5 Ways to Use ERGs to motivate employee participation

Lauren McCarthy, VP of Product at Bonterra (formerly CyberGrants)
Alexandra Dailerian, VP of Impact & Inclusion at Comcast

Today’s workforce increasingly prioritizes working for companies that cultivate a strong sense of purpose and an inclusive culture. As a result, leading businesses have implemented corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs that reinforce a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB).

Employee resource groups (ERGs), which are voluntary, employee-led groups that aim to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace and build a greater sense of community, are often the critical vehicle to a DEIB-centric culture.

At the 2023 ACCP Annual Conference, Lauren McCarthy, VP of Product at Bonterra (formerly CyberGrants), and Alexandra Dailerian, VP of Impact & Inclusion at Comcast, hosted a workshop, Empowered Employees: How ERGs Promote Inclusive Corporations.

During this session, Lauren and Alexandra created a space for CSR leaders to share best practices for implementing effective ERG programs and ways that ERG participants can help increase engagement in other areas of your CSR strategy.

In this blog, we’ll expand on learnings from this workshop and highlight five ways your organization can use ERGs to drive deeper employee participation.

Align giving opportunities to key identity groups

ERGs are typically aligned to a shared identity, background, or experience as those individuals work to lead programming that informs and amplifies the histories of their communities. For example, LGBTQIA+ employees might form a group for community members and allies. Together, their work can include anything from workplace advocacy programs to giving or volunteering initiatives that support their communities.

For CSR leaders, implementing an employee giving or volunteering program that aligns with an upcoming heritage month or awareness day can be a great way to rally employees around timely, relevant causes. But identifying the right nonprofit partners and programming can be challenging if you lack the knowledge, background, or expertise.

This is an excellent opportunity to tap into relevant ERGs to help implement meaningful, sustainable programs that your workforce will be eager to rally behind. ERG members will be more informed on the specific needs of their communities, nonprofits to support that are working to meet community needs, and the most impactful giving or volunteering activities.

Plus, when you align your programs with causes your employees care about, they’ll be more eager to get involved and encourage their colleagues to join in.

Harness the power of employee-driven philanthropy

If your workplace giving programs don’t empower employees to give to causes that align with their passions, they won’t be inclined to participate.

According to Deloitte, 36% of professionals say having the opportunity to donate to specific causes and organizations they care about would motivate them to

donate through their workplace giving program. Among those who did not give through a workplace program, 45% said they gave to a cause outside of the ones offered by their employer—the number one reason for not participating in workplace giving.

It’s clear that if you want your workforce to participate, your company must be willing to work alongside its employees to understand the causes they wish to support and implement programs that align with them. But gathering this information can be challenging, especially if your business operates across multiple locations and time zones.

This is a perfect opportunity to lean on your ERGs for support. As members of your workforce themselves, ERG participants likely have a strong understanding of gaps in existing programs and how giving opportunities could be expanded to encompass more causes.

In some cases, it may even warrant implementing a survey or another forum for gathering feedback from your workforce. Once again, tap into ERGs to help you find the right way to reach your employees and encourage them to share their recommendations for improvement.

If you’re gathering employee input, be sure to share with them how you’ll use their feedback. This can help boost employee participation and will ensure that your employees feel like their voices are being heard, even if you can’t apply all the recommendations you receive from them.

Motivate participation with matching gifts

Another great way to drive participation is through a matching gift program. According to Double the Donation, 84% of survey participants say they’re more likely to donate if a match is offered, and one in three donors indicate they’d give a larger gift if a matching gift is applied to their donation.

When you partner with ERGs on programs that support their community, motivate participation further by offering a matching gift. This helps incentivize members to reach out to their peers and encourage them to participate, unlocking involvement from folks outside the ERG.

Participants will be more inclined to donate, knowing the company will match their gift. But these programs aren’t just limited to monetary giving. Like matching gifts, a Dollars for Doers program is a way to add an incentive to ERG-sponsored volunteerism activities. When an employee logs volunteer hours, double their impact with a donation to a nonprofit of their choosing.

By offering these incentives, you’ll ultimately drive deeper employee participation and maximize support for causes aligned with relevant ERGs.

Tap into internal champions

One of the best ways to incentivize employee participation in an upcoming initiative is to harness the power of internal champions. You need not look further than your ERG members, especially if your program is aligned with their community, background, or interests. These folks will be eager to share information about the upcoming program with their membership and can help motivate them to get involved.

Here are three ways ERG members can act as internal champions:

1. Elevate upcoming opportunities

ERG participants can amplify upcoming giving or volunteering events to their membership in forums that non-members may not have access to, including team meetings or communication channels like newsletters or messaging groups.

2. Promote allyship and collaboration among ERGs

There’s no better way to encourage participation than through a friendly competition. ERG members can act as ambassadors to facilitate challenges or contests across groups. See which ERG can raise the most funds or log more hours to support a relevant cause or nonprofit. Set the parameters, goals, and deadlines and watch fellow ERG members make an impact while having fun.

3. Take on leadership roles Especially if you’re organizing a volunteer activity, having team captains or on-site leaders is critical to help your employees stay on track and meet key goals during a workplace program.

Tap into your ERG membership and identify participants willing to embrace this role. Not only can this help grow their leadership skills, but peer leaders can help motivate colleagues to get involved.

Position ERGs as strategic learning opportunities

For employees looking to engage in learning, development, or leadership opportunities, ERGs are a great place to start. According to the Institute for Corporate Philanthropy, high-performance organizations are 2.5x more likely to describe their employee resource groups as experiential career advancement and leadership development vehicles. They also found that ERGs set talent up for growth and advancement in their organization.

As ERG members work to create programming that supports their community, they’re exposed to team building, goal setting, data analysis, and dozens of other activities they may not otherwise experience in their day-to-day function.

As a result, participating members gain valuable technical, behavioral, and functional skills through these efforts. Plus, ERG members often have access to exclusive networking and mentorship opportunities, which are key vehicles for career advancement.

By positioning ERGs as strategic learning and leadership opportunities within your organization, employees will be more inclined to join an existing group or spearhead their own. As your ERGs grow, so does the pool of built-in, highly engaged leaders who can help support your CSR strategy and motivate participation across your organization.

ERGs at your own organization

For organizations looking to deepen employee engagement and expand participation, we encourage you to take these learnings back to your teams and consider how to apply them across your programming.

In this presentation deck, you can also access additional highlights, data points, and recommendations from the live session.

For more ways to motivate employee participation across all your CSR programs, browse Bonterra’s resources or connect with an expert.

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