Civics Inc.: How every business can help promote a healthy democracy

Civics Inc.: How every business can help promote a healthy democracy

EXECUTIVE BRIEFING

This is the biggest election year in history, as citizens in countries representing half the the world’s population head to the polls. At home, the 2024 U.S. election will once again put destabilizing pressure on American political processes and institutions.

We know that the moment demands more than our attention; it demands urgent action. Employers hold outsized potential to promote civic participation and protect our democracy, but for many leaders, that work feels more fraught than ever before.

Developed from the insights and experiences of business leaders and democracy experts, this report is designed to meet businesses where they are. It provides a strategic framework to help employers customize their efforts around three goals and five core assets.

Three goals for employers to pursue in service of healthier democracy:

  • Encouraging and enabling civic participation
  • Promoting information accessibility, transparency, and quality
  • Supporting issues that protect fundamental rights and protect democracy

Five core assets that all businesses can leverage in pursuit of these goals:

  • Workplace policies and benefits
  • Employee engagement and people infrastructure
  • Corporate products and services
  • Political contributions and advocacy
  • Corporate and executive voice

What else is included in the report?

  • Talking points for making the business case for democracy, provided directly by corporate leaders and democracy experts
  • Dozens of real examples showing how businesses are promoting civic participation and a healthier democracy, paired with detailed implementation guidance
  • Peer-vetted recommendations for partner organizations on a wide-range of needs

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Looking Ahead: 2024

Looking Ahead: 2024

TREND REPORT
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When NationSwell surveyed corporate social impact and sustainability executives in July 2023, nearly 7 out of 10 said they’re anticipating a challenging year in 2024. Since then, we’ve witnessed an intensifying wave of anti-DEIB activism, read the dire warnings conveyed in the UNFCCC’s first Global Stocktake, and felt the surge of collective anxiety around the coming elections in the U.S. and around the world. At the same time, powerful examples of collective action, new and transformational technologies, and the continued resolve of purpose-driven leaders demand our attention and urge optimism into the picture.

At NationSwell, we too are resolved. We are resolved to support our membership community, partners, and concerned public in advancing progress on the issues that we believe matter most in the year ahead.

To ground our collective efforts, we have prepared this 2024 look ahead with four goals in mind:

  • To orient organizations, leaders, and their teams to the issues and trends that we see mattering most in 2024, supported by detailed evidence
  • To provide line of sight into the predictions and forecasts of experts steeped in those issues
  • To support scenario planning around a range of inevitabilities and possibilities
  • To voice our calls to action for the field and for ourselves

Our look ahead focuses on 6 major topics that NationSwell anticipates being central to the work of purpose-driven leaders and organizations in 2024:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Climate progress
  • Democracy and civic engagement
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging (DEIB) and economic opportunity
  • The employee-employer compact
  • The social impact and sustainability profession

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Guide to engaging employees in corporate volunteerism

Guide to engaging employees in corporate volunteerism

EXECUTIVE BRIEFING

A majority of employees (69%) report that “having societal impact is a high expectation or deal breaker when considering a job” (Edelman Trust Barometer, 2023). By facilitating volunteerism, companies can help to meet growing employee interest in purpose-driven work environments while harnessing the power of individual and collective contributions to drive impact.

Generally, employees are eager to have access to volunteer opportunities through work. Seventy-one percent of employees say it’s imperative or very important to work at a company that is supportive of giving and volunteering (America’s Charities, 2022), and they attribute volunteerism to well-being (77%), boosted morale (70%), and strengthened camaraderie (64%) (Bright Funds, 2021). Additionally, 92% of corporate human resources executives feel that leadership and professional skills are strengthened by contributing expertise to nonprofits (Deloitte, 2017). 

However, volunteer participation is decreasing. In 2022, 86% of companies offered domestic virtual volunteerism programs but only 19.8% of employees volunteered one hour or more of their time – lower than the pre-pandemic average of 29% (CECP, 2023). Nonprofit organizations are noticing this downward trend. In a recent survey, 47% of nonprofit CEOs said that recruiting sufficient volunteers is a notable problem for their organization (Do Good Institute, 2023). 

Given the increased value that employees place on working within purpose-driven environments, what explains the decline in volunteerism? Workers cite the following major detractors from volunteering: pressure from employers and colleagues, no availability during work hours, undefined projects, limited information about NGOs, and lack of a platform to register, participate, and track hours (America’s Charities, 2022). Moreover, few feel that volunteering can enhance their career opportunities (18%) or help to develop new skills (36%) (Deloitte).

Gathered from NationSwell members and independent research, this resource provides strategic guidance, case examples, and implementation checklists for companies to strengthen and advance their volunteerism efforts, with a specific focus on mitigating barriers and increasing incentives for employees. 

