What’s Your ROI?

October 17, 2016


Tim McClimon

October has traditionally been a time that many companies launch their employee giving campaigns and mobilize employees to do volunteer work in their communities. Next week is also Pro Bono Service Week, a time that many companies celebrate their efforts to utilize the business skills of their employees for social good.

At American Express, we are in the middle of our 2016 Give2Gether campaign in the United States and Canada. If history is any indicator of success, about 80% of our employees will participate in this drive, making pledges to thousands of not-for-profit organizations to be deducted from their paychecks, or paid by their American Express cards, next year. The company will match these contributions dollar for dollar, and about $10 million will be distributed to various types of charitable organizations throughout the year. It’s a great example of employees working together for the common good.

Another example is our Serve2Gether volunteer program. Last year, 42% of our employees reported that they volunteered their time to aid with thousands of organizations and causes around the world. More than 12,000 employees were engaged in over 130,000 volunteer hours at company-sponsored volunteer events alone. Our Serve2Gether Consulting program, the company’s global platform for pro bono service, engaged 250 employees in eight countries delivering over 11,000 hours of consulting services valued at $1.7 million.

Finally, our Green2Gether program leverages the expertise and passions of our employees in reducing our carbon footprint and creating positive environmental impact in their personal lives and at work. This year, over 10,000 employees participated in Earth Week activities.

But, what’s the return on investment for all this activity?

Recently, I ran across this suggestion from Kenneth Cole:

  • Today, you have to monitor message and impact. What is the return on the investment? Community engagement is still ROI, but it’s return on involvement [italics added]. We encourage other businesses to find their voices and connect with the greater community, which is the hand that feeds them. In the past, we used to work hard so we could give back later. But if you make giving part of the journey to success, it makes the journey more meaningful.

Many employees are increasingly demanding that employers provide opportunities for them to be involved in their communities, and Millennials are especially attuned to good corporate citizenship as both consumers and employees.

According to Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communications at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in a recent NPR/WNYC Commentary, Millennials are significantly more responsive to corporate social responsibility in both consumption as well as employment decisions. He quotes a 2014 Nielsen study that found: of those surveyed who would pay a premium for sustainable products, verify packaging and choose a company with a higher CSR reputation as their employer, about half were Millennials.

Millennials are more demanding, more in touch and more skeptical than other generations. So, companies are looking to Millennials for guidance in aligning corporate actions with values, and in creating two-way conversations with their stakeholders and constituents.

With Millennials comprising over a quarter of the U.S. workforce now and more than 50 percent by 2020, businesses need to engage this generation in meaningful dialogue and community service in order to attract and retain the best talent as well as to benefit investors and shareholders.

Failure to fully engage employees in their communities will not only negatively impact a company’s return on investment in the future, but also their return on involvement.

So, good luck to those companies involved with employee giving campaigns this month, and Happy Pro Bono Service Week!

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