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What’s the True Impact of Your Employee Volunteer Program? Glad You Asked

Almost every conversation we have regarding employee volunteer programs involves a vigorous discussion of metrics. Business managers want to determine the value of hours contributed to the community via employee volunteers. Non-profits are trying to assess whether or not it is worth the trouble organizing massive employee volunteer events for corporations. Stakeholders question whether business should be distracted by activities that seem to offer little to no bottom line impact.

Almost every conversation we have regarding employee volunteer programs
involves a vigorous discussion of metrics. Business managers want to
determine the value of hours contributed to the community via employee
volunteers. Non-profits are trying to assess whether or not it is worth
the trouble organizing massive employee volunteer events for
corporations. Stakeholders question whether business should be
distracted by activities that seem to offer little to no bottom line
impact.

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Realized Worth recently connected to a company that offer answers to these questions through a flexible and robust online solution: True Impact. We are pleased to have had the opportunity to interview Farron Levy, the Founder and CEO of True Impact. He is also an associate staff member of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship
(an academic institution we are big fans of here at Realized Worth).
Farron has a Masters of Public Policy from Harvard University.

RW: Can you tell us a bit about True Impact, and why you started the company?

F.L.: True Impact (www.true-impact.com)
provides web-based software, and consulting services, to help
organizations measure the social, financial, and environmental return
on investment (ROI) of their programs and activities. Typically applied
to community investment, environmental, human resource, or other
corporate citizenship initiatives, True Impact’s “triple bottom line”
evaluations have been adopted by clients at Allstate, Deloitte, Home
Depot, PNC Bank, and Verizon – and their nonprofit partners – to:

Prove Value – by quantifying financial, social, and environmental impacts (to build support among internal and external audiences)
Guide Strategic Investment & Budgeting
– by producing ROI scorecards that reveal which (existing or
prospective) programs offer the biggest social and/or business “bang
for the buck”
Maximize Returns – by illuminating opportunities to improve triple-bottom-line outcomes

As
for why I started the company, well, it’s incredibly motivating. First,
if you care about social or environmental causes, it’s hard not to be
excited about harnessing the private-sector’s resources and
self-interest to drive positive change. After all, what company
wouldn’t want to structure their community involvement, environmental,
or HR practices to maximize positive social and environmental impacts,
while increasing sales or productivity, or reducing operating costs and
risk? We provide companies the tools to help identify and take
advantage of those win-win opportunities.

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RW:
True Impact helps with metric development. But what kind of metrics are
people looking for and why? Are corporate social responsibility (CSR)
managers looking for the same kind of metrics as are ‘C’ suite level
executives? And what kind of metrics matter most to stakeholders,
specifically customers?

F.L.:
Most volunteer programs we see track things like dollars invested,
number of employees participating, number of total hours donated by
volunteers, number of nonprofits or beneficiaries served by those
volunteers, and the amount of PR (e.g., impressions) and employee
satisfaction (from volunteer surveys) that result. These measures are
interesting, but they don’t tell you much about the social or business
value being created. That’s because this metrics capture only inputs
and outcomes.

So, when people look to quantify the social and
business value of a program, they’re really asking about outcomes. On
the business side, that means how much a program drives things like
skill development, recruitment, retention, or sales. On the social
side, that means how much has the social issue you care about improved
as a result of your program, in terms of resulting change in a social
condition, socio-economic ripple effects, or market value generated.

It’s these outcome measures that C-level executives tend to most appreciate.

As for other stakeholders, that may be a larger conversation.

RW:
Many CSR managers that we talk to are looking for metrics similar to
financial ratios – a simple mathematical equation. You use the phrase
‘good enough’ metrics. What do you mean by that, and what makes metrics
‘good enough’?