In this report you will find: 

  • Four critical areas of strategic guidance surfaced by NationSwell members
  • Case examples of strategies in action, featuring Mastercard, PwC, LinkedIn, Nike, Dow, Salesforce, Coupa, Starbucks, MetLife Foundation, KPMG, Liberty Mutual, Medtronic, Bank of America, and Verizon.
  • Implementation checklists to support action

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2023 Private Sector Social Impact and Sustainability Leadership Survey

2023 Private Sector Social Impact and Sustainability Leadership Survey

2023 brought social impact and sustainability work further into the social, political, and organizational spotlight, and presented leaders with distinct, long-term considerations for their work. Leaders encountered large-scale, composite challenges: the escalation of the anti-ESG movement; the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action and its subsequent implications for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB); the effects of an increasingly restrictive macroeconomic environment on teams and priorities; and the intensification of regulatory requirements. At the same time, social impact work has matured and deepened, with leaders investing heavily in employee engagement, leaning in on sustainability strategies, cautiously adopting AI, and empowering communities through trust-based and place-based work.

Against this backdrop, NationSwell set out to investigate what forces were most significant in changing the way leaders approached their priorities and decision-making over the past year, and what leaders anticipate about the environment, their organizations, and their jobs in the year to come. Between July and August 2023 we surveyed 74 corporate social impact and sustainability leaders across NationSwell’s membership community and beyond. The resulting report explores the direct opinions and experiences of those leaders, in service to advancing collective knowledge about their essential roles.

Below is a summary of the key findings discussed in greater detail in the report:

Theme 1: Leaders’ confidence takes a hit among a difficult year for impact work

  • Leaders’ satisfaction with their organizations’ social impact is waning marginally amid an increasingly challenging environment.
  • With trepidation about the year ahead, leaders’ confidence in their own work is also dwindling.

Theme 2: Economic and regulatory activity assert their dominance above other forces 

  • Two of 2023’s trending issues – the politicization of ESG and the emergence of generative AI – have not transformed social impact and sustainability strategies. 
  • Instead, macroeconomic conditions had widespread and deep impacts highlighted by layoffs, budget cuts, and new barriers to collaboration.
  • Over the next year, leaders predict that economic conditions and regulatory/legislative activity will be key factors in their prioritization and decision-making.
  • In recognition of their growing need, and in spite of economic uncertainty, leaders will advocate for more funding for social impact and sustainability work in the year ahead.

Theme 3: Influence is leaders’ most sought-after and valued currency 

  • Leaders respond most to the influence of their executive team, and want to wield their own influence in return.
  • Leaders are intent on improving their strategies and capabilities to engage with internal stakeholders.

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Pivotal moments: Responding to social, cultural, and political events

Pivotal moments: Responding to social, cultural, and political events

EXECUTIVE BRIEFING

Frequent media headlines, debate on our national stage, and marked instances of backlash toward companies have mainstreamed the politicization of ESG. Although the underlying work of corporate social impact and sustainability remains in-tact and durable, newly mounting political pressures have created real headwinds for business leaders — headwinds that can fundamentally change how social impact and sustainability are practiced. To get more clarity on what impacts political backlash is having on corporate practices, NationSwell surveyed 74 corporate ESG leaders (VPs and above), and conducted in-depth interviews with 12 more (whose ranks include senior leaders from Fortune 100 and 500 companies). 

Our research surfaced one significant way that political pressure is impacting company behavior: it has sown a growing reluctance to speak out publicly on culturally sensitive and politically divisive topics. 

Whereas the social justice movements of 2020 normalized the activist CEO, the current moment is introducing new doubt in the boardroom and among management teams about the relative risks and rewards of taking public and participatory action when an issue is polarizing. If harnessed intentionally, this trepidation can provide a useful moment for companies to reflect, reevaluate, and reset the purpose and impact behind public responses. Companies need to consider their own credibility and opportunity for meaningful impact before making bold public statements or commitments. But too much restraint can be overcompensatory and damaging, both to society and to corporate interests. 

As we look ahead to continued global instability and social turbulence, the acuity of questions around if, when, and how to respond to social and political issues will only grow. In conversation with leaders and practitioners, we’ve surfaced four recommendations for companies to help them navigate ESG headwinds while considering the interests of their employees, customers, communities, and other stakeholders. These recommendations will be most effective if implemented together. We have also created four tools to support their direct implementation.

Recommendations:

  • Create mechanisms for understanding what employees and customers expect of your organization
  • Assess the impacts of sociopolitical issues on your company, and your company’s opportunity to influence those issues
  • Use a decision framework to weigh and resolve the best available information before acting
  • Consult an external advisory council to expand your perspective

Implementation tools:

  • Employee sentiment survey questions
  • How to create a social response scorecard
  • Template corporate social response scorecard 
  • Template Community Advisory Council charter

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How consumers value social impact

How consumers value social impact

NATIONSWELL PRIMER

Business performance and brand value are increasingly understood as connected to an organization’s social purpose and impact. In fact, 89% of business leaders believe companies that lead with purpose have a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace, and 85% agree being a purpose-driven company drives profit (Porter Novelli, 2020). One of the groups at the root of this advantage are employees, who exert significant influence over a company’s success. In an environment where leaders overestimate customer trust by 38% and employee trust by 45% (Deloitte, 2021), it’s important to understand how these stakeholders factor social impact into their decisions about which corporations to buy from and work for. 

