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5 Questions with Sona Khosla, Chief Impact Officer at Benevity

Social Impact Technologies Can Help Recruit, Retain, and Engage Employees

5 Questions with Sona Khosla, Chief Impact Officer at Benevity

I recently spoke with Sona Khosla, Chief Impact Officer at Benevity about how social impact technologies help recruit, retain, and engage employees as well as bridge the gap with employees who are remote or hybrid.

Benevity is one of the top providers of corporate purpose software, offering solutions for volunteering, giving, grants management, micro-actions that promote new habits, employee resource groups (ERGs), and affinity groups.

Can you provide some background on your personal or professional experiences that have led you to Benevity, and how that shapes your approach to this role?

Image Source LinkedIn: Sona Khosla, Chief Impact Officer, Benevity

I have been deeply involved in the tech sector from the start of my career, spending my early days in writing, communications, and brand marketing roles. I have worked for some large, global companies such as Getty Images and NEOVIA Financial. It was during my time at Getty Images that I first crossed paths with Benevity as Getty was a client. Once I got to know this space a bit more, I became very intrigued with the idea of capitalism being used for good. I had the opportunity to join Benevity and when I first started, was leading a 5-person marketing team.

I was able to spend a lot of time with customers, seeing the good work that was being done, and realized I really wanted to move over to the impact side of the business. As the Chief Impact Officer, my role today combines two crucial aspects of the company. One is Benevity corporate purpose strategies – what are we doing for ESG, DEI and B, climate, and social impact, and how do all those things get communicated? The other is running Benevity Impact Labs, a social innovation hub where we lead research efforts that bring cutting-edge data, insights, and best practices to help companies accelerate and maximize their impact and inclusion.

Benevity is the largest platform in our space, with almost 1,000 clients and we have a lot of data on what companies are doing and what works. We are really able to get to how they can drive greater engagement with their employees, and how they can climb the maturity curve, in terms of what corporate purpose looks like. And so, we thought by sharing more of that research and knowledge via our Benevity Impact Labs, we could help catalyze more companies, to help develop business as a force for good as much as possible in the world.

There has been a growing awareness that consumers want to buy from purpose-driven brands. Can you talk about what prospective and current employees want?

It has been interesting to watch the data on employee expectations. When I first started in this space, around 70% of millennials wanted to work for a company that allowed them to volunteer or allowed them to have a positive environmental impact at work and at home. As the years have gone on, it has greatly increased, especially with Gen Z in the workforce now. And I think those generations frame what they want in a workplace slightly differently than previous generations, wanting to work for a company that’s having a positive impact in the world and that has values aligned with their own.

As we talk to our clients, many of them are seeing candidates increasingly interested in knowing what a company is doing in terms of DEI initiatives and values alignment. It is something that is coming up in interviews, and our data shows that there is an enormous appetite for DEI initiatives. Ninety-five percent of employees consider prospective employers’ DEI efforts when evaluating the job offer.

On the employee side, 87% of employees would feel more loyal to a company with a record of prioritizing DEI. A key point to remember here is that employees are not just looking for commitment statements, they want to see action and to see that the company is delivering on its promises.

Employee Resource Groups are another area that is becoming central to a company’s cultural strategy, especially as it relates to building empathy, allyship, and inclusive and equitable cultures. This is not just for current employees but prospective ones as more ERG leaders play a key role in recruiting by communicating and providing a personal example of people across diverse groups succeeding in a company.

Our data has shown strong ties to the types of solutions Benevity offers and employee retention. Back in 2018, we did a study to measure the correlation between people who used these solutions and employee engagement. If you donated, volunteered, or took a micro action like reducing plastic for example, we could see the difference between people who engaged in those programs and people who didn’t from a retention perspective. And there was a marked difference. Post-Covid, we wondered if that would still hold true, particularly for those employees in their first 2.5 years of employment. There was actually 52% lower turnover amongst those newer employees who participate in a corporate purpose program.

The move to remote has caused employee engagement to be challenging. How do your technologies bridge the gap in companies that are remote or hybrid?

