Empowering Employees to Exercise their Purchase Power

Check out our idea starters for ways you can integrate this timely concept into your employee civic engagement strategy!

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At Points of Light, we believe that the most powerful driver of positive change is the individual. An individual’s actions, no matter how small, can have an impact and change a life. And, together, our collective actions are a force that transforms the world. 

We believe we are at the dawn of a new era, one we are calling the Civic Century.” When future generations look back on this time, they will see an era of sustained, meaningful civic engagement, fueled by a global community of people ready and willing to do good. 

But, doing good comes in many forms. Today’s engaged person may express their desire to do good through the purchases they make, in what they share on social media, where and how they choose to work, and what nonprofit organization to support as a volunteer or donor.

Those different forms of doing good – an individual’s civic “superpowers” or the ways they positively engage in their community – are not left behind when they show up at work. In fact, a person’s employer may offer them the first opportunity to exercise their superpowers through a company’s social impact programs. As a corporate social responsibility leader, you play an integral role in helping fellow employees realize and tap into their civic superpowers. 

CIVIC SUPERPOWER: PURCHASE POWER

Purchase power represents is an individual’s ability and influence when they make decisions around spending or consumption of goods or services. These purchasing decisions may reflect their values or advance a social cause or issue. Buyers may deliberately purchase or avoid purchasing a product or service based on a company’s policies, social causes, size and scale, environmental footprint, and more.  

As a social impact professional working for a brand that might sell goods or services either B2B or B2C, you understand the correlation between corporate profits and corporate social responsibility. It continues to be proven that companies that do good also do well.

The consumers making socially responsible purchasing decisions are your neighbors and your fellow employees, and it’s imperative to educate them on the concept and provide them with opportunities to learn, grow, and act. But, as leaders focused on just a few of the traditional forms of doing good like volunteering and donating over the last half century, how do we begin educating employees on the rest?

We’ve developed a few idea starters to help you enable fellow employees to understand the responsibility behind their purchasing choices and how they can make informed decisions, which in turn can have a positive impact on their neighborhood, on their community, and the world.

Drive awareness and discussion:

  • Read all about it! Over the next year, Points of Light will publish “Civic Life Today,” a digital magazine with a series of nine issues, each highlighting an individual’s civic superpowers and how they can activate them in their own life. The first issue on Purchase Power hit virtual newsstands on Dec. 10. We encourage you to review it first to better understand the concept and nuances related to purchase power. To distribute it to employees, direct them here or contact us at info@pointsoflight.org.
  • Develop a Lunch & Learn webinar series around an individual’s civic superpowers that leads to learning and dialogue. Help employees connect their behaviors and purchasing choices to the bigger issues of climate action, diversity and equity, and economic empowerment. Begin by providing a basic primer for all of the ways an individual might engage in civic life. Then, transition to a segment or full webinar on purchase power. Discuss important topics like conscious consumerism, understanding the lifecycle of your purchase, and limiting purchasing through upcycling and recycling, or even bartering. Connect each webinar in the series to a volunteer opportunity that reinforces these concepts.
  • Publish an interview with senior leaders from your procurement team to Illustrate how the company approaches purchasing decisions. The formal habits of the company can give employees a framework for their own actions and shows how decisions can play out at a macro level.
  • Spotlight the vendors, suppliers and business partners that your company has chosen to work with and how their values align with your corporate values through a blog or video series.
  • Invite an owner of a minority-owned business to explain (at a virtual event, via blog, etc.) how the pandemic has interrupted their business and how they’ve overcome obstacles. Use this opportunity to remind employees why supporting small and minority-owned businesses is critical to the success of local communities
  • Partner with your employee resource groups or affinity networks who may be hosting “courageous conversations” around issues of social justice, equity and inclusion. Encourage them to incorporate purchase power, privilege, and equal access to wealth creation into their discussions. In the same vein, partner with your “green team” or sustainability champions to offer similar conversations on being eco-friendly.
  • Create a short video that explains the role of purchase power in communities and how employees can take action; add this to leadership training or the volunteering/corporate citizenship or “empathy/purpose” curriculum in your company’s learning management system.
  • Send monthly communications or publish a series in your employee newsletter about becoming cause-driven consumers. These messages can align with themes throughout the year and provide resources for getting started. Remind employees that one of the most powerful things people can do at any income level is be intentional about their purchases.