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F.L.: The
issue often is not what is being measured, but the quality or precision
of the available data. In some cases, collecting “perfect” data – that
is, gold-standard statistically significant findings that result from
controlled longitudinal studies – requires more time and resources than
is practical for an organization to invest. Alternatively, companies
might do pilot testing or sampling to get a sufficiently – if not
perfectly – precise result.

RW:
You’ve mentioned before that sustainability and CSR are not presently
integrated into the mainstream of corporate culture and
decision-making.
You’ve
suggested that a solution would be greater cross-functional interaction
so, “CSR managers can tap and guide the expertise within their
companies to identify and operationalize opportunities.” How does True
Impact help create that cross-functional interaction?

F.L.: Our
web-based tools, and our consulting approach, both use a simple “map
and measure” approaches to triple-bottom-line ROI evaluations. The
first part, mapping, involves assessing how the program being analyzed
is likely to affect each of the company’s stakeholders, and how these
impacts can in turn, affect functions such as sales, recruiting,
retention, productivity, risk, and cost of capital. Once a company
begins adopting such an approach to ROI evaluation – i.e.,
systematically assessing the ripple effects of their programs – it
becomes obvious how interacting with, say, the sales, recruiting, or
government affairs departments is probably the best way to assess the
potential sales, recruiting, and regulatory impacts of your programs.

RW:
What is the real ROI for companies using employee volunteer programs
(EVP)s? There is a saying, “we measure what matters.” If you aren’t (or
feel you cannot or should not) measure your EVP outcomes, then what is
the actual return on the investment? Can there be an ROI if no one
knows what it is?

F.L.: There
is no single ROI for EVPs. Impacts differ from company to company,
based on industry, geography, type of program, and any number of other
variables. What generates significant value for one EVP – say, new
business leads for volunteers from an accounting firm – may have no
such sales benefits for volunteers in the same geography, performing
the same function, from an airplane manufacturer.

Companies that
don’t measure their EVP outcomes may still be enjoying positive social
and/or business ROI – but they almost certainly will not be maximizing
those benefits, simply because they will have no idea which volunteer
activities are performing well and which aren’t, and therefore no way
to promote continuous improvement (i.e., identify and promote best
practices).

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RW: Many companies
hold out the social return on investment (SROI) as the most important
part of the EVP. Is this a valid approach? Doesn’t a strong focus on
SROI to the exclusion of measuring the ROI make the EVP look like
philanthropy? Without tying CSR to the business outcomes, what
distinguishes CSR from philanthropy?

F.L.:
In general, we believe that if a CSR program can be shown to have
significant business value in addition to its social value, it’s more
likely to be sustainable and supported by the company over the long
term. And this maximizes the long-term social benefit created.

But
however a company prioritizes the social and business benefits –
whether favoring one over the other, or balancing the two equally – is
an individual company decision. When we do our measurement work, we
find out what these priorities are and simply help build a metrics
framework that supports these priorities.

Regarding the terms
CSR and philanthropy – I think there has been a lot of blurring of
definitions, and try not to get too dogmatic about it. But in general,
I tend to look at philanthropy as resources donated to advance specific
social interests; while CSR as a larger umbrella that covers
philanthropy and community impacts, as well as impacts on the
environment, employees, and other stakeholders. Both can be strategic
(i.e., designed to maximize both social and business benefits), or not.

RW: We are writing a series on trust; Trust: Why Business Lost It, And How To Win It Back.
So, I have to ask your opinion. How do metrics help/hurt the creation
of trust among customers towards a companies CSR program?

F.L.: Measurement,
broadly speaking, is the primary tool for communicating to customers
about a company’s CSR program. That is, reporting on how much your
company is spending on certain CSR programs, the magnitude of goods or
services delivered as a result of these investments, and the ultimate
social and business outcomes are all content that gets communicated to
key stakeholders. And in general, the more transparent a company is
about these impacts, the more trust they will generate with customers.

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RW: Thanks so much for your time and insights Farron.

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About the author

At Realized Worth, we help companies connect with their communities. We do this through corporate volunteering and social media

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