'Employee Engagement' is My New Cause Marketing Buzzword

I'm trying to learn more about volunteering and employee engagement initiatives for businesses that want more than the transactional cause marketing campaigns I specialize in. These are the days when I wish employee volunteering expert Chris Jarvis lived closer to me and not in the home of terrible baseball, Toronto.

The employee engagement side of cause marketing is mostly new to me. Sure, employee volunteers - upwards to 1,200 people  for a two day event - were a big part of the Halloween event I produced in Boston for five years. But organizations focused on this area are taking employee volunteering to a whole new level with online platforms that bring causes into cubicles.

This week, Los Angeles based Causecast announced its new Employee Impact Platform, which helps companies promote and manage workforce volunteering. This can range from highlighting volunteer and community opportunities, to making matchable donations, to sharing news and updates on the company's commitment to and progress addressing social initiatives.

Causecast is positioning its EIP as the first full-service platform for employee engagement.

The arrival of Causescast, a for-profit company, into a space that has largely been led by nonprofits such as VolunteerMatch and HandsOn Network, may highlight the value of employee engagement programs both as an opportunity and as a business. In a conversation I had with Ryan Scott, CEO and Founder of Causecast, back in October, he stressed that his for-profit company was better positioned to meet company demands for a state-of-the-art engagement platform.

In a note to me yesterday, Ryan said, "I'm leveraging the power of capitalism to transform the way we build social change movements. People are pushing for this kind of change  - Occupy Wall Street being a prime example - but have no tools to make it happen.  Effectively engaging employees in a shared company social mission can drive a movement from the inside, one that has the power to create measurable impact around social issues."

At least one person agrees. “Causecast goes right to the heart of this problem by providing a solution that employee advocates can understand and use that doesn’t require IT support to execute," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group.

Despite HandsOn Network mobilizing over 30 million volunteer hours last year and VolunteerMatch's impressive list of clients, which include McDonald's and Walmart, cause marketing through online employee engagement is as new to most companies as health insurance was to them a century ago. Many large companies have yet to formalize their volunteer programs with online solutions that can compete for employees' attention like a work deadline and Facebook can.

I'm curious if Causescast and others can convince mid-sized companies with large workforces - an area of mammoth opportunity for employee engagement providers - to invest in an online volunteering platform for employees. While I'm a big believer in the power of FREE! for cause marketing, this is one area where companies will have to pay for play.

Only time will tell, but if adoption of traditional cause marketing tactics (e.g. point-of-sale, purchased or action triggered donation programs) are a bellweather for volunteering platforms it could be a long, rocky road for the folks that aim to corner America's cubicles for a cause.