Provide resources:

  • Create guides that encourage informed purchasing decisions. These guides can be shared in alignment with events or campaigns throughout the year. For example:
    • One guide could highlight companies or nonprofits that sell products or services that support your company’s impact areas, which could accompany announcements around your holiday giving activities.
    • Another could highlight small or minority-owned businesses, which would be great assets to distribute during Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Veterans Day, or Small Business Saturday. Use corporate social media to promote local businesses that tie in to that theme.
    • An Earth Day guide could focus on ways to shop recycled, upcycled, or donated goods, include local shopping choices with smaller footprints, and provide ways to find locations to donate or recycle
  • Set up an employee-generated list on a shared server so employees from around the world can contribute to showcasing small, local or minority-owned businesses that align with your company’s values. When employees nominate a business, enter them into a raffle for prizes that emphasize exercising their purchase power responsibly. Remind employees to look for certification symbols while shopping like the Fairtrade mark or Forest Stewardship Council label.
  • Consider providing microloan lending platforms as another way to engage employees – or possibly customers – in your company’s social impact strategy. Investing in social entrepreneurs and small businesses around the world provides a pathway to their economic success.
  • Develop an informal employee “swap board” for those with personal goods or services they want to trade or recycle. Enlist a passionate environmental champion to lead this effort. You might even consider placing bins in local offices so employees can drop off donations or sort through for items they need.

Showcase organizational values in action:

  • Highlight employee volunteer opportunities that support nonprofits that offer purchases with purpose, or those that support the economic empowerment of minorities, or provide small business consulting. Consider hosting a day of service that focuses solely on these things. Use Earth Day to promote environmental projects but also as a reminder to make informed purchasing decisions.
  • Build a skills-based mentoring program or offer community empowerment courses to help social entrepreneurs and small businesses – particularly those that are minority-owned or led – succeed. Concentrate on areas such as marketing, finance, supplier diversity, operations (eco-friendly packaging); use the skills of your workforce to create the courses and encourage them to volunteer. Go a step further and offer micro loans or grants to participants.
  • Similarly, partner with a nonprofit that provides volunteer-led financial management training and consumer counseling to community members so they can become more financially literate and better optimize their purchase power.

Continue the conversation at home:

  • Encourage employees to share what they’ve learned about purchase power with friends and family. A 2020 survey of more than 200,000 youth by market intelligence company Kids Insights demonstrates that children have an ever-increasing purchase power in the household and are voicing their environmental concerns, which could influence a family’s shopping habits.

And, it doesn’t end there. While empowering employees to be smart consumers, it’s imperative that your company walks the talk. How does your company determine who they are buying from for big and small purchases? Are vendors and business partners diverse, led by minorities, and giving back to the communities where they operate? Are they following sound business and labor practices? Do their values align with your company's values?

You may not be responsible for many corporate purchasing activities but as a leader who understands and believes in the change we want to see, this might be an opportune time to influence other business leaders.

  • First, start with what you have control over. Where are you sourcing your volunteer t-shirts, supplies, or lunches and snacks for group projects and events? Are your recognition items and other branded tchotchkes purchased with sustainability in mind, or from companies who employ those that are differently-abled or members of marginalized communities? Can you promote any of these vendors with aligned values through social media? Imagine the effect that would have on a much smaller business!
  • Then, think of your closest internal partners. When HR needs to rollout new programs and are thinking of sourcing items, remind them of the purchase power the company wields. If your company has partnerships with companies that provide employees with discounts to their goods and services, are those vendors socially responsible? Start the conversation with the team in charge. Most importantly, create case studies on successes to share with your business partners and fellow CSR leaders that demonstrate it can be done!
  • Finally, incorporate cause marketing into your social impact programs, if it makes sense. Case in point, 73% of respondents to Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer study believe that a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve conditions in communities where it operates. Cause marketing is an effective way of doing both by helping consumers make purposeful purchases.

 As you begin to weave an individual’s civic superpowers into your company’s social impact strategies, you are strengthening the social fabric of communities around the world. Your access to and leadership of hundreds of potential changemakers, possibly hundreds of thousands, gives us hope for a better tomorrow.

Share your ideas for empowering employees to exercise their purchase power in the comments below and stay tuned for the next edition of Civic Life Today in January!

Katy Elder

Vice President, Business Innovation, Points of Light

A member of the Points of Light team since November 2012, Katy serves as Vice President, Business Innovation. She brings with her nearly 20 years of experience in employee volunteerism, community affairs and internal communications. After leading Points of Light’s corporate consulting practice for six years, she is now responsible for developing content and innovative learning opportunities to advance the corporate citizenship sector.
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