When we started our corporate social responsibility (CSR) journey seven years ago, we were small and scrappy: approximately 60 employees. At that size, it was easy to mobilize our workforce to volunteer in our shared community: San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.
In our new home, we served meals with GLIDE, a nonprofit that aims to break cycles of poverty and alleviate suffering. We participated in street clean-ups with the city’s Department of Public Works, and tutored homeless and low-income clients in St. Anthony’s Tech Lab. Through these opportunities and small contributions, we learned what it meant to be a good neighbor, and how to integrate empathy into our culture and our business.
Today, we have even more community partners in the Tenderloin, more employee hands to pitch in, and our CSR efforts have only ramped up as the company grew. This led to strong, meaningful relationships inside and outside our offices. But as a global company with more than 2,000 employees spread across 13-plus offices, we knew we had to scale these small contributions into a global strategy.
One thing we learned over the years was that a community-driven office culture is the best kind of office culture—period. We learned a few other things along the way, too. For budding or scaling CSR programs, keep these items on your perennial to-do list.
Listen to your employees about what interests them to identify new opportunities to tap into their passions; this can easily be done with surveys. Listen to your nonprofit partners about what they really need, not what you think they need. All it takes is a quick conversation with their point person organizing volunteer efforts. Listen to your community to learn how you can truly be a part of it, which is also easier than it seems. Head to the offices of your local elected officials, learn who the community stakeholders are in your neighborhood, and invite them to the office for lunch. What are their challenges, and how can you be part of the solution?
Use your skills to do something interesting
As we continued to grow, we realized our employees have specialized skills that we can and should use to better serve our communities. In 2014, for example, a group of our engineers partnered with St. Anthony’s to build Link-SF, a mobile-first app that connects homeless and low-income members of the community with critical services and resources like shelter, food, and medical aid. The best part was that this was a two-way street: St. Anthony’s benefitted from the pro-bono expertise, and our engineers grew their skills in areas they may not have otherwise. A core group of engineers still meets weekly to support the Link-SF portal and other impact projects.
Use CSR to bond your global workforce
CSR can bring employees and teams across time zones together, aligning them around a common purpose. As of fall 2017, seven of our offices participate in the global Cycling Without Age program. We purchased trishaw bicycles, allowing our employee volunteers to take seniors out for rides. Through this program, employees have built relationships with seniors in their communities and with fellow employees around the world.
Align with the business
In 2015, we launched the Zendesk Neighbor Foundation, expanding our commitment to being good neighbors everywhere we operate, worldwide. The Neighbor Foundation would not be possible without the support of our customers, who fund the initiative through a one-of-a-kind model. For their initial year of subscription, Zendesk contributes $1 per month for every net-new agent seat sold across all paid subscription plans. This intrinsically ties community engagement to our customers, allowing each to be a part of our community efforts.
Of all the lessons we learned along the way, perhaps the most important is being a good neighbor. Businesses are made of people, and those people have relationships and ties to the communities in which they live. No matter where you are on your CSR journey, remembering to be generous, friendly, and responsible to those around you is a good first step.
If you're interested in building your company's CSR platform, we would be happy to help you jump in. You can reach out to me at email@example.com.