Employee engagement (EE) at EdelGive was conceived on the notion that nonprofits and corporates have complementary and mutually beneficial skill sets. In 2005, Vidya Shah—then CFO at the Edelweiss Group and in charge of the company’s philanthropic allocations—began visiting grassroots nonprofits to understand their challenges. These organisations faced issues around management, administration, technology, and financial systems, which were impeding their growth and scale.
Vidya realised that there were skills and lessons from Edelweiss’ experience that could be of considerable benefit to the work of its philanthropic arm, EdelGive Foundation, and to its nonprofit partners. It was this realisation that led to the creation of the capacity building department and shaped the EE policy of the foundation.
The principles underlying EdelGive’s EE initiative
From its inception, the EE programme has seen both Rashesh Shah (founder, chairman and CEO of Edelweiss) and Vidya devoting time to EE strategy projects. This, coupled with the decision to exclude EE targets from employee KRAs, sent an organisation-wide message that volunteering would not be just a checkbox activity.
Creating forums where staff can talk about their volunteering experiences further embeds EE within the culture.
Institutional and senior management support makes it easier for staff to volunteer. For instance, if an employee has to attend a field visit on a working day, getting permission from the department head is easier, because senior management views volunteering as an integral part of their lives.
Employee engagement, like any other vertical, requires a dedicated team to be able to execute it well. It’s also important to nurture employee interest in longer-term volunteering(more than a few months) and capacity building projects. To plan and coordinate company-wide EE initiatives requires a team that can liaise with nonprofits to understand their challenges and match them with the right volunteers and resources.
At EdelGive, there is a dedicated EE team that receives as much attention and importance as the grant making, monitoring and impact arms of the foundation.
What we have learned
As our primary focus is on matching the right skills with the right organisation needs, our EE projects are not limited to our portfolio organisations alone.
It is important to have the volunteering engine running constantly so employees can plug into opportunities that pique their interest. Many organisations offer just one opportunity a quarter, which is limiting for volunteers. What if an employee can’t go on that day?
The key is offering a plethora of opportunities frequently and consistently, with room for customisation based on interests, appetite or skill level.
- Interest: Over time we have learned that not all people are interested in all causes; and when it comes to volunteering, the cause often matters. For example, health is not a focus area for EdelGive, but many of our employees are interested in supporting cancer as a cause. To meet this need, we held a fundraiser last year for cancer care treatment on behalf of a nonprofit organisation. Catering to employees’ interests helps generate buy-in to the programme more effectively than any internal marketing efforts.
Appetite: Employees vary in the time and effort they want to put into volunteering. And so a strong EE programme must cater to everyone, regardless of appetite. We host half-day events and one-day field visits to our nonprofit partners (which serve as an introduction to volunteering).
We also offer short-term (under 3 months) capacity building projects like putting an MIS together,and longer-term engagements that extend upwards of 3 months. For those interested in contributing monetarily, we have payroll giving. This range of offerings has enabled 75 percent of our employees to engage in some form of volunteering.
- Skill level: The success of projects depends on how well volunteers are matched to them. For example, nonprofit strategy projects need senior or mid-management involvement. Often, senior management is more eager to contribute to strategy projects because they can offer specialised knowledge and skills.
Doing EE well requires a lot of work, which includes sourcing projects, bringing on new volunteers, hosting events, liaising between nonprofits and volunteers, marketing and communicating about the programme consistently, and measuring outcomes. Putting a few systems in place helps ensure continuity and sustainability of the EE effort.
- Sourcing volunteers through inductions: Introducing EE initiatives to a captive audience of new and enthusiastic employees is an effective volunteer recruitment strategy. Doing this also gives you a chance to distribute volunteer forms and capture data on what kinds of opportunities your employees are interested in, whether they want to work on capacity building projects, how often, and so on. Plus, we have found that after volunteering once,employees are more likely to engage again and at a deeper level.
- Building a calendar of EE events and opportunities: An annual volunteer opportunity calendar, which is accessible to all employees, is a great tool for informing interested participants of upcoming events and projects. For companies with operations across multiple states, such a calendar also helps manage pan-India EE initiatives. At EdelGive, though we might set the calendar at the outset, we also support the local teams to run their own activities over the year.
- Technology: Given that Edelweiss has 7,000 employees, investing in a technology platform to help manage ongoing volunteering opportunities saves time and streamlines the process. The system captures the entire volunteer database as well as identifies opportunities that are not currently being pursued. It helps match projects with volunteers and monitor progress.
- Internally: Collaborating with the HR team offers tremendous value to an EE programme, because it allows you to work in concert with other employee initiatives across the organisation and plug into the work of the learning and development teams.It’s important to plan volunteer opportunities with their schedules in mind (so EE opportunities don’t clash with training programmes) and ensure that you jointly send communications reminding employees of upcoming opportunities.
- Externally: To expand your network of non-profit partners, attend conferences and conclaves where nonprofits have stalls or are speaking on panels.Given our large employee base, EdelGive works closely with Toolbox India, an organisation that provides pro bono consulting to nonprofits.
While running an EE programme like this can be very labour intensive, we have found that it can be a win-win situation for both employees and the organisation.