Starbucks Employee Engagement with Starbucks

Putting global social impact in employees’ hands

Employees are the very heart of the Starbucks brand- yet despite its strong culture of “serving up good” through a global offering of social impact opportunities, Starbucks employees were lacking in awareness of these opportunities. 

Aiming to better engage store employees in the social impact initiatives led at the corporate level, Starbucks partnered with Purpose to develop a bespoke engagement strategy. Through research, focus groups, interviews & landscape reviews, Purpose created a strategy that included core values to unite corporate & in-store employees, ownable roles for every employee to play in contributing to social impact & ideas for channels and resources that could make the experience enjoyable to all.

To activate this engagement strategy, Starbucks launched a neighborhood grants program which has now received over 8,000 grant nominations from 13,000 employees- and in June 2020, The Starbucks Foundation committed $1 million in Neighborhood Grants to promote racial equity and create more inclusive communities.

02. Insight & Approach


Despite Starbucks’ incredible offering of social impact opportunities across the world, initiatives rarely made it into the lives of store employees — the partners at the heart of the brand.

While Starbucks has a strong culture of “serving up good” through service and community connection initiatives, the company recognized that their employees lacked information about what work was happening and what engagement options were available to them. Only 1 in 30 baristas we spoke to had ever heard of Starbucks stores doing social impact work.


Starbucks aimed to make working at the company feel like the best job in retail by offering opportunities for store partners to live their values at work by taking part in global social impact initiatives.

By supporting store partners to serve their communities, Starbucks set out to supercharge the positive impact the company makes on the neighborhoods it serves, and make working at Starbucks feel like more than just a day job.

Theory of Change

03. Initiative

Purpose partnered with Starbucks to unearth insights about what was holding store employees back from participating in global social impact initiatives, and determine what might motivate them to take part.

Through polling, focus groups, interviews and landscape reviews, Purpose developed a bespoke engagement strategy for Starbucks to utilize when creating and implementing impact initiatives that would touch the lives of store employees.

04. Research

Interviews with Store Partners

To begin our research, Purpose conducted interviews with a number of store employees — from baristas to upper management — to understand what they knew about volunteering and service initiatives at Starbucks, and how they felt about getting involved.

Interviews illustrated the awareness gap — but also showed that without time, resources, and permission allocated to social impact activities, partners days were too busy to take time out for ‘extra work.’ Social impact opportunities at Starbucks sounded exciting, but were far from accessible.

Polling Store Managers

Purpose fielded an online survey via Workplace with a focus on Store Managers to further interrogate findings and assumptions that came to light during focus groups. The survey was fielded to over 130 employees, and gathered concrete perspectives on social impact from partners across geographies.

Survey results gave us insight into why Starbucks management chose Starbucks, and what they believed made the company special. We heard that of all the reasons people join Starbucks, it’s the community, connection, and teamwork a job at Starbucks offers that makes people stay.

Barista Focus Groups

To dig one foot deeper, we facilitated four focus groups in New York City, consisting mostly of Starbucks baristas. In conversations with 30+ employees, we learned more about the issues they cared about — which ranged from animals and the environment to advancing racial equity and justice in their own neighborhoods.

However, partners told us one thing loud and clear: in order to participate in social impact, they needed to feel a personal, local connection to the cause.

05. Strategy

With insights in hand, Purpose created a strategy for engaging employees in global social impact work moving forward.

The strategy aimed to equip corporate leaders with the values store employees need to see reflected in social impact opportunities, and the roles they can play within those opportunities. It also outlined several meaningful programmatic options for corporate to deploy.

Combined with recommendations on tools and resources required as well as how to measure impact, the final product acted as a framework for partner participation.

06. Workshopping Programs & Theory of Change

After the rollout of the global social impact strategy, Starbucks approached Purpose for help with qualifying their current social impact employee engagement opportunities against the new framework.

Together, we ran each of Starbucks impact initiative through assessments to ensure the programmes delivered on the accessibility, valued-based, local experiences the strategy promised. Where gaps in initiatives were identified, Starbucks reworked programmes accordingly to ensure they were right for partner engagement.

The corporate team at Starbucks was particularly excited about applying an impact-centered approach to the core of their social impact offerings. To help colleagues across marketing, store relations, and global social impact understand the new methodology, Purpose facilitated a day-long workshop to train staff on how to use a theory of change to ensure programmes are designed strategically, audience first, and with impact at their core.

07. Impact

Starbucks activated their engagement strategy by refreshing their Neighborhood Grants program to make employees the driver of each grant. In the program, employees were invited to nominate the local  organizations that serve the communities where they live and work, to truly center the needs and opportunities employees observe as they interact with their communities in Starbucks stores every day. Since the launch, there have been over 8,000 grant nominations from 13,000 employees, which continues to grow.

The refreshed partner engagement strategy for global social impact changed the course of community investment and employee engagement at Starbucks, for good. By making all social impact programmes tailored to partners personal passions, Starbucks became more than a place to work — it became a place for partners to bring their authentic selves to work each day, serve the communities they love, and live their values.

When Black Lives Matter protests spread across the country in the summer of 2020, Starbucks was equipped to heed employee calls for action — committing $1M in grants to racial justice organisations nominated by store employees themselves. As COVID struck, they asked partners to lead the way in determining how the company could help.

The partnership has shown us that the impact a company can make when we meet employees where they are is boundless.

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