Are You Supporting Your Employees’ ‘Pay it Forward’ Effort?

Four unrelated events triggered this post. To begin, I had the opportunity to watch Pay It Forward, a Kevin Spacey-Helen Hunt – Haley Osment that introduces a concept that believes in the goodness of people while expecting nothing in return. A class assignment that challenged students to ‘change the world’ through an idea got Trevor (Haley) to do good to strangers and hope that they do the same to others. The power of the idea is the fact that ‘everyone is a loser’ if the act isn’t passed on.

Then, a couple of days ago I received a mail from a colleague seeking opportunities to participate in ‘social responsible’ projects for the company since she didn’t know how to differentiate between NGOs that were ‘fraud’ as opposed to the genuine ones.

In a team meeting my colleague commented on how divergent charity efforts within the organization and offices were sending mixed signals to our employees; on our commitment and the focus.

Finally, there were a spate of recent disclosures and announcements of global entrepreneurs who are joining hands to publically ‘pledge’ their wealth over the next few years. In India Shiv Nadar of HCL also promised to do his bit for philanthropy by contributing 10% of his wealth. Interestingly, most prefer to ‘see’ their wealth getting spent during their lifetime and therefore hoping the charities will be able to consume all the wealth while hopefully ‘doing good’.

Shooting star

So when people think of corporate social responsibility the images that usually come to mind is of large corporations funding even larger initiatives to improve the lives of the less fortunate.

I find it contradictory with corporations and wealthy business people wanting to give back to society while at the same time expecting the world to know about their contribution? Does it defeat the very purpose of social responsibility where ‘doing good’ is something that comes from within and anonymously so that you get ‘riches’ in heaven?

To me and I might be speaking for many others it doesn’t really matter how much wealth a person commits for the needy; what matters is the true intent and capacity that lasts beyond the individual’s life. That is corroborated by the employee who sought opportunities with NGOs that weren’t fraudulent. If your charity isn’t named after you or highlights you as a patron then you are probably at the starting point in your journey as a philanthropist.

My belief is that funding projects or creating large bodies to run charitable initiatives isn’t always the best way to give back. Even by giving time and effort, partnering with groups of people and leveraging the power of social media the impact you make can be very powerful.

My take is that by ‘paying it forward’ and not looking behind to check if others have appreciated what you do is probably the best way to contribute in this world. Quite like the way the ‘Pay it Forward’ concept became a movement and it led to many cities and states in the US. 

Which organization would you like to work for – one that you hear (from media sources) is pumping millions to eradicate poverty or the firm whose employees take time off their busy schedule to engage directly with the under privileged and leverage their skills and talent to address basic needs? My vote goes for the latter. I am all for grass root effort which is homegrown and sustainable. Organizations must only play the role of a facilitator by sharing directions, providing support in terms of resources and getting out of its employees’ way. Then watch as magic happens. The belief is that just like how every individual is different each organization also has its own special way to give back.

Probably the closest a similar program has come to matching the concept in India is the Joy of Giving Week, which ran from Sept 26 till October 2.

Although the window for making contributions though this opportunity is small it still allows people and organizations to reflect on ways to giving back.  The key differentiator is the freedom for the individual and the organization to choose a charity or a initiative to focus on. Alternately, you can even create your own event and have others support it.

To me this cause is successful as a model since it –

– puts a framework and a timeline to work towards

– doesn’t just focus on cheque book charity but believes in people sharing ‘goodness’ through time and effort

– allows the power of social media to shape the program

– finally, though there are corporate partners that support this initiative more to generate eyeballs and attention the glory is for those who give back without expecting in return.

If you missed the opportunity to engage this year it shouldn’t demoralize you. At my organization we got a leader to blog on the theme of CSR and build in the ‘joy of giving’ message. It helped reinforce our commitment and focus as an organization and demonstrate leadership attention.

So what does this all mean for the internal communicator?

As an internal communicator you play a crucial role in contributing to the success of any internal social initiative. You need to be intensely involved in supporting your organization’s corporate social responsibility then you should dive right in. Two reasons – unlike other functions in the organization you are best positioned to understand the focus and initiatives that run at a company level.  Your ability to spot opportunities based on your close interaction with employees gives you an advantage for championing and guiding employee-led initiatives. Most organizations have the corporate social responsibility function engage directly with communication for improved impact.

Here are some recommendations that you can take back to your workplace –

  1. Identify and nurture key stakeholders who can drive momentum on your social programs
  2. Provide communication coaching to these individuals since they may not be adept at communicating the right message. Also, reporting is essential to the success of any CSR initiative.
  3. Model the way with a project. Take up one initiative and demonstrate how timely and relevant communication can make a difference to stakeholders.
  4. Contribute ideas to make the program move ahead. I suggested storytelling as a way to get the program momentum and it is now translating into a video that features the fund’s recipients and volunteers.
  5. Highlight CSR champions often. It may not be their day job but there are a lot of enthusiastic employees who are making a difference everyday

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