Engaging employees with corporate social responsibility

By Aniisu K. Verghese

This article looks at the success of Sapient’s community fundraiser and how effective internal communications added to a consistent experience for employees and the opportunity to witness the impact of the CSR initiative.

Encouraging staff to creatively give back to the community

Conducted once every two years, Sapient’s Silent Auction is a community fundraiser program that aims to bring together approximately 7000 employees in a fun and engaging way. At the event, people offer services or products at a price which is ‘silently’ bid by others in the organization. Services can range from ‘table tennis coaching for an individual for one month’ to ‘conducting a fun event for a team of 20’. The highest bidder wins the service or product.

A Loud Auction run by senior leaders follows this program where the company bids for the most creative services or products. The funds collected from the winning bids are donated to charities Sapient engages with, including services that support education, underprivileged children, and those that build capacity and infrastructure in the communities Sapient serves.

The event runs for a month, although the campaign and connecting activities extend into a large part of the year. The Sapient Gives Back program, a year-long initiative that the company began in 2011 to promote volunteering, brought further momentum to this year’s Silent Auction. In recognition of Sapient’s purpose of building a great company that enables human potential, each Sapient employee had the opportunity to offer a day of volunteer work.

Clarifying the event’s objectives

Before kicking off this year’s auction, Sapient’s leadership shared their expectations in a series of e-mails to each office. They highlighted the need to connect people to Sapient’s vision – ‘enabling human potential’, while staying consistent with the company’s values and commitment as a corporate citizen. This was an effective way to motivate staff to surpass the record collections from the previous year.

Giving latitude to local offices

The internal communications team began planning for the event in October 2011. One of the first steps we took was to get core teams set up across locations and generate momentum for the Loud Auction. The objectives of the event were articulated and the core teams given ownership of preparing their respective plans. The Internal Communications team helped develop key messages to use for the campaign. The Office Lead (a respected leader) at each location was provided with a budget for promotion and also given the freedom to choose a team from among office staff.

Getting started and challenges faced

With a whole set of new people now involved in running the event, experienced campaigners needed to step in and set context early so everyone was on the same page. With a large target to achieve, the collections looked like a mountain to climb. People were also keen to know the impact from our event in 2009 - where Sapient India collected a total of INR 1092930 - and how we disbursed those funds. Therefore, we needed to include these elements in our communication plan.

The local office teams were expected to build on existing systems so employees could easily offer services, bid for them and make donations effortlessly. The team enhanced an existing SharePoint application and tested it for usability. Once satisfied with the results, they launched it along with the communication updates. The Finance team consulted with the offices to identify better ways for people to contribute funds.

Building an effective communication strategy

To build excitement for the auction, a number of internal communication channels were used such as posters, e-mailers and promos on our company intranet – the People Portal. The strategy also involved delivering the campaign to people through innovative roadshows.

The roadshows used elements of theatre and drama to communicate the importance of the event and the impact we were making to the community. Cafeterias were branded with campaign messages, while the most sought after bids were highlighted on office notice boards and on the organization’s social networking platform.

As further incentive to take part, prizes were offered to the highest bidders. Leaders were also invited to participate and share their offerings while leveraging their teams to collectively bid for services. This all led to healthy competition among teams within offices, further increasing the buzz. Periodic communication shared how the organization engaged and disbursed funds from the previous campaign and the impact our empanelled NGOs were making.

Reenergizing staff on the company’s commitment

The Loud Auction events were timed around important office programs to ensure greater participation. The Office Leads invited senior leaders to be present at the program and the agenda also included employee talent shows, music, great food and entertainment. Senior leaders hosted the event and reiterated the importance of community service, as well as Sapient’s commitment to enabling human potential.

Staff collaboratively pitched for the best services on offer including ‘Bartending by a senior leader along with dinner and beverages for a team of 100’ and a ‘Sumptuous breakfast served by the India Leadership Team’, as well as ‘Dance by the leadership community’. In India, music, food and entertainment are very popular so unsurprisingly, these services received the maximum attention from bidders.

Beating the estimates and engaging staff

The India offices generated INR 2800000 (USD 54,370) in funds in about a month of online bidding and Loud Auctions, crossing the previous round’s collections by over 100%. The campaign also generated media attention.

Internally the campaign improved camaraderie among employees and enhanced their interest in contributing to the community. Post event surveys revealed that 95% felt the campaign improved their overall experience and that it gave them an opportunity to give back to the community. Over 90% of respondents felt more engaged with the organization.

Opportunities for ongoing connection

The internal communications team created avenues for offices to report on services rendered after the event. Articles were posted on the company intranet, and each office lead recognized the local office teams that conceptualized, marketed and participated in the event, help making the auction a big success.

Leaders also visited the NGOs empanelled and saw first hand our employees’ volunteering efforts. The local CSR teams are now working with the shortlisted NGOs and have already started identifying programs that people can volunteer for and disburse funds for projects identified.

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Top tips on how to run a successful internal corporate social responsibility program

Set context early: Establish the purpose, goals and outcomes expected before the campaign kicks off. Allow participants to clarify expectations.

Involve staff in the planning phase: Converge a core team, brainstorm on suitable approaches. Integrate local office needs and factor challenges on the ground.

Provide autonomy: Allow local teams to establish their own rhythm of running the campaign within the ambit of the overall theme. Empower managers to rope in enthusiastic people from their teams to champion the cause.

Appeal to emotion: Instead of ‘support the campaign by contributing funds’ share, ‘how Lakshmi got through school due to the funds we contributed’. Provide opportunities for staff to engage with NGOs they support.

Get leadership to participate actively: Have leaders spearhead elements of the campaign and lead by example.

Make life simpler for campaigners: Provide easy-to-use templates, reduce time to market for campaigners and create simple tools to gauge impact and progress of the campaign.

Highlight success stories: Recognize creative ideas and people who make a difference to the campaign. Share best practices and refer them to the core team.

Report out periodically: Consistent and periodic communication to stakeholders on the progress and milestones covered helps keep everyone on the same page and looking forward to the campaign’s outcomes.

Engage in healthy competition: Allow for teams to compete in garnering funds. It helps to give the campaign the attention it deserves.

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About Sapient

Sapient, a global services company that helps its clients to transform in the areas of business, marketing, and technology, has always been instrumental in championing CSR and causes that enable its vision. The company operates three divisions that enable clients to gain a competitive advantage and succeed in an increasingly digital world. Sapient Nitro, Sapient Global Markets, and Sapient Government Services fuse insight, creativity, and technology to drive innovation and to help clients navigate complex business problems.

About Aniisu K. Verghese

Aniisu K. Verghese is the India Internal Communication Lead at Sapient Corporation. He has over 12 years of experience in the evolving internal communication arena, social media and in corporate communications.

Aniisu is passionate about engaging fellow communication practitioners through workshops and presentations. He blogs on internal communications at www.intraskope.wordpress.com.

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