Building culture: Are you making employee engagement harder than it has to be?

Reinforcing prosocial behaviors is a surprisingly easy way to jumpstart your authentic employer brand.

With Gallup reporting that 51% of the U.S. workforce is not engaged, and with social consciousness on the rise across all workforce generations, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the idea of connecting the dots between employee wellbeing and community engagement. It might surprise you, though, to discover that it’s not as hard as you think, especially if you are armed with the right tools. What’s more, the effort is well worth it. Creating a streamlined, cost-effective employee wellness + community engagement program delivers an immediate boost to workplace morale.

Here are three strategies to help you get started.

Elevate the conversation from giving and volunteering to employee wellbeing

Encourage employees to express and celebrate the many ways “doing good” is part of their lives, at home and in the workplace.

Certainly giving and volunteering are key components of most community engagement programs. But focusing on these activities alone, and ignoring the big picture, could feel mechanical and cold to many employees. Our research indicates that you will actually increase the amount of money your employees give through your program if you consistently demonstrate that you, the employer, have a genuine interest in hearing employees’ perspectives about social impact.

So, instead of zeroing in on the transactional calls-to-action of giving money, volunteering hours, and showing up to participate in related activities, try launching a more holistic approach by helping employees celebrate all the ways they do good as part of their healthy, well-rounded lives, including:

  • Recycling and respecting the environment

  • Serving on boards

  • Purchasing products that support a cause

  • Celebrating at community events

  • Sharing with friends and colleagues who need help

  • Marketing favorite causes

  • Donating food, clothing and necessities

  • Caring for health and wellness

And of course . . .

  • Giving to charitable organizations

  • Volunteering for charities

Break through employer brand dissonance to avoid a “cram down”

“Social impact culture type” helps you sharpen your communications to better inspire and motivate employees to take action.

Most high-growth companies sponsor community engagement programs to do good in their communities and engage employees. But not all programs work as planned. Why? Frequently it’s because the programs promote corporate social responsibility and "purpose" from the top down, promoting the company’s signature programs but failing to adequately recognize and affirm the good their own employees are doing both inside and outside of the workplace.

Every person has a “social impact personality type,” and the aggregate of all employees’ types makes up a company’s “social impact culture.” Understanding the predominant type or types within your workforce will allow you to tweak your corporate program, even just ever so slightly, to better align with how your employees view “doing good” as part of their lives at work and at home.

Here’s the best part. Armed with social impact culture type information, you will be able to communicate your program so much more effectively because you can use words and graphics that resonate with each social impact personality type. Quite frequently, adjusting communication based on psychographic prosocial behavior data is all you need to do to dramatically increase participation in workplace giving campaigns or matching gifts programs.

Understand your employees’ social impact culture mindset—and boom—watch the dollars flow into your program and out into the community to support worthwhile causes.

Tailor measurement to your company’s needs

Pick your own data points, based on your goals for retention, productivity, and recruiting.

What’s your goal for your employer brand? That’s the question to ask when you’re figuring out how to measure the success of your community engagement and employee wellbeing programs. Not all companies are the same. Here are just a few examples of where our Employee Vitals team has seen social impact culture type play a critical role in achieving corporate goals:

  • A multinational corporation that needed to demonstrate an increase in both community impact and employee engagement in its corporate philanthropy program

  • A company with a culture strained by one merger after another

  • A SaaS company that needed to triple its sales pipeline

  • A technology firm fighting for a competitive recruiting edge in a noisy market

  • Accountants whose civic engagement efforts were making clients feel empty despite the firm’s warm-hearted efforts

  • A healthcare services enterprise struggling to connect offices across the country

  • A software company tackling a quantum leap forward in a brand based on purpose and belonging

Measuring the impact and success of your community efforts and employee engagement is critical when you want to achieve your enterprise goals--and hitting your goals is much easier to do when you understand your company’s social impact culture type.

