Why Germany’s top companies are prioritizing corporate citizenship

Charlie Brook December 01, 2021

In this blog

What is corporate citizenship? Why is corporate citizenship booming in Germany? What are the main benefits? 10 of Germany’s most sustainable companies and their approach Getting your corporate citizenship program started from scratch Make a difference with your program in 2022

Over the last few years, we’ve all been challenged to redefine our individual standards of social responsibility, striving to give more of our time to worthy causes. But when it comes to corporate citizenship, companies around the world are being put under a microscope. 

As the expectations for corporate action rise, more companies are examining their commitment to their internal social impact programs. And in many European countries like Germany, new legislation even requires action from corporations to ensure follow through.  

So it’s no longer a question if corporations have a responsibility to contribute, rather it’s to what extent they plan to lend their services. In order to measure up and stand out as pro-action organizations, Germany’s top companies are investing more and more into developing deliberate and consistent programs with each passing year. 

All of this work is helping to build a socially engaged market that continues to prove its dedication to the practice of corporate citizenship. 

In this article, we’ll be exploring why Germany’s top companies are prioritizing corporate citizenship campaigns by studying some of the most notable examples. With these learnings, you’ll have the tools to start building your own successful and purpose-driven program from scratch. 

What is corporate citizenship?

Corporate citizenship is the combined effort that a company dedicates to acting as a responsible corporate citizen on behalf of shareholders, employees, customers, communities and society as a whole. It encapsulates initiatives that vary from sustainability to corporate giving to any practice that contributes to the general betterment of humankind.  

While there are a number of ways to uphold corporate citizenship, here are a few programs that companies tend to adopt when looking to make a positive social impact. 

  • Employee Volunteering Programs – By volunteering on and offline labor, team members provide operational support to nonprofits organizations. This can mean both traditional and skills-based volunteering, where the individual provides support based on their professional skills or expertise. 
  • Corporate Giving Programs – Often referred to as corporate philanthropy, Corporate Giving Programs encourage the donation of money, services, and resources to  particular causes. This can include donation matching schemes that promote further monetary support on a corporate level. 
  • Sustainability Programs – With the future of our planet in mind, sustainability initiatives challenge individuals and the company as a whole to be as environmentally conscious as possible.
  • Employee Wellbeing, Diversity, and Inclusion Programs – Corporate citizenship isn’t just about lending a hand outside of the organization. It can also mean providing internal support to employees to promote a positive work environment that champions diversity and mental health from the inside out. 

While corporate citizenship is gaining steam around the world, it’s particularly pertinent in Germany, where the DAX 30 – rebranded in September 2021 to the DAX 40 – are constantly raising the bar. Before we investigate their campaigns, let’s take a closer look at the relevance of corporate citizenship specifically in Germany. 

Why is corporate citizenship booming in Germany?

Less than five years ago, the majority of Germany’s top publicly listed companies did not have a strategic approach to corporate citizenship. Rather they relied on cash donations as the extent of their corporate contributions. But thanks to a number of actions in the region, the focus has since shifted, promoting corporate programs that engage employees, provide hands-on support, and build stronger communities on a local level. 

For one, new legislation in Germany surrounding corporate citizenship and sustainability has been putting pressure on top companies to improve their practices in order to meet the latest requirements. For example, the Due Diligence in the Supply Chain Act is to be applied to a broad range of human rights risks this year, the Pay Transparency Act was enacted to address gender pay equality, and new CSR reporting obligations require companies to provide information annually on environmental, employee-related & social issues, respect for human rights and the fight against corruption. And even more stringent policies are expected by the end of 2021

Moves of this nature only encourage other positive changes, including the launch of a new DAX index that takes environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria into account. The ESG DAX Index is helping to set a new benchmark for sustainable German equity portfolios, featuring the top 50 companies that meet ESG standards.

But it’s not just about environmental issues: one study shows that 83% of top German companies address quality education as their priority UN Sustainable Development Goal with 57% covering good health and wellbeing. 

