For entrepreneurs deep in the throes of building a company from the ground up, creating a social impact program is rarely a top priority. Building a formal program can seem daunting and time consuming, but committing to giving back in the early days doesn't have to be a grand gesture or investment-- you just have to start.

As my co-founder Todd McKinnon and I learned while building Okta and creating Okta for Good (our company's nonprofit arm), taking small steps to solidify a commitment early can make a massive difference in shaping the way an organization gives back later. We learned that embracing social impact from day one signals to employees, customers and investors a firm dedication to giving back through every stage of growth.

Here are four ways leaders can kick off a lasting program and pave a path to long-term corporate social responsibility.

1. Make a commitment.

Making a commitment at the start helps ensure social good is at the forefront of your mission and woven into your company values as you grow. To instill giving into Okta's DNA, we took the 1% Pledge, an initiative challenging companies to pledge one percent of equity, profit, product, and/or employee time for their communities, back in September 2016.

This enabled us to grow our commitment through Pledge 1%'s resources, case studies and one-on-one guidance. By the time we went public, we formalized Okta for Good in our S-1 registration document and made it clear to public investors that if they invested in us, they invested in Okta for Good, too.

Making an investment in social good also means designating internal leaders to show the way. While most startups can't yet hire someone full-time to lead social impact efforts, you can encourage (as well as recognize and reward) a team of internal leaders to execute on the vision for social good.

This way, giving efforts aren't relegated to the back burner among other pressing responsibilities. Ideally, a founder-level sponsor should lead the way with a group of employees who have the bandwidth, resources and cultural influence to bring the commitment to life.

2. Connect your product to impact.

It's not just about employee time spent and dollars invested, the products or services you build can drive social good too. Many technology companies help nonprofits "get out of their own way" when it comes to IT so they can spend more time and resources delivering on their missions. This includes providing nonprofits with licenses for your products, offering deep discounts, giving technology training courses to nonprofit leaders at no cost or leveraging your product to solve community-focused use cases or pain points.

For example, Twilio launched Twilio.org's "Recipe for Good" book, outlining how social impact organizations have built thousands of Twilio apps to fuel positive change-- through mobilizing volunteers, delivering critical info and engaging supporters. Postmates's social impact program, Civic Labs, built a product that enables restaurant partners to utilize the Postmates API platform to deliver excess food to local shelters, enabling a zero-waste solution. Once you identify the best way to connect your product to impact, share your findings with other leaders and organizations for inspiration.

3. Activate your team.

Company leaders have a responsibility to engage the broader organization in social good efforts-- and to ensure everyone has the bandwidth to contribute time and effort to local volunteering or fundraising events. Make it simple for your team to put day-to-day work aside on a regular basis and to give back to local communities.

One easy way to do this is to give employees time off each year to participate in social good efforts. Bay Area companies like Salesforce, Cisco and Intuit for example have created a contagious culture of giving back that stems from giving each employee a designated number of days off per year to volunteer.

At Okta, each employee gets three days of volunteer time off per year, and we integrate volunteering into our new hire orientation process to infuse giving back into the Okta experience from the start. A commitment to providing this time off benefit ensures social good is on everyone's mind, and it's good for team morale, too; a recent study showed companies engaged in CSR programs saw a 50 percent reduction in employee turnover.

4. Don't go it alone.

I co-founded an integration company-- so unsurprisingly, I've found that partnering with technology companies committed to driving the future of work and building seamless customer experiences has helped us grow faster and smarter. This partnership mindset applies to joining forces with like-minded companies committed to helping the community. Teaming up with other organizations amplifies efforts and can help build relationships with business partners, customers, prospects and industry peers -- furthering both business and community objectives.

Look for initiatives in your community that bring companies together and align with your organization's social impact goals. As an example, the #ImpactCloud initiative offers inroads for impact-oriented technology companies to combine forces and accelerate digital transformation for social impact organizations. The initiative inspired us, Box.org, DocuSign Impact, Salesforce.org and Twilio.org to collaborate and transform how the technology sector can support greater change together.

Creating a successful social impact program does not stem from just one person at a company; it's a team effort, ideally supported by leaders dedicated to giving back, motivated employees and community partners who view corporate giving in a similar light. We all have a responsibility to give back, and our success is linked to our communities: businesses can't thrive unless our communities are thriving as well. The earlier you embed the "giving mindset" into your organization, the easier it will be for your company to scale alongside the mission and build on it as you grow.

Published on: Sep 30, 2019
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