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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Investing in employee well-being: innovative policies and benefits

Investing in employee well-being: innovative policies and benefits

CURATED COLLECTION

The COVID-19 pandemic served as catalyst for employers to invest more deeply and creatively in employee wellbeing, driven by fundamental changes to workplaces (e.g. remote work), implications for healthcare, family and childcare support, financial outlook, and more. Simultaneously, increased focus on racial justice and equity has heightened private sector commitments to inclusive workplace policies for marginalized communities. More recently, policy changes in the U.S. –  including the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the childcare cliff – have escalated the need for employers to increase benefits that supplement lack of government supports. 

Employees and companies alike are placing workplace wellbeing higher on their priority lists. 91% of employees find that their job plays a role in determining their wellbeing, and 57% report seriously considering quitting for a more supportive workplace. 76% of U.S. executives feel that expectations about workforce wellbeing are higher than in previous years, and 87% say that workforce wellbeing gives their company a competitive advantage. In addition to productivity and retention advantages, companies with higher employee wellbeing scores fare better financially, showing a superior return on assets, higher profits, and higher valuations.

When balanced with other core aspects of employee experience (including leadership behaviors and job design), inclusive employee policies and benefits can play a significant role in supporting holistic wellbeing. This Curated Collection provides the business rationale for and innovative examples of private sector wellbeing policies and benefits across five key areas: reproductive health, family care, paid leave, financial wellbeing, and mental health.


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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 Johnson & Johnson is Accelerating a Health Equity Mindset: the Business Match Fund

How Johnson & Johnson is Accelerating a Health Equity Mindset: the Business Match Fund

In the U.S., health disparities for people of color relative to White individuals include higher rates of illness and death and less access to quality care. In response to longstanding and systemic healthcare inequities, Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) launched its “Our Race to Health Equity” initiative (“ORTHE”) in November 2020. The bold under-taking “aspires to help eradicate racial and social injustice as a public health threat by eliminating health inequities for people of color” with a $100 million commitment over five years.

The company will invest half of ORTHE’s $100 million through external grants, programs, and initiatives by 2025. To embed a health equity mindset into J&J’s everyday business practice and strategy, J&J has also committed to driving change from within their large enterprise, allocating $50 million over five years to a Business Match Fund (“BMF”). The BMF is an incubator and catalyst for alignment at all levels of J&J by providing dollar-for-dollar co-investment alongside business units seeking to advance a health equity-oriented initiative in the United States. 

This case study details how Johnson & Johnson designed and executed the Business Match Fund to accelerate the adoption of a health equity focus across its divisions and, consequently, to seed large-scale organizational change. Their approach includes five core elements, explored further in the report:

  1. Design a funding approach that promotes innovation, long-term thinking, and engagement
  2. Use a varied toolkit to invite applications from across the enterprise
  3. Administer a layered and inclusive review process to select fund recipients
  4. Track impact centrally and regularly, leaving room for flexibility
  5. Tell the story of catalyzed impact internally and externally

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Corporate engagement with HBCUs

Corporate engagement with HBCUs

The Supreme Court’s 2023 decision to strike down affirmative action in higher education may result in decreased racial diversity at public and private colleges, making the role of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) even more vital in advancing opportunities for students of color. Their impact today is essential, and applications for enrollment are increasing, yet HBCU funding is lacking in comparison with other higher education institutions. 

In response to member interest, NationSwell reviewed the available data on HBCU funding levels (historical and current), their benefits to individuals and communities, and the most common forms of partnership between companies and schools. We’re pleased to share a summary of what we learned in the hopes that it helps our member organizations better understand their opportunity to support HBCUs.


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Skilling the future workforce: 8 recs for corporate leaders

Skilling the future workforce: 8 recs for corporate leaders

EXECUTIVE BRIEFING

Private sector engagement with skills-based hiring is increasing in response to employment gaps and escalating economic precarity. Between 2017 and 2019, 46% of middle-skill and 31% of high-skill occupations experienced material degree resets. And in 2022, 79% of HR professionals reported that scores on skills assessments are just as or more important than traditional criteria in hiring decisions.

These are positive trends from an economic and a social perspective. Skills-based hiring is critical to increasing equity and diversity in the workplace, as traditional credential-based hiring tends to screen out, disqualify, or exclude applicants without a four year degree.

While increased commitment to skills-based hiring is an important step toward a more prepared and more inclusive workforce, many companies are learning that in-demand skills do not exist in adequate supply. Some of those businesses are taking it upon themselves to develop the skill-based talent pipeline that will be necessary to power their organizations, industries, and broader market into the future.

To better understand how companies are investing in the skills-based training ecosystem, before hiring even comes into frame, we dug deep with nine organizations on the cutting edge of workforce development.

Through our conversations with leaders and practitioners, we uncovered a depth of contributions to changing and scaling the learning systems that are preparing workers for quality jobs. Our report compiles eight recommendations to provide guidance for private sector employers who are committed to skilling the future workforce and ultimately contributing meaningfully to a more just and equitable workplace. 

The eight recommendations:

 

  • Decide if you aim to be influential at a systems, sector, or company level
  • Position your strategy correctly within your company’s infrastructure
  • Lean into (and use) your company’s strengths
  • Build a well-balanced partner portfolio
  • Design for replicability and scalability
  • Mind the non-skills gap between learner and earner
  • Engage in pre-competitive transparency and collaboration
  • Bring rigor and patience to impact measurement

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The state of play: Corporate sustainability

The state of play: Corporate sustainability

As climate change creates a growing risk to companies’ financial stability, sustainability programs offer a competitive advantage for businesses across size and sector. Those who are ahead of the curve are making bold commitments, deepening expertise, collaborating effectively, and greening their workforces. The most resolute business leaders will continue to push forward their strategies against political backlash. For them, it is a moment of opportunity not hesitancy. 

In this report, we help leaders get up to speed and check their progress against the latest macro trends, policy and regulatory developments (U.S. and E.U.), and pace-setting organizations.

The trends: 

  • Corporate climate commitments and leadership accountability are on the rise. But the rate of progress remains well behind what’s needed to achieve 2050 goals. 
  • Political and legislative activity are creating cross-pressures on sustainability work. But stakeholder activism remains a strong tailwind. 
  • New innovations and collaborations reflect a growing supply chain playbook. Companies know that Scope 3 impact cannot be ignored. 
  • Jobs–both existing and new–are becoming greener. Employers and workers are both driving the transition. 
  • Water and biodiversity are making big moves toward the center of corporate interest. Pending emissions disclosure rules remain top of mind.

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