Why Have a Workplace Giving Program?

And Why Do Many Programs Fail to Deliver the Desired Outcomes?
Oct 30, 2012 10:05 AM ET

Why Have a Workplace Giving Program?

A few weeks ago, in our post, Houston, We Have a Problem, we discussed some of the challenges around the status quo of workplace giving and CSR programs. Next, let’s take a look at why companies have (or should have) a workplace giving program in the first place. Focusing the ‘why’ of your program in the right direction can benefit the desired outcomes so let’s start by reminding ourselves why these programs make sense. The answer is different if you’re an employer vs. a charity. 

Clearly, charities like workplace giving programs because they are an extremely cost effective and productive fundraising mechanism.  It follows from that logic that a key outcome for them is to hit a donation target, and to engage senior management of companies to promote that goal.  That’s okay, but if that is the outcome you pursue, you cannot help but fail to generate desired business goals.

Here’s why.  The fact is, employee giving and volunteering programs are an effective way to engage with your people on things that matter to them.  If the extent of their bond with the company is how much they’re being paid or what their perks are, it’s a tenuous relationship that can be flipped by a change in any of those variables.  But if you can connect with a person on issues that are relevant and resonant to them; that emotive connection properly fostered and supported can make them more loyal, more invested, and more likely to care about your company and your brand.

In a world where virtually everything is quickly commoditized, creating a more than lip-service commitment to supporting employees’ passion for health and social issues they care about is a sustainable differentiator.  Just look at some of the empirical data around how employees (especially millennials) view the importance of community investment! 70% of people say cause factors into where they work; this rises to 87% for Millennials (2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study). Want to attract and hang on to your most promising employees? Make sure your giving and volunteering program is empowered, robust, webby and fun.

So…Why Do Many Programs Fail to Deliver the Desired Outcomes?

The reasons why many well meaning, but status quo workplace giving programs fail to deliver desired outcomes are many and varied. Here are some suggestions that might help you get over the hurdles.

  • HR often doesn’t participate in, or recognize as relevant, the community investment initiatives which can operate in something of a silo.  Companies need to recognize that corporate/employee giving, matching and volunteering programs are not line items or risks to be managed; they are increasingly important feathers in the strategic quiver of human capital management.
  • Matching or ‘dollars for doers’ budgets are so constrained that companies are afraid their program might be too successful (honest, it’s common!).  Will anyone be motivated to make something better when success isn’t clear and unobstructed? Find budget for this or redeploy existing philanthropic spend.  It is far more powerful to use your funds to foster a passion for fishing than to hand out fish!
  • Many workplace giving platforms are operated by charities, rather than the company, which means the charitable outcomes are pursued over those that may be desired by the business.  The charities are important players in helping with content, program design and other elements, but this is about engaging your brand, your people and your business.  You can’t delegate those things to any charity, however well intentioned…
  • User choice is often fettered or made difficult to execute, so people can’t or don’t give to the organizations that matter to them through the company program.  They will do it anyway, but with no connection to the company.  This is a lost opportunity that with current technology is easily rectified.
  • The Annual Fall Giving Campaign happens once a year – usually at a time when people are inundated with requests from charities – in a “set and forget” context.  If engagement, cultural commitment and emotive connection are business goals, doing this once a year and shutting it down makes no sense, regardless of which cause benefits.  Develop a year-round, multi-pillar strategy to connect with the diverse segments of your employee population.
  • Programs default to “command and control” when they should be empowering and democratizing.  You will be amazed at how much of the heavy lifting an engaged community will do for you, but the processes and rules need to be inclusive, thoughtful and with broad participation in mind.
  • Most companies are dissatisfied with their workplace giving software (and perhaps the vendor who provides it) yet don’t make a change.  If you’re dissatisfied with your software or service, can you imagine what your employees think?  There are some really cool technologies that have revolutionized workplace giving software and services.  There is a Better Way!

Changing your perspective on outcomes and your definition of impact to focus on igniting employee engagement around your brand can help you achieve broader engagement and ROI. Done properly, a good workplace giving and volunteering program can increase productivity, create switching costs and make social brand ambassadors out of your people – those are outcomes worth pursuing and that is why every company should have one.