2019 will be the year of the website

Volatility and uncertainty in today’s digital world are revitalizing the front door of today’s businesses. Websites are more relevant than they’ve been in a decade, since social media hit the scene in full force. Websites are back—but with a few new twists that require companies to do a bit of reinvention.

What to keep doing

1. Stay strategic

“The best websites have always been the ones that are carefully designed to support business strategy,” says Ann-Marie Harrington, a partner at Embolden. Ann-Marie founded a custom web app development firm in 1998, when websites were new. “When websites were emerging technology, it was easy for some companies to get caught up in thinking that if you just had a website, that was good enough. That has never been the case, and it certainly is not the case now. ‘Any old website’ will fail to perform. A website must be developed by applying high-level critical thinking and business strategy, or it won’t do anything to help a business grow.”

2. Design must support content, and vice versa

Websites will continue to do the heavy lifting for businesses when the graphic elements and words work hand-in-hand. This is easier said than done. “It’s not all that hard to put words on a page,” says Ann-Marie. “It’s also not that hard to source beautiful images and graphics. But what does it all mean? Why are the words chosen and what are they designed to accomplish? How do the words support the goals of the business? How are the images and design reflective of the desired user experience? These are the questions that will make or break a website. That’s always been the case, and that won’t change.”

3. Stay focused on target audiences

Even though it is the front door of a business and must be welcoming to a wide variety of people at the “top of the funnel,” a website still needs to be built for someone, and not built for everyone. “Make sure your website is designed and created with the help of people who understand business development, market dynamics, the sales process, and how today’s buyers make decisions,” says Ann-Marie. “If you are outsourcing all or part of your web development, this means you need to make sure the people you are working with are enthusiastic about learning how your business works, how you and your clients think and feel, and how your business makes money by delighting your customers.”

What to do differently

1. More streamlined and concise

Technology is changing rapidly, and website platforms are no exception. Today’s businesses have many options for hosting and maintenance. “With the emergence of high-quality platforms-as-a-service,” says Ann-Marie, “businesses can rely on more predictable safety, security, and performance of their websites without needing to hire developers or worry about code.” Ann-Marie and her team wrote thousands of lines of code when they built some of the first websites 20 years ago. “Now,” she said, “it’s my responsibility as an owner of our firm to stay on the cutting edge of the best technology tools available, and then make sure our experienced team applies business strategy, content, and design to leverage those tools to achieve the desired result.”

2. More human

Human behavior has changed, right alongside the technology. Most people now expect websites to give them the information they need, right up front. “People don’t want to dig through a lot of information. Give them what they need in a visually compelling way, quickly,” said Ann-Marie. “Gone are the days when a website needs to have hundreds of pages to look credible. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.” Ann-Marie said there is still plenty of room for white papers and other thought leadership materials, in the form of blog posts and other real-time website features. “Subject matter expertise is as important as ever. But don’t clog up the website pages that need to be accessed and absorbed within a 10-second timeframe.“

3. Faster production

Building a new website used to be a lengthy and often expensive exercise. No more. “Six months and tens of thousands of dollars once was typical for a website project,” said Ann-Marie. “Companies today don’t have that kind of time, let alone the desire to invest that level of budget and human capital into a website.” Today’s businesses usually want a new website as soon as possible, she says. “They expect a web development partner to have the business development savvy and go-to-market grit to produce a top-notch website in a short amount of time and at a reasonable price. This allows more running room for the important consultative conversations about how the business will grow. That’s the true ROI.”

Net net? Keep the best from the past, but don’t miss an opportunity to reboot your website to grow your business for the near-term future.

Four jobs that need to know Social Impact Culture Type


We're all taught that emotional intelligence is critical to success in any career. But in a handful of key positions in high-growth industries, it's more important now than ever before to get inside the hearts and minds of the people you are leading, engaging, or cultivating for business.

What's going on? We are living in a social impact culture where work, life, community, and wellness have converged. This means everything is on peoples' minds, everywhere, all the time. Whomever it is you're trying to influence, the chances are good you'll need to adjust your approach to motivate and inspire the behavior you want.