This one-page primer compiles illustrative data about the ways consumers are driving up the value of corporate social impact.


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How employees value social impact

How employees value social impact

NATIONSWELL PRIMER

Business performance and brand value are increasingly understood as connected to an organization’s social purpose and impact. In fact, 89% of business leaders believe companies that lead with purpose have a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace, and 85% agree being a purpose-driven company drives profit (Porter Novelli, 2020). One of the groups at the root of this advantage are employees, who exert significant influence over a company’s success. In an environment where leaders overestimate customer trust by 38% and employee trust by 45% (Deloitte, 2021), it’s important to understand how these stakeholders factor social impact into their decisions about which corporations to buy from and work for.

This one-page primer compiles illustrative data about the ways employees are driving up the value of corporate social impact. Download to learn more.


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Insights for impact: 2022 edition

Insights for impact: 2022 edition

This year-end report synthesizes the key learnings from each of NationSwell’s 2022 research publications and highlights several Studio projects with widely-relevant research deliverables. They cover a range of evergreen and emergent topic areas, including ESG, DEIB, community-centered philanthropy, corporate civic engagement, the future of work, catalytic cross-sector partnerships, and more. By focusing on solutions over exposition, and elevating the most urgent ideas, NationSwell’s insights reports showcase our deep commitment to valuing your time and delivering what you need to lead at your best.


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2022 Private sector social impact leadership survey

2022 Private sector social impact leadership survey

Leaders who bring confidence, creativity, and conviction to their work are arguably the most important ingredient to generating social impact. Often behind the scenes, these individuals play key roles in elevating and executing the social and environmental priorities of their organizations, priorities that are increasingly imperative for the private sector. Juggling stakeholder interests, cross-company engagement, and increasing expectations for monitoring and reporting, delivery of a social impact strategy is not an easy task.

From 2021 to 2022, we saw the emergence of the Russia-Ukraine war, the highest daily case counts of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple mass shootings, deadly instances of extreme weather, and the repeal of Roe v. Wade – all followed closely by ever-louder calls for the private sector to speak out and step up. Leaders in corporate social responsibility and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) were on the receiving end of those calls, setting the priorities and making the decisions that shaped their organization’s actions. 

So what exactly were the most significant forces that changed the way leaders in these functions approached their priorities and decision-making over the past year? What did leaders do differently, and why? And what are leaders anticipating the environment, their organizations, and their jobs to hold in store for the year to come? 

To answer those questions and more, NationSwell launched a survey in August 2022 specifically for private sector social impact leaders. The resulting report explores nine major findings across three categories: 

General sentiments

  • Despite a challenging environment, leaders are satisfied with their organization’s social impact and their personal contributions; they also remain confident in their ability to perform in the year ahead
  • Compared with their assessment of overall social impact, leaders are less impressed by their organization’s response to pivotal moments in the past year; the same is true of their individual contributions during those moments
  • Leaders view creating economic growth – for communities and for individuals – as secondary to their company’s other societal contributions

Headwinds and tailwinds

  • Global conflict, the pandemic, and extreme weather significantly outrank domestic social and policy events – including the repeal of Roe v. Wade – for influence on leaders’ priorities
  • Leaders share a growing concern about economic conditions, but differ widely on other top headwinds to impact
  • Organizational stakeholders provide steady tailwinds for social impact leaders, but the influence of other companies is on the rise

Change and adaptation

  • Acknowledging key vulnerabilities and the power of collective action, leaders are creating new frameworks for responding to pivotal moments and seeking strength in numbers
  • To become more confident about their paths ahead, leaders need more financial resources; they also need clarifying information about their organizations
  • In considering overall career goals, leaders crave thought leadership – their own and that of others

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The state of play: DEIB

The state of play: DEIB

Organizations have taken a larger interest in the practice of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging since COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd, and other pivotal events brought long-entrenched societal inequities into the spotlight. While their arc of progress is uneven, the simple fact remains: injustice occurs as prominently in workplaces as anywhere else, affording companies the opportunity – perhaps the responsibility – to model solutions that could ultimately yield a wider societal benefit. This trend report describes five key trends for DEIB in 2022:

The trends: 

  • With high expectations from current and prospective employees, companies are revamping recruitment to meet diversity goals; they are struggling to employ complete strategies.
  • To advance equity and inclusion, companies are leaning into stronger benefits, policy updates, and employee resource groups; data on efficacy is scarce, but makes clear that the work is just beginning.
  • Employee perspectives on DEIB effectiveness vary in ways that are unsurprising; company leadership has a responsibility for more open and reciprocal communications to better respond to these differences.
  • Reporting and disclosures around DEIB are improving, but the data is inconsistent and incomplete.
  • DEIB executives are turning over at an increasingly high rate; lack of resourcing, insufficient company-wide engagement, and burnout are major contributors.

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