By Kimberly Manno Reott

Last week, I opened a virtual dialogue with 16 European Foundation Centre (EFC) members to explore their top challenges in effective employee engagement. Several key themes surfaced that I’m confident will resonate with talent and internal communication teams in philanthropies everywhere. Here, I offer a summary of these themes and recommendations for a shift in thinking, including links to some of our newest content.


How do you connect a diverse, even global, workforce?

As we opened our dialogue, participants representing several corporate and social impact foundations shared a bit about the programs they use to engage employees. Volunteering and annual donation drives rose to the top of the list. Others described a variety of one-off events or opportunities to “get out in the field.”

Some EFC members represent employee communities in the tens of thousands, with multiple offices and disparate geographies or cultures. The common question: What’s the best method to help a diverse workforce feel like a connected community?

It’s an important question that many of our clients at Context Partners struggle with, too. Start by clarifying the Shared Purpose that resonates with your employees. Shared Purpose is the beyond-business goal held in common by your organization, its employees and its stakeholders. While a single activity or campaign can generate excitement among some of your employees for a short period of time, Shared Purpose is the glue that connects them well beyond that single event.

If you’re unclear whether you have a Shared Purpose underlying your employee engagement strategy, clarifying one is a great place to start.


Personalize your calls to action

How do you select an engagement experience that will appeal to the optimum number of employees, regardless of their title or office location? That’s a question all of our clients struggle to answer, especially when resources are constrained. Employees contribute to the shared purpose of your brand or cause based on who they want to become and the world they want to live in. In other words, not all employees are motivated to act or contribute to that purpose in the same way. Yet too often, engagement programs offer only a single call to action, or calls to action that misalign to your employees’ true motivations.

We’ve found that there are six Aspirational Roles that reveal the key motivations of all employees, regardless of what part of the world they are in, their job title or their career stage. Some organizations have all six Aspirational Roles represented, while many have a density of just a few. Aspirational Roles characterize the inherent drive within people. For instance, Connectors recruit new members, while Storytellers generate content and Sharers amplify brand messages.

Give your employees more ways they can take action by building in engagement strategies unique to each of the six Aspirational Roles. This helps ensure more diverse and meaningful participation.

“We want to engage our entire staff,” was a common theme in our dialogue. Rethinking how you segment your employees is an important key in realizing that goal. Begin by understanding the roles present on your team by taking our online Know Your Role Quiz.


Rethink rewards

A few of our philanthropy colleagues asked, “How can I build engagement results when I can’t get more time with our employees?” It’s easy to assume that improving engagement results requires a bigger time commitment—which many employees simply can’t give. But more time doesn’t always equate to deeper engagement.

Instead, we’ve found that participation grows when you link actions to the right rewards. In other words, you don’t necessarily need more time with employees; rather, you need to show more employees that their participation will be rewarded in a way they find meaningful. That means incorporating three types of rewards—monetary, reputational and experiential—into your employee engagement strategy. We’ve found that this approach boosts both immediate and sustained engaged results.


Self-sustaining networks can scale

Many of the our colleagues shared this challenge: If the people in power in the organization don’t rally their teams (or if these internal champions leave the foundation), the engagement levels drop.

Many organizations assume that people in leadership positions are the only influencers in their organization, and the only people who can motivate employees to participate. We’ve found that job titles actually say very little about who your best influencers really are. And they say little about how groups can become self-sustaining and scalable in a manner that taps your community’s inherent motivations.

That’s why Aspirational Roles (not job titles) are your best bet for tapping your team’s best internal champions. To learn more about each of the six Aspirational Roles and what they reveal about your employees’ true motivations, we invite you to download our newest publication, The Future of Segmentation.