So it’s clear that German companies have a lot to gain from corporate citizenship programs in the coming years. But how can the success of these programs be quantified? 

For a better understanding, let’s examine the benefits of corporate citizenship in the German market.

What are the main benefits of implementing a corporate citizenship program in Germany?

Thanks to a public that is more socially aware than ever, the benefits of corporate citizenship are extensive. This practice not only helps companies gain positive exposure, it also proves valuable when it comes to hiring, retention and ROI. 

Let’s look at the advantages that your company can benefit from when implementing a strategic corporate citizenship program.

  • Employee Engagement – In Germany, corporate citizenship has been shown to increase job satisfaction, improve employee commitment to the company, provoke a greater sense of purpose in one’s work and strengthen employee identification with their employer. This means more engaged employees and more effective work, which proves valuable for productivity. 
  • Talent acquisition and retention – Based on the criteria above, it’s no surprise that corporate citizenship programs help to attract new talent. Equally, they can ensure that companies maintain and engage their current workforce, all of which helps to improve one’s bottom-line.
  • Support local communities – There’s no underestimating the power of community. Which is why corporate citizenship is a useful tool for empowering individuals to step outside of the larger company and lend a hand at the local level where they can really make a difference. 
  • Contribute to sustainable development goals – We all have targets to meet when it comes to environmental impact. By leveraging a corporate citizenship program, every team member feels fulfilled doing their part to reach company-wide sustainability goals. This can also keep your company in check when it comes to meeting ESG requirements.  
  • Showcase your company’s values alongside top German companies – Corporations no longer have the luxury of taking a back seat when it comes to social impact, as all eyes are on us to set the standard for future generations. Luckily, corporate citizenship can help us put our best foot forward by not only setting good intentions – but effectively sticking to them. 

Now that we’re aware of the benefits, it’s time to investigate effective corporate citizenship strategies. For this, we’d like to look at Germany’s most sustainable companies and the programs they’ve built to engage employees through corporate citizenship. 

10 of Germany’s most sustainable companies and their approach to corporate citizenship

To highlight the strongest corporate citizenship strategies within Germany, we’ve analyzed companies that belong to the DAX 40, the DAX 50 ESG, and Stern and Statista’s study of the most sustainable German companies in 2021. 

  1. Bayer 
corporate citizenship

(Source)

Their Program: The Bayer Fund, Bayer Corporate Giving and the Bayer Patient Assistance Foundation provide support to worthy causes that are close to the company’s core values. Bayer in the Community is their approach to serving local communities. Learn more about their program here

Their Policy: To address social impact on the grounds of philanthropic giving, employee engagement, sustainability and education specifically within the field of science.

Strategy Highlight: The Bayer People Care for Society program gives employees the opportunity to apply for social impact sabbaticals supported by the company. 

  1. Deutsche Telekom 

(Source)

Their Program: The Deutsche Telekom program approaches social commitment through their efforts supporting data protection & data security, climate & the environment and sustainable lifestyle & business. Learn more about their program here

Their Policy: To address media literacy while also encouraging employees to pursue volunteering based on their own preferences. To quantify their impact, the company puts together a yearly report on their corporate responsibility actions regarding company volunteering, sustainability, diversity & inclusion and the well-being of employees. 

Strategy Highlight: In order to encourage employee volunteering globally, Deutsche Telekom engages team members on an internal social media platform. The social proof aspect of this strategy promotes good intentions amongst team members, which positively influences the overall company impact. 

  1. Henkel

(Source)

Their Program: The Dr. Jost Henkel Foundation supports gifted and talented youth and the Fritz Henkel Foundation serves as their initiative for social engagement. Learn more about their program here

Their Policy: To approach corporate citizenship at a global level by dividing their methodology into four areas: corporate volunteering, social partnerships, brand engagement and emergency aid. 

