The benefits of a signature citizenship initiative

A national organization recently approached thinkPARALLAX for strategic consultation on the development of a signature citizenship program. The company already has a strong foundation in place, with 34% of employees volunteering, so leadership realizes the opportunity to grow the program to engage stakeholders and strengthen their brand, recruiting, and national presence.

Our conversations with the organization got us thinking: what are the benefits of implementing a signature initiative and how can it be optimized for maximum impact?

A signature program differs from a standard one-off volunteer or social impact campaign because it is strategically aligned with an organization’s business objectives. The program goes beyond traditional grant-making to leverage business assets, broaden reach, build impactful connections, and ultimately accelerate a brand’s mission. Signature initiatives are often branded, creating a genuine and cohesive goal for employees, investors, and customers to rally behind. When developed correctly, signature citizenship initiatives can improve retention, enhance customer loyalty, and amplify brand presence, all while addressing larger issues and contributing to the organization’s triple bottom line.

Here are some things to think about as you develop a signature program:

Business alignment

Think of ways you can leverage your organization’s existing resources and infrastructure to address a critical issue relevant to your industry. McDonalds’ Serve a Meal program addresses hunger in the community while leveraging the business’ core offering of food service. The world’s largest packaging and paper company, International Paper, recently launched their Box Out Hunger initiative, where employees send food to people in need, packaged in the company’s corrugated boxes.

Build bridges

Use your signature initiative as an opportunity to collaborate with organizations that support your short and long-term business objectives, such as NGOs, think tanks, or B Corporations. Through their Making More Health program, German-based pharmaceutical manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim works closely with local partners to promote better health within their communities.

Utilize workforce talents

Look for ways to tap into your employees’ skill sets to achieve the mission and goals of your partner organizations. Leading technology firm Qualcomm uses this logic with their Qcares program, inviting employees to mentor students on STEM-based projects. General Mills’ Good Works program connects marketing and consumer insights professionals with pro bono projects through nonprofit organizations.

Engage employees

When your organization’s signature initiative is something employees genuinely care about, your retention rate will soar. 83% of Deloitte employees say that pro bono work has made a positive impact on job satisfaction and 60 percent reported “significant gains in job-relevant skills”.

Involve key stakeholders

Signature initiatives allow organizations the opportunity to build meaningful connections with stakeholders beyond the employee base. Choose a cause that resonates with your stakeholders and make it easy and enticing for them to get involved. REI partners with a nonprofit to provide its members opportunities to travel around the world to part take in environmental protection, habitat restoration, trail maintenance, and other outdoor volunteer initiatives that directly relate to the retailer’s business.

As a final caveat, while we always encourage our clients to align social impact initiatives with their business objectives, you shouldn’t always shy away from a cause or movement because it seems ‘external’ to your business plan. Truly strategic businesses understand the interconnectivity of all issues — human rights abuses on supply chains, the global water crisis, and climate change, to name a few. Embrace the private sector’s responsibility to #TakeAStand on critical issues and look to do so by pursuing initiatives that align with and are unique to your business. The result is a stronger connection to your community, employees, and customers.