Putting Our Humanity Back at the Center of Engagement

A new year, a new me. What is it about that transition from December 31st to January 1st that seems to provide an almost magical and inexplicable reset in our lives? An intangible feeling of change that arises each time we enter a new year. It may be so difficult to pinpoint because it is not one, but rather a mixture of feelings. A sense of newness, hope, inspiration, determination, and resolve. For some, these feelings form into a plan, a new set of goals, and a refreshed mindset throughout the year ahead. For others, the feelings are a bit more fleeting, providing only temporary change before slipping away in the face of familiar patterns and habits.

As we make the transition into 2024, I have been reflecting a lot on the last year as well as my dreams for the year ahead. Like for some, 2023 was a tremendously difficult year for me on a personal level, including the devastating and unexpected passing of my brother. Perhaps that is why I am extra keen to reset things as we enter 2024. As I look forward, I see immense opportunity. 2024 offers a chance to put my own wellbeing and the welfare of those around me at the center of my focus. This is something that I also believe resonates with most employees that we are looking to engage in the upcoming year.

A connected throughline of our shared humanity

With that in mind, as I reflect on the influences, changes, and overall trends we have seen in employee engagement, philanthropy, and CSR in 2023, and those that are to come in 2024, I cannot help but be struck by the notion that it is not about specific trends or actions. Each of those trends of course are important; however, it is about the bigger picture. And in my opinion, the connecting throughline for 2024 is putting our humanity back at the center of what we do and how we engage.

Key interconnectivity between wellbeing and engagement

When we think about the biggest influence on our engagement it often comes down to our current state of wellbeing. What is our current mindset and what are the factors that are affecting it? At a foundational level we know our current physical health can drastically impact our desire and ability to engage. The same is true of our state of mental health, as well as financial, spiritual, and many other elements of our core wellbeing. That is why addressing our employees’ wellbeing is so critical and inherently linked to our ability to inspire their engagement in our CSR programs.

The question then becomes, how can we positively influence and further support wellbeing in the workplace through our employee engagement and philanthropy programs? The most natural place to start is with connection. There has been a ton of discussion and articles written about how to successfully build, retain, and engage onsite, remote, and hybrid workers. There is no shortage of different tactics that can be deployed depending on the current landscape of your workforce. Yet, at the heart of it all is connection. Whether that connection is through every day in-person encounters, remote meetings and chats, or intentionally planned team and / or give back activities, the most important part is the human interaction, relationship building, and togetherness.

At our core we are all human.

We have different feelings, perspectives, and approaches to our lives and our work. At the same time, we are all connected by our shared humanity. Similarly, when we look at our organizations, we are ideally all connected through our shared vision, purpose, and values. Our shared humanity is at the center, which is why the alignment of our values and the ability to feel our unique worth, sense of purpose, and belonging within our organization is so important. It needs to be at the foundation of our efforts to drive holistic employee engagement. For example, we can build incredibly meaningful opportunities and programs for employees to engage in volunteering, giving, and broader philanthropy, but if we have not addressed our alignment on values and purpose first, then it will be for naught.

Shared purpose and transparency

We can further draw the connection between our shared vision, values, and purpose and our broader ESG efforts and leadership transparency. 2023 was a year that saw tremendous ESG backlash in the headlines. It was also the year that most companies and CEOs reaffirmed their commitment to the importance of environmental, social, and governance impact work. For many, this led to changes in terminology and language used to describe the work. However, it did not change the relevance, the focus, or the values alignment of the work. As we enter 2024, I believe we will only see that trend continue, because we know as practitioners that we cannot get distracted from the most important part, which is the humanity that is at the center of our social and corporate impact.

2023 was also a year where we saw many organizations grapple with their DEI strategies and investments. Many organizations struggled to keep the DEI focus and momentum that had built up over the past few years. Still, many organizations that have been committed to the work longer-term remained steadfast in their commitment to furthering the progress, policies, and realities of diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organizations. For many CSR practitioners, that meant continuing to foster opportunities for DEI through more inclusive employee volunteering and giving, supporting more diverse board services opportunities, implementing more trust-based philanthropy practices in their grantmaking, and most importantly building a space of safety and belonging by putting people back at the center of the work – something we will continue to see in 2024.

The powerful role of technology

On the technological side, 2023 was also a year where we saw tremendous advancements in artificial intelligence (AI). The emergence of new technologies and tools targeted everyday consumers, employees, as well as broader organizations. As with any new technology, the advancement has also come with questions, concerns, and critically important discussions about the long-term ethical ramifications and potentially unintended consequences of AI. At the same time there have been incredibly thoughtful and intentional approaches to harness the extraordinary power of AI to help further the social and corporate impact space, including our very own Blackbaud Impact Edge™ focused on secure and trusted data aggregation for social impact teams, leveraging responsible generative AI, providing opportunities for transparent collaboration, and empowering impactful storytelling, all by leveraging technology that can free us up to focus on the people that are at the center of our work.

Impact measured through storytelling

Finally, as we look at the year ahead, I would be remiss if I did not mention impact. The idea of measuring our work and impact is certainly not new. There is no shortage of frameworks and methodologies for measuring, assessing, and articulating social impact; however, one element that we must not lose sight of is our qualitative data and stories. The adage of “what gets measured gets done” is often true but I would argue that what is equally true is what stories get shared inspire action. Over the course of history, our oral tradition has been instrumental in shaping humanity. The sharing of stories has, and continues to be, one of the most influential forms of communication, inspiration, and impact available.

So, as we look at the year ahead, and we start reassessing our strategies and adjusting our tactics, we can strive to refresh our alignment of our vision, values, and purpose. We can recalibrate our efforts around ESG and DEI. We can also look to launch new programs to support a holistic approach to employee wellbeing and engagement, build trust-based relationships, and leverage new technologies and toolsets to drive engagement and measure impact. But most importantly, we must continue to keep in mind that at the center of it all is our people, our connection, and our shared humanity.