Strategy Highlight: Their Forscherwelt or Researchers’ World initiative celebrates 10 years of bolstering the futures of children through science and sustainability education. They also share personal social engagement stories to better connect followers with their brand values.  

  1. SAP 

Their Program: They promote employee engagement through their Moments of Service campaign, educational coding programs like Meet and Code and Code Unnati and their Redefining (YOU)th initiatives. Learn more about their program here

Their Policy: To help the world benefit from today’s technology by focusing on three main pillars: accelerating non-profits and social enterprises, building digital skills and connecting employees with purpose. 

Strategy Highlight: SAP has also incorporated a social sabbatical policy, which gives employees the opportunity to share their professional skills with worthy projects around the world. In their case, this work is typically done in teams over a four week period. Within this time, they use their expertise to help non-profits solve specific problems.

  1. Siemens 

(Source)

Their Program: The Siemens Foundation keeps them on track when it comes to advancing social equity, and their Global Academic Partnership Program enables them to collaborate with academic institutions to support the development of exceptional tech talent. Learn more about their program here

Their Policy: To improve the lives of people with their technology. Their commitment to this mission is based on four pillars: access to technology, access to education, sustaining communities and diversity, equity & inclusion. Read their whole policy here

Strategy Highlight: The Siemens Cooperates with Education (SCE) initiative supports 500 universities, K-12 schools, and community colleges by providing cutting-edge technology in their classrooms and within research projects. They also sponsor four non-profits (FIRST Robotics, BEST Robotics, the Solar Car Challenge, & Greenpower USA) that work to inspire students to study engineering. 

  1. BMW
corporate citizenship

(Source)

Their Program: The BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt promotes responsible leadership that’s focused on building a peaceful, just and sustainable future and the Eberhard von Kuenheim Foundation promotes the entrepreneurial spirit outside of the business context. Learn more about their program here

Their Policy: To advance the Sustainable Development Goals established in the UN 2030 Agenda based on three pillars: social commitment, company culture and their foundations. They also commit to education through projects such as their LIFE concept and Road Safety programs.

Strategy Highlight: BMW promotes internal cultural engagement specifically surrounding modern and contemporary art, jazz and classical music with their You program. Thanks to their commitment to upholding corporate citizenship within their company culture, they find that their employees contribute just as much to BMW’s social responsibility and mission as their foundation does.

  1. BASF 
corporate citizenship

(Source)

Their Program: The BASF Foundation supports development cooperation projects globally including disaster relief and a commitment to international projects that contribute to the long-term improvement of living situations for the disadvantaged. Learn more about their program here. 

Their Policy: To help find solutions to relevant societal challenges for vulnerable communities on the basis of future health, skills, and resources. This includes various programs such as the Helping Hands aid campaign for Covid relief and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW)

Strategy Highlight: To better allocate their resources to worthy causes, BASF developed the Der Mitmacher or the Participant program. This initiative functions as a sort of marketplace for NPOs to share projects and get matched with specific BASF teams that can support them. 

  1. Allianz

Their Program: The Allianz Group promotes corporate citizenship through a number of initiatives like The Tara Ocean Foundation, their approach to managing tomorrow’s climate risks, and a Financial Literacy program, which enables the next generation to position themselves within the asset management industry. Learn more about their program here

Their Policy: To express commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility through three main pillars: low-carbon economy, social inclusion (particularly in regards to “encouraging future generations”), and the integration of ESG principles into the insurance and asset management business. 

Strategy Highlight: Their partnership with PRI in person contributed to 2,272 tons of carbon emissions in the form of carbon credits. These credits came from the Rimba Raya Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation project in Borneo, an effort that is helping to prevent the deforestation of nearly 65,000 hectares of peat swamp forest to avoid more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions.  

