Optimizely gives its employees numerous opportunities to participate in volunteer and charitable efforts.
Employees want to work for companies that care. A corporate culture that prioritizes giving back signals a value system that extends to the health of the entire company. As leading companies know, alignment between an employee's personal values and the employer's mission and values is a major factor in determining where a person chooses to work or whether he stays with his current employer.
Organizations that crave a community that comes with an aspirational culture should create opportunities for employees to opt into an ethos of higher purpose. And that expression can be a unifying and inspiring experience for everyone at the company.
Optimizely, which has a strong existing culture of caring about its community and employees, recently doubled down in this area. By launching with the software-as-a-service volunteer solutions provider Causecast, it experienced unparalleled results.
A starting point
Optimizely already enjoyed outstanding employee participation in its giving and volunteering programs, with employee volunteering and giving rates typically averaging in the 25-40 percent range. The company's active culture of giving back is one reason why it has been recognized by the San Francisco Business Times as one of the best places to work in the Bay Area from 2014 through 2016.
Senior Program Manager John Leonard explains why Optimizely feels a particular responsibility to give back even at a relatively early stage in the company's development. "As a technology company in San Francisco," he says, "we're really at the center of an unprecedented concentration of wealth, knowledge, innovation, and talent. And we're also in a place where there is a huge homeless problem. There are big, real challenges in education, the environment, and other issues that are all around us."
Over time, as Optimizely carefully built its culture, the company created different campaigns, each one building upon the next. Leonard knew that employees were extremely busy and distracted, though.
Expanding the scope
Leonard notes that Optimizely has incredible employees who care and want to give back with their time and skills. Enter the Causecast platform, which made it easy for employees to volunteer and give back.
Impact Week was the first campaign the company engaged in through the Causecast platform, with volunteer opportunities ranging from cleaning up a park to serving meals at a soup kitchen to a hackathon, all serving 15 different nonprofits. By offering opportunities before, during, and after the workday, and encouraging healthy competition among departments, overall participation reached an impressive 85 percent.
After Impact Week, the company made plans to further nourish a culture of giving back. It worked with Causecast to provide alternative ways for users to donate, such as payroll deductions and recurring donations. Implementing these donation methods on the Causecast platform enables employees to make ongoing, smaller-sized donations to the organizations and causes they care about.
"If I'm going to ask them to take the time and make a contribution," says Leonard, "I want it to require the least amount of time and the fewest clicks, so it's as clear and straightforward as possible."
Optimizely also offered employees opportunities to give back their time and their skills. The final event of Impact Week was the shortest in duration, but the largest in terms of participation: an in-office kitting event for International Medical Corps. About 60 employees gathered to assemble 500 kits to be sent to Nigeria as part of International Medical Corps' polio vaccination program.
The lunchtime kitting event was perfect for employees who want to give back but are crunched for time. "Employees were able to grab lunch, listen to the presentation, do the kit assembly, and still be done in time for their 1 p.m. meeting," Leonard explains. "It was a way for us to involve people who may not be able to take that much time out of their day, and a terrific way for us to drive overall participation in our Impact Week."
All these programs were perfectly aligned with the company's first big employee charitable giving campaign, called OPTIGIVE. Causecast helped Optimizely set this up as a big end-of-year push to employees to either make one-time donations or set up recurring donations for the coming year. The company-wide campaign included employees and nonprofits in the United States and abroad.
Leonard communicated regularly with employees about all aspects of the campaign, both before and during OPTIGIVE. He focused on keeping the campaign top of mind for employees, reminding them to get involved if they hadn't already, and updating them on progress throughout the campaign. He also engaged a council of employee ambassadors to help encourage participation throughout the company and tune in to the specific needs of different departments.
The results of the campaign were impressive. By enabling payroll deduction and recurring donations, and by employing a more deliberate and thought-out strategy, Optimizely tripled the average contribution to its annual giving campaign over the prior year ($55 to $175), and total funds raised increased sevenfold from $4,150 to $30,371. Half of all donors chose payroll deduction and 25 percent made recurring contributions.
As Optimizely offered carefully planned events, more employees participated in each one.
"When they see so many of their peers volunteering and talking about it, when senior executives are volunteering and endorsing the experience, it feeds on itself," Leonard says. "The more people volunteer, the more it becomes second nature. It becomes an expectation."
Maintaining momentum for the future
Optimizely recently achieved participation rates of 51 percent with its employee giving program and 85 percent in its volunteer programs. With the success of these programs, Leonard has recently recruited a new team of employee ambassadors for 2017, comprising a council that will help plan all events for the coming year. He sees clearly how Optimizely's increasing volunteer activity helps build giving back into the culture.
As giving back has become more of a norm, the company has seen this reflected in the feedback it receives from employees. A December 2016 survey yielded a surprising number of responses around the social impact focus of the company, with 70 percent of employees saying that these efforts made them feel more proud of their company. One employee commented: "I'm so proud of Optimizely's commitment to helping others. So much so, it's the first thing I talk about when friends and family ask ‘How's the job?'"
Leonard believes that Optimizely's burgeoning culture of social impact helps attract the best employees and also the ones that will fit into its desired culture. A new employee recently told Leonard that he had multiple job offers, but joined Optimizely specifically because of the opportunities to give back to the community. "We think that this culture helps retain employees, too," he says.
As Optimizely's culture of giving back grows, this spirit is getting built into the company's business strategy as well. Optimizely is now offering discounted software to nonprofits across the country that enables them to test and optimize their websites to increase online donations, memberships, and volunteer recruitment. But sometimes the beneficiaries do not have the bandwidth to use the technology efficiently. To offer their highest level of support to nonprofits while simultaneously amplifying employee engagement, Optimizely is developing a program that enables employees from multiple departments to
donate their skills to nonprofit customers to help them better use the company's platform.
"This kind of skills-based volunteering has huge benefits for both our customers and employees," says Leonard, adding that the sales department has requested that volunteering be integrated into the annual sales kickoff as well.
"It's another sign that we're being more successful with integrating social impact into the culture and business of the company," he observes.
Characteristics of Successful Giving Back Campaigns
- Tailored to the strengths and needs of the company.
- Flexible enough to target employee interests.
- Capable of including multiple office locations, including
- Effortless for employees to get involved, with perks such as
automatic payroll donations paving the way.
- Offer opportunities for everyone.
Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.
Optimizely is an experimentation platform that enables businesses to deliver continuous experimentation and personalization across websites, mobile apps, and connected devices. Headquartered in San Francisco, also has offices in Amsterdam, Cologne, London, and New York City.
Causecast powers innovative workplace giving, volunteering, and social impact programs. It helps organizations attract, retain, and inspire employees and customers, while driving change through meaningful cause engagement.
Are You Giving Back?
Giving back to our communities doesn't just mean reaching into our wallets. Many nonprofits and community organizations can use the skill sets of talent development professionals. How do you define "giving back" and how do you think it affects your organization? What are you or your employees and organization doing to give back to the profession or society at large? CTDO would love to share your giving back story.
Contact Ann Parker, senior manager of the Association for Talent Development's Senior Leaders and Executives Community of Practice, with your ideas and stories.