity speakers to explain how donations are being used, providing compelling data and success stories to illustrate the impact of participation, or offering technology solutions to make participation as easy and interactive as possible, a federated partner is set up to extend these resources and work to create true engagement around corporate CSR and engagement goals.

Both organizations recently renovated their headquarters buildings in New York City to be “green” buildings. These are energy-efficient structures that aim to limit environmental impact through the use of design techniques and choice of materials.

Their example has helped to set a trend that other developers are now following. For example, the Durst Organization Inc.’s new office tower at Four Times Square will be a more environmentally friendly skyscraper. It will include gas fired heating and cooling systems, which rely on natural gas rather than electricity generated by burning of fossil fuels, larger windows to allow for reduced use of interior lighting, and dedicated disposal shafts for ease of recycling. Other elements will improve air quality to avoid the “sick building” syndrome.

Click here to visit the Natural Resources Defense Council website
Click here to visit the Audubon Society website

American Farmland Trust, which promotes farmland preservation, released a study in 1998 showing that farmland in a region including Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware was among the most vulnerable in the nation to suburban growth and development. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 1982 and 1992, 1.1 million acres of farmland in both Virginia and Pennsylvania were developed, while Maryland lost 334,000 acres and Delaware lost 666,000.

In an effort to combat this trend, American Farmland Trust has sponsored and helped to create a Farmers’ Market at Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. This allows local area farmers to sell fruits and vegetables without having to give up profits to the middleman. The Trust for Public Land’s motive is to put more money in the pockets of local farmers so they have an economic incentive to maintain their land – and keep it from real estate developers. The market is a great success and benefits both the farmers and customers.

Debbie Hindla is a single, working mother of four and a resident of a beleaguered industrial ghetto in South Baltimore. In May of 1998, the FMC plant near her home on Wagner’s Point sent a cloud of toxic gas over her neighborhood, adversely affecting dozens of residents. When Hindla’s 10-year old son began exhibiting signs of medical distress, she turned to the Fairfield and Wagner’s Point Neighborhood Coalition and Center for Health, Environment and Justice for help. For more than two years, the groups have worked together to win relocation benefits for 100 families living in the polluted community.

Debbie Hindla’s home and the homes of her neighbors are surrounded by more than 20 chemical plants, a sewage treatment facility, an oil refinery, ship loading docks and other industrial facilities. Fairfield has no sewer pipes, and illegal dumping is a serious ongoing problem. Since November of 1997, Lois Gibbs, who led the negotiations for buy-out of homes at Love Canal twenty years ago, and other staff at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice have assisted the community in defining their strategy for obtaining relocation and negotiating with government officials. The Center helps them make their case for a government buy-out at the rate of comparably sized dwellings in more suitable residential neighborhoods.

In early July of 1998, during a highly publicized tour of the neighborhood and televised debate, Hindla succeeded in securing assurances from both Baltimore’s mayor and its Congressional Representative to help secure public financing for a buy-out of residents’ homes. In addition, because of her role in the Wagner’s Point Neighborhood Association, Hindla was able to contact officials at FMC and obtain reimbursement for all of her son’s medical expenses. Without the well-publicized community struggle and resulting political pressure, Hindla would probably have had to foot those bills alone. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice continues to work closely with the Neighborhood Coalition to help parents like Hindla and enable them to move to a neighborhood where children can grow up safely.

For Lt. Colonel Bill Wheelehan of Washington, D.C., volunteering for the Center for Marine Conservation’s (CMC) 1997 International Coastal Cleanup was only the first step in his effort to protect the oceans and coastlines he loves. The 23 year Army veteran went on to single handedly initiate discussions with representatives of the Department of Defense, and persuaded the department to join the Center’s 1998 Cleanup – forging a partnership that might result in the largest growth of volunteers for the International Coastal Cleanup in the program’s history.

CMC’s International Coastal Cleanup Campaign, launched in 1986, is now the world’s largest volunteer effort on behalf of the marine environment. Volunteers number in the hundreds of thousands, representing more than 90 countries. Besides cleaner coastline, debris data from the annual event is used to promote ratification of an international treaty ending unlimited ocean dumping of solid wastes, and to convince shipping and cruise line officials to improve onboard systems for waste disposal. The cleanups have prompted other businesses, states, countries, and local communities to establish policies and take action to protect the marine environment.

Although not a cure for coastal pollution, CMC’s annual beach cleanups help reduce the volume of garbage that clutters our coasts and chokes and entangles marine animals. Many of the 45 million pieces of debris collected during the cleanups can be traced back to their source, indicating that between 60 and 80 percent of coastal debris originates on land, primarily from poor waste management and casual littering. This discovery has prompted CMC to create a new project called Model Communities, a campaign that will work with coastal communities interested in solving their coastal debris problems. The Model Communities project will be officially launched at the 1998 International Coastal Cleanup.