For CSR, 2019 is the Year of the Employee | npENGAGE

For CSR, 2019 is the Year of the Employee

By on Feb 20, 2019


Fiscal Year-End

Last year, I wrote a piece for Blackbaud’s “CSR 2020: Experts Look Ahead” eBook that took a closer look at the rise in employee engagement around social and environmental issues. In that piece, I shared my predictions for an upcoming increase in CEO activism, a heightened focus on leadership development through volunteer service and a call to action for corporate partners to effectively address disaster resiliency in affected communities. As we move farther into 2019, we are starting to see many of these trends increase in momentum and be shaped by the demands of employees seeking more than just a paycheck from their employer. Conversations around these topics has been further amplified thanks in large part to a more informed and sustainability-minded investment community led by changemakers such as Larry Fink at BlackRock and a more engaged and activated workforce that is influencing CSR strategy at companies and within the changing social sector.

Employees Driving Corporate Activism

In the new business and political environment, companies are becoming more and more inclined to take a stand on pressing social issues ranging from gun violence (TOMS) and immigration (Chobani) to the environment (Patagonia) and civil rights (Nike). These new stands may be voiced at the CEO level, but they are quite often in response to issues brought forward by employees. Millennials – the majority of today’s workforce – believe that CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about issues important to society and 56% say that responsibility is greater today than it has been in the past.

What we see through our work at Common Impact is increased employee excitement around programs like skills-based volunteerism, which provides a direct vehicle for a purpose-focused workforce to represent themselves and their company in society and in support of issues that matter. Skills-based volunteer programs continue to increase in popularity because they provide a meaningful way to directly engage in positive community change. What’s more, the vast majority of volunteers who participate in our programs indicate that they are more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work, leading to stronger recruitment and retention for their employer, and ultimately reinforcing Fink’s thesis that long-term sustainability and profitability will require increased corporate activism.

Cross-Sector Leadership Development through Pro Bono Service

More than just a buzzword, cross-sector experience is essential to developing the next-generation of leaders because it allows individuals to work within a system while also changing it. The ability to understand and operate within changing models and across traditional sector divisions will only become more important as private, public and social sector models continue to blend (social entrepreneurship) and transform (B Corps).

Common Impact supports the rise of cross sector leaders through our skilled volunteer programs. Pro bono service is built on the concept of skill-sharing, as the pool of our combined and diverse knowledge can create a sum larger than its parts. Given the demonstrated importance of cross-sector experience in helping to solve some of our communities’ most persistent challenges, we believe skilled volunteerism will increasingly be recognized as an integral part of corporate talent development programs and will continue to support leadership development for the nonprofit sector.

Skilled Volunteerism to Address Disaster Resiliency

While done with good intentions, most companies to date have responded to natural and man-made disasters with quick-hit, immediate support through donation drives and financial contributions. Few companies are taking action to create long-term solutions by supporting disaster preparedness and community resiliency. Yet employees are galvanized to action in times of disasters and are demanding a better response from their CSR departments. Skilled volunteerism can provide a solution to crisis preparedness and community resiliency. Fueled by a growing business imperative around climate change, Common Impact is working to design an approach to disaster support and climate justice that enables the private sector to leverage what we’ve always believed is their strongest philanthropic asset – its people.

Over the past six months, our team has taken a closer look at how skilled volunteerism can support communities in crisis. What’s we’ve learned is that the social sector needs support in preparing to sustain ongoing operations in times of crisis and recovering more quickly after a disaster’s impact. We plan to release our findings later this year as a white paper accompanied by tools and guidance to build an effective skills-based disaster service program that will support nonprofit needs and equip our communities for the natural and manmade disasters that they’ll inevitably face in the years to come.


We’d love to hear more about the trends you see. If you are interested in further perspective on trends in skills-based volunteerism, we produced a podcast on this very topic and will continue to explore these themes through our guest interviews and npENGAGE columns in the coming months. You can listen or subscribe to our podcast at


Another look into modern CSR and how to celebrate your employees. Elevating Employee Voice with Social Fundraising


Danielle Holly is CEO of Common Impact, an organization that designs programs that direct companies most strategic philanthropic asset – their people – to the seemingly intractable social challenges they’re best positioned to address. Danielle has supported hundreds of nonprofit organizations on positioning and branding strategies to more effectively scale their models of social impact.  In addition, Danielle has helped numerous corporations navigate the new era in corporate social responsibility and skills-based volunteering, including global powerhouses JPMorgan Chase, Charles Schwab, Marriott International, and Fidelity Investments. She is a contributing writer for Nonprofit Quarterly on strategic corporate engagement.  She is a member of the NationSwell Council, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and Net Impact NYC. You can reach her via email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @dholly8.

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