Employee giving and volunteerism drives positive business outcomes


Cisco was honored last year to win the top spot on People’s 2023 List of Companies That Care, and a key factor was our employee culture of giving back.

We’ve been on a multi-year journey to engage our employees for positive impact at scale. Four years in, the results surprised even us. Not only did we see significant increases in donations and volunteerism to our global communities, but tangible benefits back to Cisco.

“We learned from Cisco’s own business transformation to make giving back a habit.”

Leveraging Business Transformation for Employee Giving

It all started with an audacious goal around 2016 to engage 80% of our employees in giving back annually by the year 2020. We diligently adopted best practices in the field such as offering year-round donation matching, raised annual match amounts to $25,000 per employee, and offered 40 hours of volunteer time off per year. These were an excellent foundation and edged our engagement up to 50%. Good, but not enough.

The breakthrough came when we shifted to learn from Cisco’s own business transformation and re-design around the question: How do we make giving back a habit? We landed on these design principles:

  • Center on inclusion and make it simple for nonparticipants to take their first give back action. For example, we provided new hires with $15 donation credits to direct to their preferred charity on their first day at Cisco.
  • Leverage digitization to engage at scale. From virtual volunteerism to Webex chatbots that encouraged people to donate, we deployed digital features to keep it top of mind, make it easy to get started, and keep coming back.
  • Follow the data. In near real time, we tested new programs and approaches, tweaked campaigns and communications, and monitored adoption rates all to help us get the best fit for and connection with our people.

We continued to iterate through 2019, and that year we hit our goal with 81% employee participation. Since then, we haven’t looked back. We have been sustaining these rates, including an increase to 85% participation in fiscal year 2023.

Hitting our goal felt like a feat unto itself, but what came out of it was even better—increased social impact and substantial business value. Let’s look at the numbers.

Leveraging Employee Giving for Social Impact

Not surprisingly, engaging at scale grew our employee volunteerism and giving exponentially. From 2016 to 2020 when we first hit 80%, we saw a 176% increase in volunteer hours and a 150% increase in employee donations and matching.

And each year that we’ve hit 80%, we have sustained record levels of contributions, providing a total of $130 million to nearly 7,000 nonprofits over the past four years. When you look closely at the nearly one million actions taken over these years, you see meaningful stories of change, like:

  • 400 employees and friends hiking the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain to raise funds for global cancer charities
  • Six Cisco engineers designing and installing a network for homeless shelters in San Jose, California, so residents can access information and resources for a better life
  • Cisco employee Daniel volunteers every week to take live calls with the Trevor Project to support LGBTQ+ youth experiencing crisis

Leveraging Social Impact for Business Value

Cisco employee and system engineer volunteering at local food bank

Cisco’s purpose is to Power an Inclusive Future for All, and at the heart of this is the belief that doing good for the world is good for business—and we have the data to prove that it is.

With the help of Cisco’s Research and Intelligence team, we conducted a longitudinal study to explore the relationship between giving back at Cisco and individual, leader, and team performance data. We examined the first three years of Cisco’s 80% engagement data—who gave back, what they did, and how frequently—against performance data to analyze business factors like attrition, promotion, bonuses, and recognition.

The results were eye-opening. Compared to employees who did not take any community impact action, those who took at least one per year stayed longer at Cisco, had higher bonuses, had higher odds of promotion, and received more recognition from others.

The same held true for specific subgroups like teams, leaders, and new hires. For example, when a team collectively engaged in giving back, the whole team had higher rates of promotion and higher recognition.

Particularly compelling was that when leaders engaged in giving back, their team was more likely to give back as well. Such leaders had 20% lower attrition rates for their teams than their non-engaged counterparts.

Doing Good for the World is Good for Business

When we put these elements together—social impact and business value—this is the foundation for building a purpose-driven employee culture. Our journey has helped us demonstrate that doing good for the world is good for business.

And like any good story, the end is just the beginning. While we continue to engage at scale, we also invite our broader ecosystem of business partners, customers, and suppliers to join us. Check out our Partnering for Purpose blog stories for examples and contact us to share your story.

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