Top Corporate Social Impact Insights from the 2024 Points of Light Conference

Jul 9, 2024

“There can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others.”
— President George H. W. Bush

The recent Points of Light Conference brought together 1,200 nonprofit, business and civic leaders who believe in the power of service to create positive community change. Throughout their time in Houston, attendees gained new knowledge, forged impactful connections, and were filled with inspiration to continue their important work to lead change. They also found moments to celebrate as we acknowledged the 100th birthday of Points of Light founder President George H.W. Bush, talked about preparing for the 35th anniversary of Points of Light and the 20th anniversary of the Corporate Service Council in 2025, announced our partnership with America250, recognized Daily Point of Light honorees, and attested to their own contributions to building a society characterized by compassion, volunteerism and civic engagement.

While corporate social impact leaders often have opportunities to meet and learn from one another, the Points of Light conference provides unique value by offering conversations that highlight cross-sector challenges, partnerships and solutions. These discussions brought forth valuable insights that help remind us of where we’ve been and where we’re headed.

Corporate Social Impact Insights

Top Corporate Social Impact Insights
The reception for business leaders during the 2024 Points of Light Conference.

People: Building Belonging and Strengthening Relationships

At the heart of people-powered change are the volunteers themselves. While the collective efforts of individuals can spark transformation in the lives of others, it also brings significant value to volunteers. As Points of Light CEO Jennifer Sirangelo shared in the opening plenary, “there is an urgent need for connections, compassion, and community.” The world is at a pivotal moment; many feel isolated and lonely, othering has become commonplace, and differences seem too difficult to overcome. In the workplace, we are faced with record levels of disengagement and stress. Employees are searching for purpose, respect and inclusion. Volunteerism, by developing empathy and encouraging proximity, plays a crucial role in bringing people together to work toward common goals, fostering a sense of belonging, and building a resilient and supportive community where individuals feel valued and connected.

Not only do we need people to get involved in making positive change happen, but the true success of volunteer efforts also relies on the strength of relationships. Collaboration between community organizations and businesses creates a robust support network that amplifies impact and drives innovation. Strategic partnerships where significance is placed on mutual trust and transparency ensure that resources are effectively used and that outcomes are sustainable and far-reaching.

top corporate social impact insights
A panel discussion during the business leaders luncheon.

Power: Uncovering Agency and Centering Community

Corporate social impact leaders play a crucial role in helping colleagues realize their potential for making change happen. By meeting employees where they are on their journey and empowering them in authentic and varied ways, leaders can inspire actions that build momentum toward achieving larger goals. Encouraging active participation in one’s community, such as volunteering and voting, is essential. However, successful participation requires the centering of community voices.

We must co-create solutions by listening to those closest to the issues. As Katie Fessler, Senior Director of Community Impact at Altria Client Services, noted in the Business Leader Luncheon, we must do this work “with community, not for and definitely not to.” Harnessing the energy and agency of volunteers is vital, but we must also be mindful of the inherent power imbalances between companies and community organizations. Recognizing that both corporate and nonprofit leaders have much to learn from each other is key. Companies should approach community partnerships with humility, allowing community leaders who are ultimately closest to the issues to guide solutions and co-dream them together. This collaborative approach ensures that efforts are genuinely beneficial and sustainable. Understanding power dynamics is also important in telling stories of service. When we center the strengths of every stakeholder in our stories and approach each other with dignity, we create connection based on shared humanity rather than a desire to save. In all aspects of community, we have as much to learn as we do to give.

top corporate social impact insights
A service project during the conference hosted by the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.

Progress: Measuring Impact and Valuing Transformation

Corporate social impact leaders continue to face the challenging task of proving outcomes and the return on investment. Senior leaders want to see quick results and tangible outcomes to justify the resources allocated. However, meaningful change rarely happens overnight. Achieving significant, sustainable impact requires a long-term perspective and perseverance. It also requires a framework aligned with goals and resources that allows you to course correct while translating intentions into impact and does not overburden or surprise community partners. The need to report outputs remains but encourage patience to better understand the results of this work, which may not be fully measured after one volunteer project or even in the span of one career.

It is essential that we continue thinking about our work in terms of transformation rather than transactions. We can no longer simply check hosting volunteer projects off our action plans. Instead, we must create space for listening to community, learning from their past and present, and offer volunteers time for reflection. Processing feelings and reflecting on volunteer experiences deepens the experience for volunteers and leads to the compassion and connection that the world needs now.

The landscape of social impact work has evolved significantly; today, there is more effective collaboration, a greater variety of approaches that meet employees where they are, and a deeper understanding of the value and impact of volunteerism. The Points of Light conference allowed attendees to acknowledge our collective journey while reinforcing the essential role of volunteers in creating positive community change and inspiring us to keep working together to build healthy communities. As corporate, nonprofit, and civic leaders move forward, they are better equipped to face challenges and seize opportunities, working together to build a more inclusive and engaged society.

We can’t wait to see you next year in New Orleans where we’ll gather together for more education, connection, inspiration, and to celebrate people-powered progress! Sign up to receive conference updates.

Katy Elder
Vice President of Corporate Insights, Points of Light

Spending 20 years in the corporate social responsibility sector, Katy mixes creativity and strategy with expertise in employee engagement and corporate citizenship to develop resources and learning opportunities that advance corporate social impact.