Are ERGs Leading The Next Era Of Corporate Giving?

In today’s corporate social impact landscape, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have emerged as a way to foster a sense of belonging and, increasingly, a powerful engine for promoting social impact.


ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that provide support, increase access to resources, and promote professional development for fellow employees with shared identities or interests. Creating connections through ERGs can be a powerful recruitment and retention tool. With this in mind, their role is increasingly important as companies struggle to create meaningful workplace culture in an evolving hybrid or remote environment.

Leveraging employee participation through ERGs can also support broader corporate citizenship strategy. Most corporate social impact teams are stretched thin and don’t have growing headcount. Yet these teams face demands to achieve greater corporate citizenship goals. That’s where ERGs can step in. More than four in five companies feel that ERGs are influential in nonprofit partner selection and corporate funding decisions, according to Benevity’s State of Corporate Purpose report. In fact, the same research found half of ERGs make their own grants with charitable funds from their company and that most companies’ ERG budgets are growing.

When well-equipped, ERGs can play a powerful role in corporate social responsibility efforts. They can act as catalysts for social change within their broader communities, even beyond the workplace. Here are a few ways ERGs can support corporate social responsibility activities.

    1. Connect with nonprofit partners.

    ERGs can serve as a bridge between companies and aligned nonprofits. An ERG can create relationships with nonprofits working on issues relevant to their community. This collaboration enables companies to channel resources to address social challenges inclusively.

    2. Identify corporate grant recipients.

    ERG members possess a collective understanding of the needs of those who share their identities. By leveraging their unique perspectives, ERGs can nominate grant recipients whose work may align with your corporate social impact goals. Their insight into the issues can ensure that donations support deserving, inclusive initiatives. Further, sharing decision-making power with ERGs enables more employee-aligned corporate social impact efforts.

    Akamai Technologies and Akamai Foundation have a history of generosity, giving in honor of their founder, who died in the 9/11 attacks. Last year, Akamai ERG members lived out that legacy of courage and leadership with groups like their Asian and Pacific Islander Circle, Parents@Akamai, and Women’s Forum selecting 31 nonprofits to receive a total of more than $100,000 of grants in support of missions aligned with Akamai’s corporate values. According to their team, “These community partnerships engage and empower participants, create a meaningful impact, and provide development opportunities for employees.”

    3. Respond in times of disaster.

    In the wake of a disaster, it’s critical to understand the needs of the local community to inform a rapid and impactful response. Members of ERGs can tap into local networks, provide real-time updates about conditions on the ground, and share diverse perspectives to support timely resource mobilization.

    PayPal established an ERG dedicated to disaster response. When a disaster strikes, this group of employees reaches out to other ERG leads, make donations, and/or support impacted employees. As the frequency and severity of disasters increase because of the climate crisis, ERGs provide a meaningful way to ensure employees and the communities where they live and work have the resources they need to thrive.

    4. Lead volunteering initiatives.

    ERGs have the power to mobilize employees and lead volunteer efforts both internally and externally in communities where employees live and work. By organizing volunteer events, ERGs create opportunities for employees to engage directly with causes that matter to them. Evidence shows volunteering brings a deeper sense of purpose and satisfaction. Another known benefit of corporate-sponsored volunteering? Positive change in intercultural understanding among volunteers, which closely matches the goals of ERGs themselves. Additionally, ERGs focused on specific identities or communities address unique challenges faced by those groups, fostering an inclusive and supportive environment.

A key first step is to identify group representatives with a strong understanding of community needs. Ideally, they will also be familiar with the social sector or willing to learn. These employee leaders can then provide guidance, ensure strategic alignment with the company’s objectives, and drive initiatives that create tangible change. To unleash the power of ERGs, leaders should clearly define each ERG’s purpose and goals and provide involvement and support.

ERGs have emerged as an influential force for social impact within companies. These employee leaders can help identify potential grant recipients, connect with nonprofit partners, support rapid disaster response, and lead volunteering efforts as agents of change within their communities. By fostering diverse and inclusive environments, companies can harness the collective power of ERGs to create authentic, community-led impact.

Interested in exploring new ways for your ERGs to influence your corporate philanthropy decisions?


Featured Photo: Microfinance for Low-Income Entrepreneurs in U.S. by Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development

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