A Rising Tide Raises All Boats...

Why Expanded Choice Cause Marketing & Workplace Giving Programs Are Better for Your Company (and Your Strategic Causes, Too)
Jun 16, 2011 12:30 PM ET

Just BeCause Blog

Companies are wrestling with the issue of expanded choice in their cause marketing and workplace giving programs.  At Benevity, we’re often consulted by businesses reviewing their existing or proposed programs on the issue of scope of charitable choice.   Common examples are employee giving/matching programs with a single cause or charity aggregator (such as the United Way) as the available choice, though it happens in most cause marketing initiatives as well (think Product RED/Global Fund for Aids, for one).  Typically, companies are talking to us about this because their program take-up or ROI isn’t hitting their project goals, or having the desired impacts.

The issue of expanded choice in social good programs is a toughie for many companies (that we could drone on for pages about).  It highlights a growing gulf between the management and administrators of corporate social good programs and the customers or employees whom the programs target.  We see the issue of charitable choice as one of the most prevalent challenges out there.

It’s a bit surprising, when you look at the data.  There is growing, diverse and largely unequivocal evidence that empowering broader charitable choice increases participation, contributions and ultimately, the likelihood of an emotive connection with a customer or employee.  (To wit, two quick data points: (1) 97% of companies with expanded choice workplace giving programs stated that it increases employee participation and 66% reported that it increases employee morale. (LBG Associates, Workplace Giving Works, Make it Work for You, 2010); 2) 83% of consumers state that to influence their support of a company, the cause should be personally relevant to them. (Source: 2008 Cone Cause Evolution Study)). If you don’t believe the data, think about it common-sensically: if the business goal of a program is to cut a wide swath through a variety of targeted demographics/segments, what is the likelihood of finding the “killer cause” that is going to resonate meaningfully with all of them?  As we heard recently at the Cause Marketing Forum from eBay’s Amy Skeeters-Behrens, “eBay has 90 million members; there isn’t one cause that’s going to resonate with all of them.”

So if it makes sense and improves program success, then why the debate?  Below are some oft-quoted concerns about expanding choice and our Two Cents on each:

  • “The choice of cause(s) needs to be strategic to our business and our brand”. This isn’t wrong of course, but putting it above all else confuses the goals of corporate philanthropy with those of cause marketing and/or employee engagement.  The strategic issue is not necessarily CSR but rather how to weave these aspects into your customer and employee-facing activities to create a win-win-win.  You can empower broad choice and still be strategic by creating bias and incentives around your chosen causes or pillars.  Create a fund or portfolio of charities around a geography, a cause pillar or even a product, and incent people to choose those portfolios with a matching incentive.  You’ve likely already got existing budget for it; deploy it in a way that increases metrics that matter, and you can likely double it next year.

  • “If we increase the number of causes that we benefit, we will dilute our impact”.   Like virtually every aspect of our society, “the times they are a changin’”, and technology is the enabler.  The days of the big cardboard check are over, though many don’t yet realize it.  The amount that a company gives to a single charity and its corresponding social impact pales pathetically in comparison to what the company + its customers + its employees could do by engaging in giving/volunteering more broadly through increased participation rates.  Just look at eBay Giving works: they’ve raised $250 million by enabling buyers and sellers to support their charities of choice.  Besides, there are thousands of great causes that are too small to get on the corporate radar but do tremendous work.  You may not know who they are, but many of your customers and employees do.  And if you give them a way to support these causes, they will love you for it!

  • “We would like to empower broader choice but we’ll need a small army of folks to do the administration.”  This is where a technology platform like Benevity comes in.  Using our software, the company can empower donations to any registered cause in North America - as well as a large and growing list of international charities – and any portfolio or fund of charities that makes strategic sense to you. And a user can do this with one or two clicks embedded within the company’s branded environment, with real time corporate matching, self-created featured campaigns and real-time, branded tax receipts. (It’s pretty powerful and pretty unique – that’s why we often hear from clients “there’s no one else that can do what you do”).

  • “Our cause partner has said that if we change the status quo, total donations to them will go down, risking that they will miss hitting their annual target. At the same time, most of our people – especially the younger ones - don’t like giving to them.”  Many workplace giving programs that have limited choice also suffer low participation rates.  Or they may have relatively decent participation rates but there is so much arm-twisting and pressure to donate that the program ironically creates a negative cause orientation amongst the participants.  Don’t forget, this is supposed to be an employee engagement initiative that happens to have a social benefit as part of its goal.  If the people are not positively engaged, it is not achieving the program goals and may in fact be hurting the company’s reputation and brand.  It works the same way in the cause marketing arena.

Which brings us to the point of this article:  A Rising Tide Raises All Boats.  If you engage a broader segment of your targeted population in your program, total donations will go up and the cause or causes that you feature or incent through matching will benefit disproportionately, even with choice.  On both sides of the Canada/US border, virtually anyone can start a political party but the incumbents in both countries still get virtually all of the votes.  It’s the same in our experience: although enhanced choice increases participation, 90%(ish) of the people still select the Featured Causes or portfolios that the company presents with matching offers. 

The reason your cause partner may not want you to change the status quo has nothing to do with results; it has to do with fear.  Some charities get the power of broader choice and collaboration, but many don’t.  If you help them hit their numbers but you start to lose people and customers because your programs and technology are from another era, will they help you with your irate shareholders?

So despite the advice of well intentioned consultants in this area about causes that may be “strategic” for the company’s brand, if you’re trying to engage customers or employees around giving back, offering up a single cause (or even a handful) isn’t going to cut it – especially when people are using their own money.  You’ll have a program that doesn’t resonate, has weak numbers on measurement or surveys, and you might therefore erroneously think that your customers or employees don’t care about cause as part of their interactions with you.  Meanwhile, your competitor that spends no more on its cause efforts but executes in a more user-empowered, engaging way will start (or continue) to kick your butt in the market for people or customers (or both!)

So consider how expanding user choice in your employee giving and cause marketing programs (ideally both) can take your programs to the next level.  You’ll increase participation, increase donations to all causes (including the corporate cause(s) that you’ve strategically chosen) and increase employee and consumer engagement – and that’s a biggie.  Heck, you might even help evolve the charitable landscape in ways that are necessary…