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Taylor Amerman: Empowering Employee Giving

At Groundswell, we are privileged to connect with industry professionals that share our vision of rethinking and reigniting corporate giving. We love to sit down with smart folks, and learn about their perspectives on key CSR topics. Taylor Amerman is the Senior Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility at CDW, a Fortune 200 company that is a leading multi-brand provider of information technology solutions to business, government, education, and healthcare. Taylor believes that empowering employee giving can positively affect CSR practices. She is a proponent for CSR, sustainability, transparency and efficiency.

Hello Taylor, It's great to have you here. To begin, could you please tell me a little bit about your background and your journey into the world of CSR in general?

My journey with CSR started when I was young.

I was very involved in the community, and had some transformational experiences through volunteerism.

In middle school and high school I had the ability to travel abroad, and that really inspired me for my career. However,I was in undergrad during the financial crisis and really needed a strong degree, so I ended up getting my undergrad and accounting with a minor in Community Leadership and Development. I went through tons of career paths, and during this time I started to learn about a field called CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility.I studied abroad at Queen's University in Belfast. During that time, I saw that there were master's degree programs in CSR. I graduated and went straight into my first master's at the University of Nottingham in England.After I graduated, I ended up moving back to the US. I had interned twice at Brown-Forman, a spirits and wine company, during undergrad and landed a job in CSR there after graduation. I led Alcohol Responsibility for many years but was ready for something new and went back to school while working. I received my Global Executive MBA from Duke University and graduated in December of 2020. I then took a new role as the Senior Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility for CDWin May of 2021.I lead all of our global social impact work here at CDW.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has compelled everyone to adopt a new way of life. For better or worse, we've all changed the way we think about ourselves and our interactions with others. What kinds of things do you see as important for companies to support this new normal?

I think that mental health is at the top of the list. Not seeing people in person provides the opportunity to cover and hide a lot of behaviors that might be more obvious if you're in an office setting and seeing someone all day. Companies need to truly discuss supporting mental health and put the well being of people first. There’s also a unique position that looks different when you're a leader or you have a team and leading numerous people.

Each person needs something unique and different. We should really be focused on what's important and try not to cut any corners.

We need to start investing in our people. There is also the cost of living while working at home. Companies did a pretty good job early by providing Wi-Fi subsidies and office equipment. However, really ensuring that people have all the tech that they need is really important.Another point to consider is the empowerment of every situation. Trusting your employees to complete their tasks when they are due and focusing on the job's objectives rather than the hours worked.

Don't think about the hours. Instead, concentrate on responsibility and accomplishment rather than the amount of time they spend at their desk.

During this time, everyone is struggling with culture and relationships. I believe that simply being proactive about listening to your people and listening to their needs is extremely important.

In reference to what you just discussed, how connected is what you do in your work, and are there specific programs that you have developed to help support employees?

Right now, we're still building, building, building. I'm all about collective impact. I love hearing things from different departments. This way I can offer insights like, "I heard you're about to launch this massive sponsorship. That's great. How have you thought about social impact as part of that sponsorship?”By asking these questions I can potentially provide an add-on to make something bigger.We are also looking to help individual employees make connections in their local community by engaging in one-on-one dialogues. I usually ask questions like, “What is your community? What are you passionate about? What are you wanting to get out of this? How are you wanting to learn and grow?”Knowing this information, I can work with HR on opportunities for coworkers, whether that's to volunteer, or access to one of our museum partners, or the zoo. Leveraging our corporate community partnerships, we can provide connections to our employees. We've got a long way to go. Alignment to digital equity is our new focus. We want to know how we can support employees, help them communicate,tell more stories, and be more transparent.

We want our employees to be proud members of our company. And our work with CSR can definitely help make employees feel good about being a part of the organization.

Is there a link between a company's social impact or CSR strategy and what we're seeing with The Great Resignation? And, if so, what are some of the broader business implications?

With the great resignation as a whole, I think a huge part of that comes down to management. Leaders and managers should care about the person before the job. I firmly believe that there's usually a reason if an employee’s performance is poor, and you need to figure out what's going on. Remember, people bring their whole self to work along with the stress and struggles of life. Simply finding a new job is not always the solution to happiness. Good people management is incredibly important. Managers need to care about their people.

Remember, people usually leave managers and bosses, not jobs.

When it comes to CSR, having 100% authenticity matters. People are tired of hearing one thing and seeing something else. For example if a company claims that they care, but you see contrary behaviors despite what the company says they stand for, it becomes less convincing.

People are done seeing the pretty words, the PDFs, and the presentations, they want to know what is actually happening.

Remember, people are focused on action. They're over the words, commitment, strategy, and goals. They want to know what is actually happening on a day-to-day basis.

Is there a positive outcome or opportunity to be had from this?

CSR has too many boxes around it. I'm in many peer groups, and I can't believe how many rules there are about how you can go use your volunteer hours. That's crazy, because if you care about volunteering, you should be able togo volunteer wherever you want to volunteer. We need to remove those barriers, policies and guidelines and just enable the freedom to do it in order to make a difference in the world. We should go and connect, because the psychology of helping someone else is huge. As it relates to Groundswell, what I really like is the empowerment around giving. I ask myself, "Are we overly processed in philanthropy and getting the money out?" That's what we need to think about right now. Let’s just empower everyone to make philanthropy accessible. The process and system should not be complicated. We need to ask ourselves, "How can we simplify things for employees and our community partners?”

Nobody wants the application to take two hours or even 30 minutes. We need to create more equitable access and processes to funding.

How important is it for a company's CSR strategy, or social impact strategy, for CSR professionals to have that deep knowledge on employee sentiment around social causes? How does the entire process work for you?

There are pros and cons, but I think it's helpful to have employee input. However there's also times where CSR and Social Impact professionals are the expert, and that's okay. A challenging thing at a company like ours, is that we have a ton of people who care, it is a very caring company. But we also recognize that our employees are individuals with varying desires and sometimes they don’t align with our brand. We need to have a strategy and focus.

This is why I like what Groundswell’s doing – giving employees at companies the opportunity to choose where they want to give. They make the process very easy and give donors empowerment.

Sure, I'm losing control of the company match, and I'm also losing control of what employees give to – but I think that is better. Groundswell opens up more opportunities.

What, in your perspective, are some of the most critical issues that professionals in your industry should be working on in 2022? What are the specific trends, or what should be the primary focus for the coming year?

One thing I'm proud of is not only do we have company values, but we created values for philanthropy, and those have been a game changer. We've had to make the judgment call a few times on whether or not a potential nonprofit partner is aligned with our values, and that is okay. The reason I'm saying that is because transparency, internally and externally, is important. I have nonprofit partners thanking me all the time just for being honest if we aren’t aligned.

As Brene Brown says, "Clear is kind", remember don't waste anyone's time, just be clear and direct.

A lot of CSR professionals are incredibly intelligent, talented, well educated people, and yet, we don't know how to solve all the world's issues, we just don't. We tend to push nonprofits to “perform” and align to a brand’s KPI’s, but I don’t agree with that approach. We trust that our nonprofit partners are the experts in solving what they’ve set out to do. So we come up with shared goals and then give them full autonomy in where they spend the dollars we provide and trust that it will go to support impactful work.

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