Chapter Two

The future of CSR is rooted in empathy

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What we learned from 5 thought leaders and 2,000 practitioners

In 2023, we hosted our second Impact Studio event that brought together five trailblazing CSR thought leaders. Sam Caplan, Submittable’s VP of Social Impact, engaged each guest in deep conversation and led a panel discussion bringing everyone together for an insightful conversation. 

Nearly 2,000 CSR practitioners, spanning company size and industry, joined us live or asynchronously. After hosting a forum for all of this energy and knowledge-sharing, we would summarize the theme leading the sector forward in a single word: empathy.

As Sam observed,

We must listen and learn from those who are suffering from the challenges we seek to solve. We must earn trust and the right to participate.

Sam Caplan, VP of Social Impact, Submittable

Listening requires empathy, learning requires empathy. And so, for CSR practitioners in particular, leadership requires empathy.

Check in on your bedside manner

Practicing empathy in this way requires you to take a close look at how you show up in your work within the communities you serve. John Brothers, President of the T. Rowe Price Foundation, calls this a corporate philanthropist’s “bedside manner.” 

To check in on your bedside manner, analyze how you approach your CSR work: Are you repeating past destructive patterns of telling a community what it needs? Are you stuck in a pattern of focusing on community challenges? 

Then, apply an empathic lens: Practice being curious and humble. Let the community you are entering determine its own fate. Allow them space to lead with their strengths. 

Customer spotlight: MiiR

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How MiiR Built a CSR Program that Prioritizes the Community

As a generosity-driven company, we are constantly working hard to understand how accessible and equitable our grantmaking program is in action. Submittable has helped us further those goals by providing tools that remove as many barriers as possible for nonprofit organizations; for us, this means collecting updates and streamlining our processes to be as intuitive as possible.

Tiffany Ong, Senior Vice President of Impact and People, MiiR


Hours saved across the application lifecycle

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The challenge

The solution

The results

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Learn from trust-based approaches

Trust-based practices, which originated with the nonprofit world of philanthropy, are increasingly influencing the way that CSR professionals approach their work. Specifically, this means incorporating unrestricted and multi-year funding into your grantmaking portfolio, as well as simplifying and streamlining paperwork

To get started, try taking a walk in your applicant’s shoes. Go ahead, fill out your own application form! 

At Submittable, practicing empathy begins with the user experience. By choosing to partner with us, our customers take the first step to remove burdens in the grant application process. This is a way you show them respect. And that, in turn, builds trust.

Customers by the numbers: Reducing applicant burden

Nearly 3/4

Customers say Submittable helps them meet DEI goals—and the top way they do so is by by crafting a more inclusive, accessible, and/or less burdensome applicant experience

Make your tech do its part

Turning to employee engagement, practicing empathy means you need to make it as easy as possible for your coworkers to sign up. For Submittable customers, that begins with modern design of Give and Volunteer. 

As we continue to work with our corporate clients though, one theme keeps repeating itself: the CSR professionals running employee giving and volunteer programs are overstretched. They’re expected to deliver results, but in the meantime, many of them are balancing other responsibilities and dealing with a lack of resources. 

Our role is to relieve some of this stress. One way we help achieve this is by providing an easy-to-use system that gives our customers autonomy. Another way is by creating tools customers can use to empower their ERG leaders and nonprofit partners to share in the creation of volunteer events and giving campaigns. 

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Incentivize volunteering and multiply impact with Dollars for Doers

Submittable’s new Dollars for Doers feature, released in 2023, helps companies double down on their CSR initiatives’ most important goals.

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Enhanced Community Impact

Increased Employee Engagement and Satisfaction

Nurturing Volunteering Culture

Aligning Corporate Values with Action

Stronger Community Ties

Invite your teammates to play a bigger role

And you can take it a step further. To paraphrase Jamie Vargas, Head of Global Social Impact at Electronic Arts, think of every employee as a member of your CSR team. They can be involved in every stage:

  • Strategy and program development

  • The nuts and bolts of creating opportunities in the platform

  • Engaging their coworkers and driving higher participation

The idea of deputizing employees to a greater degree holds a lot of promise, but to some it may also feel risky. We get that there are rules—so we’ve built in tools like approval processes so you can feel comfortable opening the doors a little wider.

We like to call this the act of democratizing your CSR programs. What better way to empathize with your employees than handing them the keys to drive the programs themselves?

Cartoon: The truth about corporate volunteering

Customer spotlight: Trulieve

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How Trulieve Upped Participation in their Volunteer Program by 55%

What we found is that people want to volunteer, but if there’s any type of threshold, then it’s harder for them to take advantage of it.

Sarah Mitchell, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, Trulieve


Volunteer hours logged over 4 months


Hours per week saved for each admin

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The challenge

The solution

The results

New year, new ways to incorporate empathy

In 2024, we can’t wait to keep creating ways for our customers to bring more empathy into their programs. We stand in the shoes of each stakeholder, and think about how our tools can make it easier to get to the good work.

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