  1. Zalando
corporate citizenship

(Source)

Their Program: Their do.MORE sustainability strategy aims to make Zalando a sustainable platform with a net-positive impact for people and the planet. Learn more about their sustainability program here

Their Policy: To support fashion that is produced, consumed and sold in a responsible manner. As an eCommerce company, their corporate citizenship commitment is mostly based on promoting sustainable production. They uphold this responsibility with initiatives like the development of their own private labels to help end fast fashion. 

Strategy Highlight: Zalando champions brands who are also committed to a more sustainable future for fashion thanks to their ZMS All-Year-Round Sustainability Opportunities. This provides access to a 5M euro fund and allows them to promote sustainability through brand stories.  

  1. Merck 

(Source)

Their Program: The Merck Corporate Responsibility program ensures that they apply their global resources and investments to ESG priority areas. For example, their Medical Outreach Program (MMOP) works to provide lifesaving medicines and vaccines to those in need. Learn more about their program here

Their Policy: To provide aid and find solutions to the world’s biggest health challenges with a focus on these four main areas: Access to health, Employees, Environment and Ethics & Value. 

Strategy Highlight: Merck is an exceptional example of a company that measures the impact of their corporate citizenship actions. By engaging in an area that is connected to their core business – health – they are able to achieve a high-level of impact, which they track and analyze to boost engagement. Thanks to their extensive reporting, we know that more than 100 million people have been treated under their corporate citizenship programs. 

Getting your corporate citizenship program started from scratch

It’s easy to feel intimidated by the possibilities of crafting a suitable corporate citizenship campaign, particularly when so many companies are doing it right. So if you’re unsure where to go from here, we’d love to help you with that. 

Here are our recommendations for building an effective corporate citizenship program from scratch.

  • Clearly define your purpose – When companies make a clear connection between their core business and their corporate citizenship activities, they give their employees the gift of purpose. If you can clearly define a purpose, then designing a program that serves the company and the individual will come much more naturally. Learn more about how to define an engaging company purpose here.   
  • Leverage personal challenges – Challenge based programs speak to our competitive side by raising the stakes within our everyday lives. Even small challenges like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or becoming a vegetarian for a week can not only promote sustainability but also encourage healthy habits in our workforce.
  • Celebrate holiday specific campaigns –  Base your corporate citizenship campaigns on a holiday or celebratory month to ground your campaign in the real world. Earth Day is a great excuse for launching a sustainability campaign or World Hunger Day could be your inspiration for a company-wide volunteer trip to the food bank. Use this as a way to bring meaning to your actions, rather than arbitrarily building your program throughout the year.
  • Increase engagement with credible buy-in from management – When it comes to corporate citizenship, people want commitment from the top down. In fact, this study found that supervisor buy-in is the most important thing about corporate volunteering for employees in Germany. So make it a priority to engage C-level executives in all of your volunteering actions. 
  • Give employees autonomy to personalize their contribution – When employees are given the freedom to choose partner organizations, it’s been shown to positively impact employees’ willingness to participate in corporate citizenship programs in Germany. Enable your employees to contribute to the causes that matter to them by giving them the freedom to adapt the program to their needs. 
  • Organize strategic campaigns with a corporate citizenship platform – If you’d like to create more deliberate and engaging campaigns that connect team members internally, consider working with a corporate citizenship platform. This kind of technology can empower your social impact campaigns with a more strategic approach that’s inspiring, easy-to-use and customized to fit your company’s needs.

Make a difference with your corporate citizenship program in 2022

A new year means new intentions, plus a rejuvenated sense of purpose. So it’s the perfect time to start planning corporate citizenship campaigns for the year to come. 

It’s helpful to keep in mind that your initiatives don’t need to be as expansive as the examples in this report to make a difference. Even small commitments can help inspire your teams to get involved and enact change in their daily lives. 

So with that, we encourage you to become the next driver for social change at your company by committing to your corporate citizenship campaigns in 2022. And if you need some more guidance, we’re always happy to help.

Go back to blog >

The Ultimate Guide to Corporate Volunteering

All you need to know about corporate volunteering

Download now

Engage employees while making an impact

Get a demo