Much like a personality test for commercial decision-making, a "Social Impact Culture Type" diagnostic gives you quick insights into how your target audiences are making decisions about whether and how to engage with you and your business.

This matters especially if your job is:

1. C-level and human resources

You're responsible for attracting and retaining talent.

C-level executives and human resources leaders know it's critical to get the right people--and keep them. The success of your employee engagement programs, especially programs related to wellness and community, depend on how well those programs reflect the Social Impact Culture Type of your workforce. It's also critical that you celebrate success in a way that resonates with the predominant Social Impact Culture Type of your talent base.

2. Marketing and client development

You need to unlock insights about customers.

It's getting harder to differentiate your products and services from competitors, especially for high-growth sectors such as financial services, wealth management, and consumer goods. A data-driven understanding of customers' Social Impact Culture Type can give you an edge in getting new business and retaining loyal customers for many years and across generations.

3. Foundation executive

Your role is to increase the impact of your philanthropy programs.

Corporate foundations, nonprofits, family foundations, and community foundations are all in the business of making a difference. How are you communicating your impact in a way that truly resonates with the contemporary philanthropic mindset? No longer is "doing good" a function of simply writing checks to charities. Today's social impact footprint now spans a wide range of "prosocial" behaviors that your stakeholders expect will not only make a difference in the community, but also add meaning to their own lives. Social Impact Culture Type is a determining factor in how well your stakeholders will align and engage with your initiatives.

4. Healthcare marketing

Your priority is to increase consumer engagement to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.

In today's social impact culture, health and wellness are intertwined with a consumer's community experience. Research continues to show links between volunteering, for example, and lower blood pressure, as well as the health benefits of regular social impact activities ranging from giving to charity, serving on boards, to purchasing products that support a cause. What this means for healthcare is that consumer experience strategies must take social impact behaviors into consideration. Social Impact Culture Type provides an instant window into new data that can influence health outcomes and costs.

Let's guess your type!

Use Embolden's free tool to get a quick read on your type. (Only the full diagnostic can tell you for sure!)

Embolden’s research has revealed that each person--regardless of what hats that person wears--leans toward one of the three Social Impact Personality Types: Investor, Activator, or Connector. One of the best ways to get inside the minds of your stakeholders is to first get in touch with your own Social Impact Culture Type. Then, you will be better equipped to appreciate the perspectives of your audiences and in turn develop more tailored, effective strategies to engage and build loyalty with the people you care about.

Start your own charity--or not?

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Tomorrow's philanthropists are fast becoming today's philanthropists. That means the millennial mindset is a rising force in emerging charitable giving behavior. Has starting your own charity ever crossed your mind? If you've got the millennial mindset, the answer is probably "yes."

Thousands of new charities are started each year by people passionate about a cause. Millennial or not, if you've got a cause you're passionate about, how do you know whether starting your own charity is right for you?

Here are two key questions to ask yourself before you get started.

First, do you really want to start a charity, or is a for-profit structure better for you? The answer starts with what you want to accomplish. And then you can see what revenue model is best. Either way, you have to ask for money--either by selling a product or service, or by asking for people to give to support your cause. Be sure to review the pros and cons of a nonprofit versus a for-profit.

Second, find out whether an existing charity is doing something similar. There are more than 1.3 million charities in the United States, so chances are pretty good that there is a charity already doing what you're wanting to do. Competition for dollars is high. Requests for charitable contributions are filling up everyone's inboxes, not just yours! A great idea is to consider incubating your idea as a volunteer within an existing charity to test your concept and get early traction.

Remember, starting a charity is just like starting a business, with the added twist that it's governed under a section of the tax code containing rules relating to the deductibility of donations and the exemption from taxation. You still have to make sure ends meet and that your expenses don't exceed your revenue.

Three people. One social impact culture.

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Today’s work-life-community-wellness mindset has become a part of who we are in our personal and professional worlds. “Doing good” is now an integral part of our healthy, well-rounded lives.

