Are You Hoping to Launch (or Grow) a Social Impact Initiative in Schools? First, Answer These 8 Questions

At its annual conference this May, Engage for Good will announce the winners of the 2018 Halo Awards, which honor North America’s best corporate citizenship and cause initiatives. From animal rights to health to the environment, this year’s finalist campaigns span a range of worthy causes that support schools, teachers, and students. Standout initiatives by PepsiCo and Samsung, valued MDR partners, are among the school-focused finalists, which also include CVS Health, Burlington Stores, PNC, and even Alaska Fertilizer.

Why do so many corporations outside of the education sector want to impact teachers and students? Their reasons are as varied as the companies themselves. Some are seeking to strengthen the schools and communities where their employees and customers live, learn, and do business. Others, particularly technology and financial companies, want to get out in front of the talent wars. And especially following the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting, they’ve come to recognize the power of Generation Z as loud and unflinching opinion leaders in today’s digital society.

Whatever your industry or goals, engaging the next generation through education is an admirable and effective cause. But what if your organization has little or no experience talking to teachers and students? Where do you start, and what do you need to know?

mdr-social-impact-initiative-gen-z8 Questions to Ask Yourself

Before you begin this journey, big or small, you need to be able to answer these questions:

  1. What social goals do you seek to achieve?

Will positive change be seen as the result of this initiative? If you’re not sure, familiarize yourself with the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, protect our planet, and ensure economic opportunity for all. In 2015, countries around the world agreed to set specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. Corporations, the investment community, governments, and citizens are all aligning around these goals, which range from economic opportunity to good health to affordable and clean energy. Each of these SDGs can be supported through innovative K-12 classroom curriculum, and teachers would welcome your support.

  1. Is the initiative core to your corporate values?

The best campaigns support your corporate priorities and align with your values. Think about this: What brand attributes should the in-school program bring to life? Last year, for example, LG debuted its Life’s Good: Experience Happiness initiative. Before rolling out an education platform for youth and families, LG, whose corporate tagline is “Life’s Good,” studied perceptions of its brand among consumers and employees. By 2021, LG’s school curriculum will equip 5.5 million young Americans with the skills they need to live happy, productive lives.

While LG is helping students achieve a good life, consider how your brand’s persona or values might relate to education and the next generation.

  1. Is your company leadership committed to the initiative?

A few years ago, MDR helped H&R Block launch its H&R Dollars & Sense Budget Challenge in schools. This initiative simulates personal financial scenarios to help teach teens money management skills like paying bills, budgeting, managing debt, and saving money for retirement. H&R Block’s top leadership was actively involved and committed to the launch. The CEO of the company has appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and made other media appearances to talk up the campaign, and the tax preparation company has dedicated millions of dollars in scholarships to students who win H&R Block’s Budget Challenge. Launching a program without strong executive support leaves it much more vulnerable to the ax as annual corporate revenue and profitability goals change.

  1. Will the initiative engage and enthuse most, if not all, of your stakeholders?

Cause initiatives are a great way to plant positive emotional associations with your brand. Your stakeholders aren’t just your leaders, of course; they include your employees, customers, investors, partners, and society at large. And what about kids in school? They’re not just students; they’re your future leaders, customers, and workforce. Samsung, for example, is cultivating young talent with its Solve for Tomorrow competition, which challenges middle and high schoolers to think outside the box to solve some of our biggest challenges using technology, science, engineering, math, and arts. Students who create real change in their communities through the program are eligible for rewards of $50,000 or more.

  1. What internal and external expertise can you tap to support your initiative?

Does your team have a special skill or talent to share? Are there subject matter experts who can bring your campaign to life? Do you know how to align your initiative with what’s important in the classroom? Few businesspeople really know what it’s like to manage a modern classroom. And most CSR and cause marketing teams are already strapped for resources. For a school initiative, look at organizations that engage Millennial and Gen X educators well, and seek out partnerships with them.

  1. How will you measure the impact of your school initiative?

We all want our campaigns to make a positive difference in the world. Larger societal impacts are important, but they might not be measurable for 15-20 years or more. How are you going to measure the success of your initiative in the shorter term? By the number of schools reached? The number of teachers engaged? The number of students who participate? Pre- and post-program surveys? Sign-ups to competitions? Think carefully about measurement and analysis, and get buy-in from your senior management about key short-term metrics.

  1. What age range do you most want to reach?

Now you need to get into the nitty-gritty. Children of different ages obviously require distinctive types of material. You need to carefully tailor your message and resources for both the educator and his or her students. A second-grade math poster would be woefully basic for a fifth-grade classroom. An educational app that appeals to tweens won’t work for high school students. If you do want to target multiple age ranges, you’ll need to segment your campaign materials accordingly. MDR did this while creating science curriculum for CITGO’s Fueling Education initiative. Because the STEM campaign targets K-8 teachers and their students, MDR and WeAreTeachers created three different bands of curriculum.

  1. How will you get the word out about your initiative?

Last but not least, what is your promotion plan? Many well-meaning companies invest in building great content, set up dashboards, and agree upon metrics without really understanding what it takes to engage teachers and students. Remember that you shouldn’t talk to all your stakeholders the same way. Tailoring your content and communications to different audiences is key. And leveraging a trusted voice can help you accelerate engagement with your program. This is where teaming up with education experts like the editors at WeAreTeachers and School Leaders Now can be invaluable.

If you want help mapping out the best ways to reach and engage teachers and students, please don’t hesitate to contact us here at MDR.