By educating workers about environmental issues and organizations, employers can meet employee needs, stimulate workplace engagement, and promote sustainability.
By Kal Stein, President & CEO, EarthShare
One of the biggest problems facing those seeking to make an impact in the environmental sector is the sense of conflict and partisanship that has enveloped much of the environmental agenda. You don't have to look too far to find people promoting the idea that climate change is a myth, for example, or disputing that human activity can have an impact on it.
Added to that is the fact that many of the organizations springing up to deal with these very modern challenges face the problem of any new product: lack of recognition in the marketplace.
Put those two factors together and a clear theme emerges: the need to educate and inform people about the issues, and the nonprofits and charities that are seeking to tackle them.
Cause Selection: What Drives Employees to Become Donors?
That need is the reason that EarthShare vets its participating organizations so thoroughly—people who understand the issues and are confident that the organizations they contribute to will use their resources wisely are more likely to become donors. Two statistics from a recent survey we conducted with EarthShare donors bear this out.
First: When asked how they choose organizations to support, 54 percent of donors told us that they research the charity's website. That compares to 43 percent who simply continue to support the same organizations year after year—a fact that indicates the need for organizations to be clear in their messaging.
Second: More than 40 percent of survey respondents claim that employer-provided literature helped them to make decisions about which charities to support. That demonstrates that there is a significant role for organizations like EarthShare and its workplace partners to play as "gatekeepers" for organizations that are working to tackle some of the biggest environmental problems around.
Employers as Gatekeepers: Meeting Needs vs. Engagement
Of course, the question of employers acting as gatekeepers of information that may influence an employee's decision to become a donor may strike some as sinister—there's a fine line, after all, between information and propaganda, especially to those who believe that an environmental agenda is some kind of conspiracy. But if decisions about what information to offer are based on feedback from employees, then companies are simply meeting a need that already existed.
Michael Carren, JPMorgan Chase's VP and Director of Employee Engagement and Financial Education touched on that distinction in a recent conversation about his firm's relationship with EarthShare. When asked what influenced JP Morgan Chase 's decision to include EarthShare in its employee philanthropy program, one of the reasons he cited is that EarthShare "provides us with access to charities that we might not otherwise be involved with" and that "EarthShare gives us terrific sources and tools about choices related to environmental giving."
As for the decision to put environmentalism on the firm's agenda, Carren says the push came from their employees.
The Key to Engagement: Starting with the Employees
Citing a "series of surveys" conducted among JP Morgan Chase employees regarding the firm's philanthropic effort, Carren noted that one of the questions asked respondents to list their top cause concerns: "Often, that answer was the environment," he says. Far from imposing its own values upon its employees, JP Morgan Chase was meeting an existing need and interest by partnering with EarthShare.
But it wasn't that simple.
Having identified that environmental issues were an area that employees wanted to support, Carren then had to confront one of the biggest problems in the sector: the "wildly different facts, needs and opinions" that surround these issues. "This is where EarthShare plays a crucial role," he says.
In addition to being able to provide services and resources on key issues, "EarthShare has developed a strong ability to connect people across businesses and cultures."
But if the company isn't the one driving the initiative, what's in it for them?
In other words, why would any firm commit its time and resources to tackling problems that the firm might not be directly benefiting from? According to Carren:
"Participation and volunteering is more an expectation in the workplace now than it ever has been. You can only lose by not providing these opportunities […] there are lots of studies that certify this."
The overwhelming point: that corporate philanthropy and workplace giving programs don't have to be about pushing an agenda, or a branding exercise. When done right—by identifying needs and addressing them in a meaningful way—companies can gain tangible benefits and increase employee engagement.
Or, if you want to look at it the other way around: people can make a positive difference to their communities by helping to shape the corporations they work for. Whether or not you believe that corporations are people, this is proof of the good things that can come from corporations letting their people drive the agenda.
Check out more posts in our ongoing series with EarthShare: One Environment. One Simple Way to Care for it!