Let the Voice of the "Giver" Be Heard

Dec 19, 2013 4:55 PM ET

Let the Voice of the "Giver" Be Heard

Rebecca Caplan is Director of the PwC Charitable Foundation and a member of the PwC US Corporate Responsibility team. In her role with the Foundation, she oversees the strategic and operational elements of the Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity, while working directly with the Foundation Board of Trustees and Executive Committee. She has been with PwC for more than 12 years.

It’s the holidays.  And as usual, there is no shortage of opportunity for charitable giving – from adding an extra dollar to the red pot on the corner to buying from a retailer’s “buy one give one” sale –‘tis the season for philanthropy and demonstrating ‘goodwill to all.’  While giving opportunities abound (and this is a good thing), it’s more challenging to identify charitable choices actually rooted in the strengths and interests of individual donors.  As the Executive Director of the PwC Charitable Foundation, not only am I concerned with helping the Board of Trustees increase grant making, I’m also working to make sure the voices of the PwC partners, staff and even retired partners, who contribute to the Foundation, are heard.  Yes, our people give to our Foundation.  In fact they power it.  Whether they are donating their time and/or talents or making financial contributions, the people of PwC fund the Foundation – and we want them to feel personally connected to our work during the holidays and all year round.

While engaging major stakeholders as a means to advance a charitable mission is not a novel concept, we have learned from behaviors and feedback that the more we share the gift of giving with our people, the more they want to give –whether in time, ideas or dollars.   In fact, it gets even more personal than that.  According to several growing theories, only the person who makes the decision on how much and where to give enjoys the benefit and satisfaction of the giving.

With this in mind, the Board of Trustees changed the Foundation’s approach to holiday giving.  In November 2012, we launched the first ever Foundation “Holiday Giving Poll,” asking the partners and staff of PwC to play an active role in helping the Foundation allocate $1 million across three different charities selected by the Board of Trustees based on mission alignment and innovative approaches. Thousands voted and feedback was very positive.

But in an organization our size (over 38,000 in the US) this was far from impressive.  We could do better. This past November, the Board collaborated with a start-up non-profit organization (NPO), specializing in technology-enabled impulse philanthropy to help us build a voting platform to better showcase the organizations, simplify the voting process, and transparently display real-time results for voters.  We leveraged our internal networks and the NPOs the Board selected to feature in the poll to help spread the word.  We started the poll at $1 million, but to encourage more participation, we used a gaming technique and “unlocked” more funds for the charitable grantees as more people voted.   In addition to asking our people to help choose the charities, we also requested recommendations for charities we should consider next year.  We more than tripled participation in the second year, giving a record $1,150,000 to four organizations in need and most importantly, gained a better understanding of the causes and organizations that the people of PwC care about most.  Can we do better?  Yes.  And we must if we want to evolve, attract more donors and continue to grow the Foundation.

The story behind PwC Charitable Foundation’s grant making will not end with an isolated giving poll during the holiday season the way it might for the bell ringers dressed as Santa.  And engaging our people in our work isn’t a matter of gathering every detail of their personal favorite cause before making a decision.  Rather, it’s about making sure they understand that when they give, they aren’t checking themselves and their interests at the door.   Because in order for us to be effective in the long run, increase our impact and advance our mission, we need to transparently connect the dots between our work and the contributions of our stakeholders.