Author: Cassandra Bennett

This 60 second interview series features success stories from our Global Good Network and a rapid-fire interview with the partner on how it was achieved. 

We sat down with Alex Cunningham, the Manager of Employee Engagement at Chevron, to discuss recent successes with their matching gift program and how he views getting employees more engaged. Check out what Alex had to say:

Briefly explain Chevron’s Matching Gift Program

We provide matching grants for donations and volunteerism made by U.S. and Thailand paid employees and eligible retirees. They are available to select Thai charities, as well as any U.S. public charity (501c3) or governmental entities such as public libraries, publicly owned and operated museums, municipal zoos, public schools, state colleges and universities, and community colleges. We match up to $10,000/year for U.S. employees, $3,000/year for U.S. retirees and THB 100,000 for Thailand employees.

In the past how have you communicated your program?

We promote Chevron Humankind year-round via email, targeted Intranet web sites, as well as on posters and banners in the local offices. We highlight volunteer opportunities in email newsletters, through employee networks, and on the YourCause site. We focus a lot of our communications on encouraging people to join us at company-sponsored volunteer events (like Chevron Volunteer Week), as well as informing them of ways they can get involved in support of disaster relief efforts.

What was the most effective way to communicate the program and its parameters?

We saw the largest increase in program participation when we sent out a notebook to all employees. The notebook contained three full-color cardstock pages at the front which explained all the various program elements, along with approximately 100 blank pages for taking notes. We saw employees carrying these notebooks to meetings and around the office for more than a year. Not only was it a useful tool to promote the program, but the notebook also was something almost every employee could use on a daily basis and served as a great reminder and conversation starter.

How involved was each group?

“Donations naturally follow engagement.”

Employees and retirees at all levels of the company are very involved. Our participation rate for employees is approximately 30-35%. Retirees are only 8%, however, we only send Chevron Humankind communications to select retirees who are members of the Chevron Retirees Association.

There clearly are folks who aren’t engaged. This is a challenge we all face. How do you engage the unengaged or those who are not passionate about a cause yet? I think we need to make the importance of what we are doing in the community more visible to people. Move away from promoting the program features and do a better job of connecting people to a cause. Once they are “tuned in,” they will leverage the match. We have seen that first hand for years. Donations naturally follow engagement.

Chevron’s program is known for its high engagement rate, why do you think that is?

I think it is because we don’t “twist people’s arm” to donate money. We try to inspire employees to get involved in the community whether that means volunteering at a school or shelter, coaching a team, or participating in events we coordinate with local nonprofits and charities.

What processes did you put in place to encourage participation?

I think our nonprofit partnership events and our employee networks are our strongest vehicles to engage people. The networks especially do a great job of connecting likeminded or culturally similar folks to charities and events that align with the things that are important to them. Our corporate drivers definitely resonate with some people, but I think getting people engaged is easier when you have co-workers and/or friends who are interested in similar causes all participating alongside each other. It is about the community at the end of the day.

Because you have such as high engagement rate you reached your match cap goal very early on in the year, what is your strategy to maintain a high level of engagement without the incentive of a company match?

We have always paid out a match for every eligible request. Even though the match budget grew by $1-2 million dollars per year from 2012-2014, our executives saw the value and continued to fund the program. So the incentive of a match has remained in place to date. That said, when the program launched in 2008 we had benchmarked against the participation rates and average donation amounts in 2006. At that time, the average individual employee match was $345/year. Today, after opening up the guidelines and providing matches to all 501c3 and public organizations, we have seen the average individual employee match grown to a staggering $2,246/year. As you can see, at this cost per participant, the total number of dollars can really start to add up as more employees begin participating.

What does the future of the Chevron matching program look like?

This is a really good question. We are going to start conducting some surveys and focus groups and really dig into what drives people to get involved and why some people just don’t seem to be as interested. Hopefully, we will learn about some elements that are important to people and are not driven by the matching dollars alone. I am pretty confident that a balance exists where we can reward those who are engaged with a match (of some kind) and inspire the outliers to get involved by connecting them to a cause or purpose. What this looks like exactly is not totally clear yet. We are in an ever-expanding field in many ways. The discovery process and architecting these programs is the fun part.

“…it’s about helping people find their purpose and providing them with opportunities to have an experience that changes or inspires them.”

What advice would you give a company trying to achieve a high engagement rate within a matching program?

As far as straight matching goes, I think you just have to educate people on how the match works. People who are already volunteering or donating money will be happy to participate and request a match once they understand that a match is available.

Engaging the folks who aren’t already involved in some way is the real challenge. My feeling is that it’s about helping people find their purpose and providing them with opportunities to have an experience that changes or inspires them. Everyone cares about something enough to donate time or money to it. We just have to help enlighten people to what is out there and what our companies are doing which they may be interested in. There is some incredible work happening in our communities, and it will move people to get and stay involved if they are exposed to it in the right way. Take a look at this brief video on the difference between a transformative and transactional volunteer experience (this whole video series is really good actually). I think we need to go deeper with people and make our programs focus less on growth, numbers, and volume; and spend the time and energy to help connect individuals to meaningful experiences so that they’ll inspire others. The growth and numbers will just build naturally if you do that.

About Alex Cunningham

Alex began his career as a Web application designer, developer, and project manager. He started working for Chevron in 2007 as a project manager and went on to manage their Web team and the technical integration for the launch of Chevron’s U.S. volunteer and matching grants program, Chevron Humankind. He later joined the corporate social responsibility (CSR) team in 2011 to lead employee engagement and the global expansion of Chevron Humankind. His background in Internet technology and project management provides a unique perspective to CSR, and has helped the company to shape their approach and strategies for adopting information technology solutions in the social space.

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