Perspectives from three people in Embolden’s cast of fictional characters will give you a feel for how contemporary social impact culture is influencing millions of Americans, both at work and at home.

Elizabeth Bandera

  • Age 29
  • Financial advisor
  • Avid golfer, lover of sunsets, and vegan
  • Embolden Archetype: Investor/Accelerator

What Elizabeth says when she wears her professional hat

“To fulfill obligations to my clients, I need to be aware of the wide range of tax-savvy charitable giving vehicles. This is becoming even more important as philanthropy increases as a powerful connector across generations. I need that connection to retain my client base for the long term.”

What Elizabeth says when she wears her personal hat

“I want to be sure the dollars I am giving to charities are making a real difference. I want to see impact. Over the years, I have started to focus my giving on two or three causes instead of spreading the dollars across a dozen or so organizations. That’s helped me have more time to ask good questions of the charities I support.”

Steve Cowless

  • Age 47
  • CEO of a growing software company
  • Woodworking enthusiast and world traveler
  • Embolden Archetype: Activator/Interactor

What Steve says when he wears his professional hat

“It’s a priority as CEO for me to make sure company leadership is fostering a positive workplace culture where people love their jobs, and this includes offering community engagement opportunities and empowering our associates. At the same time, I am ultimately responsible for ensuring that the company is doing a good job as a corporate citizen. And frankly, I need as many associates as possible to get involved in our corporate philanthropy programs.”

What Steve says when he wears his personal hat

“I enjoy community-based social activities that involve the opportunity to get together with friends and family members. I am an especially big fan of 5Ks and concerts to support good causes. To me, it’s not about the money I give at these events, if any. Instead, it’s about the overall experience and demonstration of collective support for an organization that’s helping people in need.”

Alice Fiorella

  • Age 33
  • Executive director of family foundation
  • Fashion blogger, gardener, and swimmer
  • Embolden Archetype: Investor/Accelerator

What Alice says when she wears her professional hat

“I am constantly seeking evidence of ‘impact’ for the grants we make. It’s my responsibility to make sure we get the right reports from the nonprofits we support. I always try to think about what my grandparents would say about the data and documentation I’m gathering. It’s thanks to their business savvy and civic commitment, after all, that the foundation and its assets are here today to serve the community.”

What Alice says when she wears her personal hat

"I am doing a lot of good already by volunteering and serving on boards. Plus I try to purchase products from consumer brands, restaurants, and vendors that support a cause. So, I am immersed in ‘’doing good' every day of my life. I am not alone! Everyone I talk to these days feels the same way. This personal experience makes me realize that our family foundation needs to shine, and the quarterly foundation meetings I organize are where it all must come together for my siblings and cousins."

* * *

Understanding the perspectives of Elizabeth, Steve, and Alice are just three of many examples of how Embolden’s methodology and archetypes can help you get inside the minds of clients, consumers, donors, employees, and business leaders—or any combination thereof as roles collide in the changing marketplace. Armed with that information, Embolden can help you activate those perspectives to capture new data and create loyal engagement. Our team would love to support your success.

Is "do good, feel better" the solution for increasing charitable giving?

Great news to see that Americans' giving to charities topped $400 billion in 2017, according to a report published earlier this month by the Giving USA Foundation.

Still, there's opportunity to do more good, considering that giving as a percentage of GDP still hovers at 2%--which is where it's been for more than four decades. Creating a positive, "do good, feel better" experience could be the solution for breaking through that 2% ceiling.

A "do good, feel better" approach in today's social impact culture means it's important to celebrate the wide range of "pro-social" activities that extend beyond giving money to charities. An expanded set of activities includes volunteering, purchasing products that support a cause, sharing with friends and family, serving on boards, and more.

Indeed, a major breakthrough in our research was the discovery a few years ago that the contemporary philanthropic mindset was much more inclusive than the industry realized! Our book, Do Good, Feel Better, describes the research study and results in detail. The book includes the checklist below--a throwback to our 2012 pilot study to test the effectiveness and impact of celebrating the good you are already doing. We still love this checklist!

