It's hard to imagine life without email spam, but there was a time way back (the mid-90's) when email was so new guerilla marketers didn't even exist. But Ryan Scott saw spam a-coming. At the time, he was an entrepreneur in the field of email marketing and he created the concept of OPT-in to help protect the privacy of individuals on email lists.

 

He patented the technology of double opt-in (that's when you check a box saying you agree to join an email list and receive a confirmation email in reply). He helped grow the company NetCreations and sold it at the top of the internet bubble in 2001 for a not-so-small fortune. And now we finds himself tackling a new and emergent field -- employee volunteerism.

 

 

I had the chance to sit down with Ryan in the offices of his company Causecast to talk about his new venture and how he seeks to unlock the potential of millions of professionals eager to make a difference in the world. It's called the Employee Impact Platform and it works like this:

 

A business offers to its employees the option to participate in any number of causes or charities pulled from Causecast's extensive network of thousands of nonprofit organizations. Employees can volunteer, earmark a portion of their paychecks to the cause, or participate in campaigns like fundraising competitions, where they can engage their friends and family on their Facebook or Twitter pages. 

 

Some companies will also offer matching donations or paid volunteer time which can be tracked through Causecast's patent-pending volunteer verification system. Through a nifty dashboard, the employee (and their employer) can keep track of their total net impact, and receive special rewards (like premier parking or a lunch with the boss). 

 

 

Why would a company want to get involved in employee activism? Altruism aside, there is a solid business case behind letting people spend time at work engaged in social action. For starters it's great for boosting the brand profile of an organization (all those facebook shares on a campaign are a subtle, yet powerful marketing tool for the company).

 

But more importantly, employee volunteerism is linked to remarkable increases in job satisfaction -- 64% versus the national average of 29%. Happier employees mean more productivity, reduced absenteeism, and higher retention -- and that translates to real dollars. The CEO Ryan Scott explains:

A company’s best brand ambassadors are its employees.  Engaged employees are the most likely to speak highly of their organizations.  Employee volunteer programs are one of the most powerful ways to create an engaged workforce and until now its been difficult to run an effective employee volunteer program because of a lack of sophisticated tools.  
And the tools Causecast has created are indeed sophisticated. As we spoke, the sound of dozens of rapidly clicking keyboards from an office packed with programmers, provided a backdrop to my whirlwind tour of the Employee Impact Platform. There is some serious technology behind the app. It uses cloud computing to process a huge amount of data; it can be integrated on the company website and accessed via mobile; and it can product detailed reports perfect for impressing upper management. It also allows for more complex operations like team or department competitions.

 

But the biggest winners here may be the nonprofits. The system is designed to showcase a wide array of nonprofits that do great work but may not have the marketing dollars to promote themselves. And Causecast's donation widget charges nothing to the nonprofit organization (unlike most of the other nonprofit software companies). 

 

With large companies like Hyatt and PricewaterhouseCoopers now adopting employee volunteering programs, Causecast may be in just the perfect position to broker new friendly relationships between the corporate and nonprofit worlds, while inspiring a new generation of digitally empowered "employee activists."

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