Recap from The Conference Board’s Strategic Community Impact Symposium

I recently had the opportunity to attend The Conference Board’s Strategic Community Impact Symposium in New York City. This convening of more than 30 corporate responsibility (CR) professionals focused on the practical elements of a CR practitioner’s role that are essential to creating positive social and business impact. I had a few key takeaways from the two-day conference:
We need to be talking about Gen X-ers more. It seems like every article I read or conference I attend cites research around the connection between millennials and purpose. So many practitioners are striving to identify ways to increase the engagement of their millennial workforce in community impact programming. However, many also wonder if it is worth the effort as 66% of millennial workers plan to leave their current role by 2020.  Many of the attendees (myself included) were surprised when Yvonne Siu-Turner of Points of Light Corporate Institute noted that in fact , Gen X-ers (ages 35-51) have the highest volunteer rate of any generation. Should we re-shift our focus to Gen X-ers who are more likely to engage and may stay with the company longer?
Pay attention to #EmployeeSocialMedia – In a session exploring communications technology and social media, findings from the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer were shared showing that the public trusts peers and corporate employees significantly more than CEOs. Ryan Scott from Causecast noted that 20% of employees are already talking about their employer – so why not harness that engagement and empower employees to be brand ambassadors? He was followed by a representative from Citizen AOL who shared a wonderful example of how AOL does exactly that by encouraging their employees to tweet, snap, post, gram, etc. throughout their day of service. They make the experience fun and authentic to their brand by developing custom Snapchat filters and fun Instagram cutouts, leading to tons of impressions. Many in the room were impressed by these efforts; however, it was noted that for highly regulated industries such as finance, engaging employee social media is challenging from a regulatory perspective.
Executive champions remain a critical factor -  I heard in multiple sessions that the authentic engagement of the C-suite and executive champions can have more influence on the success of CR programs than factors like budget, reporting structure, communications and tools. Specifically, practitioners are looking for their execs to ‘walk the talk’ by attending volunteer events, discussing their own personal passions, integrating CR programs into talking points at all hands meetings, maintaining programs during tumultuous business climates and of course supporting programs with funding. My key takeaway on how to cultivate successful executive engagement is through supporting executive requests and proposals with data, data and more data!
Question your assumptions of “ideal” employee engagement Chris Jarvis of Realized Worth provided a great presentation on the various levels of employee engagement through the tourist -> traveler -> guide framework. One of audience members had a great question regarding how to move employees from a lower and infrequent level of engagement to the other end of the spectrum -- nonprofit board service. Chris challenged an assumption that nonprofit board service is the highest expression of volunteer engagement, as it may not always be the most meaningful or appropriate way for employees (even a segment of senior level employees) to engage. While a skilled employee might be able to improve a nonprofit organization’s audit processes or marketing materials, delivering Meals on Wheels may ultimately be more meaningful and rewarding for them, thus creating more enduring engagement and loyalty. As corporate-initiated nonprofit board service programs are on the rise, this question resonated with many in the room.  Ultimately, you want to offer a spectrum of employee engagement opportunities and finding the right balance between hands-on volunteering experiences, pro bono and Board service should align to your culture. 
The conference was a good opportunity to meet colleagues in the CR field, share practical tips and strategize on how to create a greater impact, together. 
SVCF is hosting a day-long Corporate Philanthropy conference for CR practitioners on December 1, 2016, themed, “Be Courageous”. To learn more, visit