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Mastering the Act of Corporate Giving

Mastering the act of corporate giving: how to do good great

By Michelle Y. Bess / May 1, 2018

What does your company do?

No, I’m not talking about the product you make or the services you offer.

I mean – what’s your impact?

On your community? On society? In the world?

If you’re not sure of the answer, you’d better figure it out. And soon.

Research by Cone Communications revealed that 64% of Millennials – on track to represent 50% of the workforce by 2020 – won’t take a job if a company doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility values.

And it’s not just Millennials. America’s Charities’ 2017 Snapshot survey found nearly 6 in 10 workplace donors want to work for companies where the culture actively supports giving and volunteering.

But while corporate giving programs have historically involved arbitrarily choosing a charity and whipping out the checkbook; recent trends tell us it’s no longer that simple:

For one, employees want in on the action

In stark contrast to the traditional top-down, corporate-directed giving model, companies have now begun to recognize the value of engaging employees in their charitable giving.

Implementing workplace giving programs gives your employees the opportunity to make a positive impact. Eighty-eight-percent of Millennial employees say their job is more fulfilling when they’re provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues.

So while it feels good to work for a company that gives, it feels better to be the one actually giving.

How?

To make it as easy as possible for employees to donate, make sure your company offers automatic payroll deductions as a giving option. This way they’re able to set a specified amount each month to be withdrawn right from their paychecks.

To be honest, this option is pretty much table stakes – a good place to start. But while this is the bare minimum program you should be offering, it’s still important to mention because somehow there are still companies out there that don’t.

Another way to actively involve employees is through the opportunity to offer pro bono services through your company. This gives them the chance to use their own unique strengths and skills to make a tangible impact.

Seventy-seven-percent of Millennial employees say they’re more likely to volunteer when they can use their specific skills or expertise to benefit a cause.

Not to mention that almost all surveyed corporate human resources executives agree that contributing business skills and expertise to a nonprofit can be an effective way to improve employees’ leadership and broader professional skill sets. Yet another pro of going pro-bono.

Who?

Nielsen’s corporate giving program, Nielsen Cares, donates their data, insights and employee time and expertise to help nonprofits make a bigger impact.

Thank you #nielsencares for volunteering today! 📚❤️📚

A post shared by Open Books (@openbooksltd) on

Through this initiative, the company has helped 800 nonprofits in over 90 countries improve their outreach, messaging, efficacy and efficiency.

Chicago-based tech firm Relativity offers a comprehensive corporate giving and volunteer program that includes the opportunity to teach coding classes and offer career exploration to the students of local schools in need.

But keep in mind, choice matters

Consumers and employees alike are now pushing for more authenticity from brands and companies in the causes they support. So it’s increasingly important to ensure that your corporate giving program not only aligns with your company’s mission and values, but also reflects the unique passions and personal commitments of your people.

America’s Charities found that employees are five times more likely to participate in workplace giving when they have the opportunity to choose not only which charity they donate to, but also in what capacity (time, money, expertise, etc).

How?

Giving is an extremely personal action. Ideally your company should offer a variety of giving opportunities to appeal to the broad range of employee passions, preferences and commitment levels. But if your program options are limited, at the very least allow for employee input in choosing the details.

It could be as simple as conducting an employee survey, creating an online portal to submit suggestions, or maybe even establishing an internal philanthropy committee to represent the voice of your workforce.

Who?

BP employees are given several options to participate in charitable workplace giving. For one, they’re each given $300 to donate to a nonprofit of their choosing with no strings attached – which is practically unheard of.

The company also donates $10 for every hour an employee volunteers at an eligible nonprofit and also matches employee gifts from $25 up to $5,000.

Sometimes actions speak louder than dollars

For many employees, particularly Millennials, just donating money isn’t enough. They want to be part of the solution, and actually see the good they’re doing put into action.

In 2015, 70% of Millennials spent at least an hour volunteering their time to a cause they cared about, with more than one-third volunteering 11 hours or more.

In addition to volunteering on their own time, Millennials are also interested in furthering their volunteer opportunities in the workplace. A 2016 Deloitte study on volunteering indicated they were twice as likely to rate their corporate culture as very positive if their company participated in workplace volunteer activities.