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Getting new customers and retaining employees is easier with an uplifting dose of "doing good"

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According to research released by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, social content that’s inspirational is a powerful way to generate emotional engagement.   

We could not agree more! For years, the team at Embolden has observed the impact of positive, uplifting messages on improving lives and business results. We believe social impact messages are an especially strong source of inspiration, mainly because in today’s culture, community is becoming an integral component of work, life, and wellness.

Our research study below offers a case in point. Or, skip the research and just jump to the end of the article to get the three takeaways. (Hint: 1. Update your messages. 2. Avoid the "corporate cram down." 3. Scale the one-to-one.)

Research Study: Engaging Consumers Through “Doing Good”

A few years ago, our team recruited thirty-four parents with one or more children under the age of eighteen. They were asked to complete a “doing good” drawing and painting exercise with their children designed to celebrate the good the families were already doing—regardless of the causes supported.

Following the exercise, parents were asked to participate in a brief online tutorial about the ways they and their families were participating in one or more social impact activities, including what we call the “10 Ways to Do Good”:

  1. Caring about health and wellness
  2. Giving to charities
  3. Volunteering at a charity
  4. Serving on a charity’s board of directors
  5. Purchasing products that support a cause
  6. Recycling and respecting a sustainable environment
  7. Donating items of food and clothing
  8. Marketing a favorite charity
  9. Sharing with family and friends in need
  10. Celebrating at community events

At the conclusion of the study, our researchers asked three questions:

1. “If there were products on the market today that helped you engage with your family in one or more of the 10 Ways to Do Good, would you be likely to purchase those products?”

85 percent answered YES, they would be likely to purchase those products.

2. “Are you likely to use part or all of the material in the survey to help teach your children or grandchildren, eighteen years of age or younger, about the 10 Ways to Do Good?”

100 percent answered YES, the "doing good" messages were useful.

3. “Do you feel like you have a better mental picture of the day-to-day activities that are part of your overall social impact—how you are making a positive difference in the lives of other people?”

91 percent answered YES, they felt better about the ways they are making a difference.

Wow. With numbers like that, it only made sense to go deeper with sixty-minute individual interviews with participants. And the results were equally powerful:

I want a company to acknowledge my current situation as it relates to social impact.
I want a company to motivate me by making it easy for me to get involved in doing good in the ways I like best.
I want a company to inspire me to involve my children in doing good, and I want a company to understand my need to educate my children about doing good.

Additional color commentary was equally illuminating. Here are a few more comments from the parents in the study:

“I would purchase products that help me reinforce good values and morals with my daughter. I’m a single mom, so activities that are fun for her and let me spend a few minutes reinforcing our family values are very helpful.”

— Marie, mother of one girl, age 8

“A company that can help me spend time with and interact with my family is a company I want to support.”

— Christa, mother of one girl, age 5, and five boys, ages 7, 9, 10, 13, and 14

“I was surprised at how much good we are doing as a family. Sometimes you can get burned out doing the same things. The online survey reminded me that there are many ways my kids can be helpful and do good.”

— Kate, mother of one boy, age 4, and one girl, age 8

Your Three Takeaways

Here’s what all of this means to a business striving to build a new customer pipeline or retain top employees:

1. Update your messages.

Your customers, clients, prospects, current employees, and recruits are listening differently to what you say. They will pay close attention to how much (or how little) you care about them as human beings, which comes through loud and clear (or not) in the types of messages you share in your communications and through social media.

2. Avoid the "corporate cram down."

The people you want to attract and retain--whether customers or employees--want your company to demonstrate a willingness to listen to what they care about. They don’t want to experience a “corporate cram down” of what you think they want to hear.

3. Scale the one-to-one.

One of the biggest challenges you face is scaling your outreach and relationship building to achieve authentic, emotional connections with your audiences and get the real-time feedback data you need to make business decisions. Are you ready?

“Doing good” in your messaging and relationship-building can give you a jump start to achieving your business development, recruiting, and retention goals. And that’s good for everyone.