The 7 Sins of Workplace Giving

7 Common Challenges of Current Employee Giving and Volunteering Programs (Part 1)
Mar 10, 2011 12:00 PM ET
Happily for society, giving back is more important now than ever; a corollary is that people have greater expectations of companies to help them give back, both as consumers and as employees. A growing number of companies, aware of the link between workplace giving and employee engagement, have a heightened interest in employee giving and volunteering programs.    Mounting research shows that employees want to work for companies that care, that social responsibility is a consideration in employees’ decisions to join, stay with or leave companies, and that there is a link between social responsibility and engaged, productive employees. This is especially important for certain segments – like Millennials and Moms. Nearly 70% of Americans say causes factor into where to work; for Moms that increases to 79% and for Millennials to 87% (2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study). So if part of your people strategy is geared toward any of these segments, this is pretty important stuff!   Despite this increased demand, the employee element of corporate giving often lags in attention and innovation behind the focus given to the community and consumer-facing aspects of corporate philanthropy. In this article, we look at seven common challenges with current workplace giving and volunteering programs.    1.   “We’re All in this Together” – Wait, are We? Lack of Alignment between Corporate Giving and Employee Giving Let’s start with the goal of workplace giving programs (from a corporate perspective). Let’s face facts: it’s not purely altruistic. It’s also about employee engagement, extending your brand, and resonating positively with employees and the community at large. However, companies are struggling to bring their increased investments in corporate philanthropy and community investment closer to their target audiences/behaviors - both on the consumer and employee fronts - and correspondingly, struggling to realize the social and business impacts that they want to achieve.   Here’s a common scenario: one the one hand, the company has a corporate philanthropy or community investment strategy that clearly outlines its goals and the focus areas or pillars of causes that are important as a company (e.g.: Health, Environment, Kids, etc.); on the other hand, the workplace giving program for employees is a distinct program that doesn’t include the focus areas or pillars (i.e.: the workplace giving program doesn’t communicate what the corporate focus areas/CI pillars are, nor does it provide ways and reasons for employees to easily support the corporate focus areas/CI pillars). In some cases, the workplace giving program is a third-party campaign, so workplace giving is not delivered under the company’s brand. A lack of alignment between corporate giving and employee giving means companies are missing an opportunity to connect with their employees and build giving and strategic CSR into their corporate culture. Not to mention bringing corporate giving into the community through your employees – because your employees are your brand!   So companies need to design their workplace giving programs to tightly align with their corporate and strategic CSR/CI goals. You don’t need to select the “killer cause” to achieve this: your organization can create portfolios of causes that align with your philanthropic or community investment pillars, regional strategies and goals. Promote them to employees with featured campaigns, blog posts and real-time matching offers.    2.   We’re Stuck! - Stagnant Employee Participation Rates People care more than ever about supporting causes and have greater expectations of companies to help them do this. Yet, many companies note that employee participation rates for their workplace giving programs are stuck at about 20% or though higher, rarely improve year-over-year.  The participation rate is an easy measure, but a potentially misleading one. Moving the needle on employee engagement is only possible if employees find value in the initiatives.    Clearly, if participation rates are low, there’s a problem (since engagement is part of the goal). And why might this be? Maybe it’s because it’s not dead easy or convenient to give or volunteer through existing programs because of a clunky or cumbersome tool; maybe it’s because your program is “set and forget” and not interactive or year-round; maybe it’s because companies don’t actively engage and motivate employees to participate, and have endorsement and buy-in from the executive; maybe it’s because some technology solutions used in corporate workplace giving programs have user interfaces that were built in the 1990s (hello, are these compelling to employees used to Facebook and LinkedIn?).  Whatever the cause (pardon the pun), there is no reason to be satisfied with low participation rates.   Having said that, if participation rates are reasonably high and they’re a function of arm-twisting and pressure, the engagement element will of course be absent. Whether it’s poor communication or lack of senior leadership support, a workable solution must address how one generates sincere, passionate participation across a broad demographic of users.   3.   Flexible Choices (for Employers & Employees): They’re Missing! A lot of times companies ask us: what is the “killer cause”? And we think we know that answer. It’s not some magical big brand charity that cuts across every demographic; it’s much simpler than that. The killer cause is that NPO (small or large, local or national) that most matters to the relevant individual – in this case the cause or causes that matters to each employee.  Giving is a very personal decision; existing programs tend to give to established large charities selected by upper management. Let’s be frank: what is the likelihood that your employees are going to get misty-eyed about donating to the CEO’s favorite charity as opposed to one that resonates with them personally?   Since greater employee participation is a key goal of workplace giving programs, when you bring in the macro trend that employees have greater expectations of companies and that they expect their employers to help them give back to causes that are important to them, expanded choice programs help companies address these increased expectations. And they also help companies increase the business and social impacts from their workplace giving programs. 97% of companies with expanded choice workplace giving programs stated that it increases employee participation and 66% reported that it increases employee morale. (Source: LBG Associates, Workplace Giving Works, Make it Work for You, 2010)   The element of choice is not only key for users; the company should want flexibility as well. With the right tool, companies can create their own branded portfolios of causes under pillars, by geography, by division, whatever., and these same causes can be the focus of both customer and employee-facing programs. The more flexible and nimble the delivery model and technology, the more strategic (and effective) the program can be…   Stay tuned for Part Two, where we’ll highlight the remaining four challenges of current workplace giving programs. Until then, here’s to igniting the light in your employees in 2011!   ­­­­­­­­­­­ Introducing Spark! by Benevity
Spark!, is an ‘out-of-the box’ software solution that allows companies to easily and cost effectively offer workplace giving and volunteering.  Spark! is a highly customizable product that gives employers the ability to involve their employees in workplace giving and community investment under their own brand.  Find out more at   About Benevity
Benevity is a software company that helps businesses realize a better return on their (increasing) investments in social good programs, including cause marketing, community investment, employee giving & volunteering programs. Benevity has created a donation platform, a highly customizable giving engine that lets companies integrate user-directed, tax receiptable donations and corporate matching programs into their existing transaction environments, using their own brands and systems.  The Benevity platform also powers Benevity’s web-based products, such as Spark! workplace giving. To find out more, visit us at and view our short video at