One of the trends we have seen, and that our technology is able to fully support, is a massive resurgence in volunteering to create connections amongst employees. This can be virtually or via bringing employees in one geographic region together to a hub.

In 2022, we saw a 62% increase in recorded volunteering hours on our platform and there was a record number of 14.3 million volunteer hours. The beauty of volunteering is that you’re bringing your people together for a purpose and they get to connect in ways that are either with their own team, or in cross-functional teams. So, you get team impact and you get culture impact. There’s also a lot of studies that show that as a bonus, volunteering is incredibly good for mental health so you can contribute to individual wellbeing as well.

Online employee resource groups have been a fantastic way to bridge the physical distances between employees and not surprisingly, interest has exploded in this area. We are seeing increased investments toward online ERG platforms. The important thing to remember is that these programs need attention to maintain employee engagement and growth. As an example, many companies produce ideas for ERG-related events that can help bring employees together, but those events need support for planning, coordination, and tracking to help to keep these activities top of mind and ongoing. The same can be said for keeping content and activities compelling enough to maintain activity and grow membership.

This is currently a challenging economic climate and sometimes employee-focused programs and technologies are not made a priority. What would you say to someone who is contemplating a technology purchase from Benevity but weighing it against budget?

I would really caution companies that are looking at cutting their budget related to social impact and DEI. There really are such competing interests from the company who wants to save money, and from the people who want to save the world. And if you don’t align those expectations, the trust gap grows. If companies choose to take away technology that is being heavily used by their employees, it’s going to be noticeable and there may be consequences and hard conversations about corporate culture and values.

The other piece is, I come from a brand background and I remember being through the transformation of digital marketing. Companies were getting analytics and everyone was like, “pull back on brand spend, it does nothing.” And then you pull back on your brand spend and you realize that you’re getting less search demand. Well, I think it’s the same thing with employee experience. If you’re super transactional, and you pull back on the experience and culture elements, then you will see that erode your culture, which is usually your most sustainable differentiator for attracting talent. And personally, I subscribe to the belief that a good culture leads to good customer outcomes.

The other thing I’d say is corporate social responsibility (CSR) technology, when you compare it to other employee engagement and HR tech, is a modest cost per employee, which makes for a more sizable return on investment. And when you think of the issue of employee retention and potential churn, this has big implications not only in terms of the emotion involved in employees for those who are left behind and that feeling of unrest and uncertainty, but also for the financial part of recruitment, hiring, and onboarding new employees.

But really, the most important thing is for companies to ask themselves, do you care about culture, and do you care about impact? Purpose needs to have a seat at the table. For me, those that do care are going to be the businesses that survive through these macroeconomic changes.

How does Benevity support its own employees?

First, Benevity is coming off an incredibly fun Pride Month, where we supported and celebrated our employees with events and fundraising activities for groups that were important to our Beneviqueers ERG.

Overall, we have incredibly high participation in our corporate purpose programs. Part of this is that we attract people who are really interested in corporate social responsibility. We have high volunteering hours, with 92% of employees logging hours and we have tried to create centers of gravity to organize local volunteering activity.

Our leaders walk the talk and are encouraged to support and carve out time for ERG events. We offer a $2,500 donation match as well as time off for volunteering. We have been working towards greater diversity internally and right now, nearly half of our executives are women and 18% are people of color. In our technology group, over 35% are women.

Author Information

As a detail-oriented researcher, Sherril is expert at discovering, gathering and compiling industry and market data to create clear, actionable market and competitive intelligence. With deep experience in market analysis and segmentation she is a consummate collaborator with strong communication skills adept at supporting and forming relationships with cross-functional teams in all levels of organizations.

She brings more than 20 years of experience in technology research and marketing; prior to her current role, she was a Research Analyst at Omdia, authoring market and ecosystem reports on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and User Interface technologies. Sherril was previously Manager of Market Research at Intrado Life and Safety, providing competitive analysis and intelligence, business development support, and analyst relations.

Sherril holds a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from University of Colorado, Boulder and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Rutgers University.

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