And if that wasn’t enough reason to incorporate volunteerism into your corporate giving program, a Neighborly study indicated that employees who have volunteered with their company are happier than those who haven’t. And those same employees are more satisfied with their lives and also more likely to recommend their company to others.

The link between volunteering and happiness is not a new one, but don’t overlook the impact it can have on your employees as it relates to productivity, referrals and retention.

How?

To encourage workplace volunteering in your organization, try hosting your own charitable events like charity run/walks, a day of group volunteering or a fundraising event. And as you’ll see in the next section, offering volunteer paid time off or matching volunteer hours with monetary donations are also excellent ways to put the power of giving into your employees’ hands.

Who?

Groupon hosts an annual Global Employee Volunteer-a-thon: a company-wide initiative that encourages employees to give back to their communities during the month of June (and throughout the year).

Hey friends, meet Naomi. #grouponvolunteers @sparkventures

A post shared by Alicia Koch (@aliciavioleta) on

“Throughout the month, Groupon teams competed to be the most involved in their local communities, with the winners getting the opportunity to award $5,000 to the charity of their choice.”

Nearly 100% of their teams participated, contributing to the 13,000+ total hours volunteered for the year.

Incentives help too

Even when the spirit of philanthropy is strong in your company and employees, engagement always increases in the presence of a push.

But incentives don’t just encourage employees to participate – they also demonstrate your organization’s commitment to charitable giving and support of your employees’ individual contributions.

Plus, they’re a perk that works. We’ve seen how a meaningful corporate giving program can benefit employee retention, but it can also be a powerful recruitment tool.

We know today’s growing workforce wants to give back, so employee-directed giving programs like gift-matching and volunteer paid time off are quickly becoming highly sought-out benefits.

In fact, 81% of the Best Places to Work for Millennials offer paid time off for volunteer work and 65% of Fortune 500 companies provide matching gift programs.

How?

Start with a simple gift matching program. Offer employees a 1:1 match for their charitable contributions. And don’t worry if you can’t quite commit to 1:1 – 50% matches are also pretty common.

Paid volunteer time off is probably the quickest growing trend in corporate giving and will definitely pay off big in attracting Millennial talent. A typical program offers up to 8 hours per year, but it’s really up to you to how many hours you want to designate.

Who?

Apple instituted a 1:1 gift matching program in 2011 and since then has matched over $25 million worth of employee donations. That’s $50 million donated to charities all over the world.

San Francisco-based recruitment software company Entelo will match any employee donation to the charity of their choice, up to $1,000 annually.

Software company Autodesk offers its employees up to 48 hours of paid volunteer time off per year, encouraging them to donate 4 hours of service each month – on company time.

To further incentivize engagement, for every 10 volunteer hours an employee completes, Autodesk gives them $100 to donate to any charity of their choosing.

Thousands of employees have taken advantage of this incredibly generous opportunity, making it easy to see why this company has spent the past 10 years on Fortune’s Top 100 list of Best Companies to work for.

Keep in mind that building a program similar to these companies’ takes time, and will require long-term effort and commitment from your company’s leadership team and employees. And it may need to happen in stages as your company grows and evolves.

At Sprout we started with an annual all-company volunteer day at a local Chicago Public School School in need. And while this initiative was always an absolute joy and success for everyone involved, we wanted to expand upon it as our company and potential for impact grew.

This desire led us to our most recent initiative, Our Chicago. And although it’s still in the initial stages of planning and development, our vision includes a truly employee-driven program that utilizes our collective time, talents and financial resources to tend to the long-term needs of a local CPS school.

We hope that once this program rolls out, it will serve as an example for what it can look like when a business deeply invests in and cares about its community.

The case for creating a more purposeful, employee-driven corporate giving program is strong.

For one, creating a meaningful and inspiring workplace translates to increased employee performance and productivity. It can also help to attract cause-minded Millennials looking to work somewhere they can make a positive impact.

And in a time where companies are now starting to build charitable giving and social responsibility directly into their business model, your organization can’t afford to stay cause-complacent.

Knowing the trends and learning how to apply them to a program that works for the individual needs of your company is the first step to creating a corporate giving program that “does good” great.

Michelle Y. Bess

Michelle Y. Bess

is the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Lead at Sprout Social, a premier connector of people, a personal shopper and champion for people of color. Bess serves as a Board Director of Degrees of Change, President at the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s Associate Board, and Founder of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Professionals Meet-Up.
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