Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has evolved from a philanthropic sideshow to become one of the biggest trends in corporate America. Some 92 percent of the world’s top 250 firms released a CSR report in 2015 — up from 64 percent 10 years earlier — and Fortune 500 firms now spend $20 billion a year on CSR activities.

But like any corporate trend, CSR can have a negative connotation. Consumers can see CSR efforts as mere marketing, if not communicated properly. Internally, employees can perceive them as not being authentic or empowering, particularly if programming doesn’t give them a chance to support their own passions.

Since CSR programs have been shown to improve employee retention and increase employee perception of overall compensation, programming that fails to motivate employees fails on several levels. If you’re aiming to boost your employee participation in such programs or want to ensure it from the onset, give these best practices a try.

1. Think locally, not globally.

Giving time to support a global initiative can be hard, because your impact as one person is relatively small compared to the problem itself. In contrast, supporting a local cause can provide tangible benefits.

That’s why Subaru of America opts to support Habitat for Humanity’s efforts to build homes in Camden, New Jersey — near the company’s headquarters. As Sandy Capell, philanthropy and corporate responsibility manager for the company and the Subaru of America Foundation, told The New York Times last year, “Even if you’re just helping five people, those people know those five people. It shows that you’re moving the needle. You want to make sure you’re moving it forward.”

2. Offer experiential rewards.

More than previous generations, Millennials and Gen Zers prefer experiences over objects. A 2016 Harris poll showed that 78 percent of millennials would rather spend money on a desirable experience or event than buy something material.

This insight fuels the growth of fundraising events and programs like Habitat for Humanity in which volunteers get to swing a hammer for a good cause. Your company may also consider fundraising challenges that offer experiential rewards like trips, VIP passes, or event tickets. AKTIV Against Cancer ran such a campaign with Adidas, which awarded the top fundraiser with a trip for two to Norway.

3. Consider your employees’ existing interests.

A recent study revealed that not having a chance to support charities of their choice is a major barrier to employee buy-in for CSR programs. The proper approach, then, is to figure out your employees’ interests and map out your programs accordingly. For example, Novo Nordisk surveyed employees to select nonprofit partners for its Casual for a Cause program.

Companies may be surprised at the number of employees already engaged with social causes outside of work, and there is a big opportunity to tap into those interests and multiply impact by putting the power of your brand behind the cause.

4. Track and share progress internally.

CSR should never be initiated solely to influence business results, but goal-setting and measurement are still important. As such, businesses should use the tools at their disposal to determine whether their CSR efforts actually engage employees. Ideally, such tools will showcase progress in real time and allow employees to easily understand how a campaign or fundraising effort is progressing against set goals. Consider data visualization that everyone can access, share, and use to incentivize action when an extra boost is needed.

5. Gamify the experience.

Gamification harnesses the competitive spirit, and offering recognition via badges and points can boost employee participation by up to 95 percent. It also makes CSR experiences more fun.

Not sure where to start? A growing number of companies are finding success with fitness challenges tied to their CSR programming. Employees commit to walking, biking, hiking, or swimming a certain number of miles to raise funds for a cause. Fitness trackers, GPS watches, and smartphone apps make it easy to record miles, and gamified leaderboards spur friendly competition and boost engagement.

The bottom line

Most companies engage in CSR, and merely having a program is no longer enough. To avoid wasting resources, CSR programs need to engage employees and produce tangible results. Half-hearted programming reflects badly on your brand and can lead your employees to believe that your efforts are merely marketing tools in which their needs and wants have not been considered. Robust CSR does the opposite: It allows you to demonstrate your company’s strengths and commitment while focusing those strengths on helping to create a better world. Are you ready to get started?

Michael Beville

Michael Beville oversees the strategy to communicate Blackbaud’s brand promise to corporations and foundations and drives market leadership through his role as VP of Marketing & Sales for Blackbaud Corporate and Foundation Solutions.