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A pulse check on the (sorryish) state of employee involvement in workplace giving/volunteering programs

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Source: 3BL Media

In the latest version of the Edelman goodpurpose report released last Fall, Carol Cone - the unofficial matriarch of cause marketing - declared that “cause marketing as we know it is dead”.  Specifically, she said that slapping a ribbon on a product and giving a portion to a cause is not going to cut it in a world where people have higher expectations and want causes and social purpose to be built right into business models and corporate culture.  And we think it’s time to sound a similar alarm on the workplace giving front: simply having a program, though increasingly necessary, is far from sufficient.  Although falling firmly into the category of better-than-a-poke-in-the-eye, many of today’s workplace giving programs are the internal HR-equivalent of slapping a polar bear on a product and hoping for brand loyalty.  They don’t really work, and the proof is in the pudding: low participation rates and/or low engagement numbers.  
Let’s take a pulse check on the current state of involvement in workplace giving programs. According to Giving in Number, a Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) study, the employee participation rates in year-round workplace giving programs was just 7.5% for year round, which rose to 43% for workplace giving campaigns and was only 3% for participation in Dollars for Doers Programs.  Anecdotally, in our professional adventures we talk to companies that tell us their Dollars for Doers volunteering programs typically have about 8% employee participation rates and their employee giving/matching programs are often stuck at 20% participation or less.
The other thing to note about employee participation rates is that it is an easy measure, but potentially misleading. Moving the needle on employee engagement is only possible if employees find value and personal resonance in the initiatives. Clearly, if participation rates are low, there’s a problem.  But if participation rates are reasonably high and they’re a function of arm-twisting and pressure, the engagement element will of course be absent.  Such behaviour, although well intentioned at achieving company or charity aggregator targets, ironically takes workplace giving from an employee/employer/charity win-win-win to a lose-lose/sorta-kinda win. It could and should be better.
So why are employee participation rates and enthusiasm often so low in current workplace giving and volunteering programs?
First, consider the macro context.   Outside of work, people are increasingly living online: they’re interacting with, rather than consuming, the news; updating their personal profiles and presenting themselves dynamically on Facebook and LinkedIn; buying custom running shoes from Nike.com; making recommendations on Zappos and Yelp, etc…All in all, enjoying personalized, empowered, interactive experiences online, both from their computers and increasingly, and especially for Millennials, on their mobile phones. They come to work and they are given a once-a-year option to participate in a workplace giving campaign via a digital pledge form (set and forget) or perhaps even more manual processes. And on the volunteerism front, although increasingly endorsed by most companies, there are typically huge hoops to jump through, poor communication and reporting of programs and event management, and a ton of paperwork and/or clunky approval processes to tackle to generate a grant to their chosen charity.
Are we feeling engaged yet?
Second, consider the manner in which most workplace giving programs are currently delivered. The growing list of companies that have programs usually have one that falls into one or more of the following categories:

  • The program is outsourced to a prominent charity aggregator, which by definition limits choice, flexibility, use of technology, brand benefits and control;
  • Is administered by one of a handful of large providers in the space that specialize in Fortune 500 companies, featuring people and manual processes behind custom websites (that incidentally price most mid-cap companies out of the market);
  • Is referred to as a “workplace giving program” but is either a proprietary system or third-party software that delivers what is effectively grant-management processing - a discrete and clunky process that is far removed from the act (and warm glow) of the giving or volunteering;
  • Relates to once-a-year fundraising initiative (with no real capability to generate year-round engagement or campaigns, respond to crises like Haiti, or integrate charitable components into company events);
  • Includes corporate matching as a discrete afterthought, where the employee makes a donation or volunteers their time (somehow) and submits through a process for a matching grant (ie. employee giving and corporate matching don’t happen in real-time); or
  • The program applies to one or a handful of charities/causes that are chosen by management based on relationships or ostensible strategic fit with the company’s operations and brand.

The reality is that individuals now operate in a web-centric technological world that enables “mass personalization” and they increasingly expect that same opportunity inside and outside the workplace. Manual solutions or technology that are built to facilitate grant management and post-facto matching from a corporate perspective have little chance of appealing to most employees or creating the desired emotive connection with the corporate brand and culture, as illustrated by very low take-up rates where these are the only solutions deployed. And money alone can’t necessarily fix it, even where the budget is willing. Heard from a senior HR/community investment exec from a large-co whose costly custom software solution wasn’t delivering the expected results: “they delivered us a jet at great expense that no one knows how to fly; what we needed was a fast car that had the latest gadgets that people use everyday…”
In the next articles in this series, we’ll explore the 7 Sins of Workplace Giving (a look at the most common challenges that are weighing down most employee giving programs) and then move on to 10 Steps to Better Engagement (a new approach to workplace giving and corporate volunteering that can help deliver better returns for your important and increasing investments in this area).
Here’s to igniting the light in your employees in 2011 – stay tuned for more on this topic!

Spark! by Benevity
Spark! is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) workplace giving/corporate volunteering solution designed to help companies engage their employees through giving back. Spark! is a plug-and-play solution with flexibility and choices so companies of all shapes and sizes can easily and cost effectively implement year-round employee giving of both time and money with real-time corporate matching, Dollars for Doers programs, and charitable gift card capabilities. Find out more at www.benevity.org/spark.
About Benevity
Benevity is a software company that helps businesses realize a greater return on their (increasing) investments in social good programs, including corporate social responsibility, community investment, cause marketing and workplace giving initiatives.  Benevity has developed North America’s first embeddable micro-donation platform, enabling socially responsible businesses to engage their customers, employees and corporate partners in optional charitable giving in new ways on their terms. The Benevity platform helps companies build authentic and impactful cause marketing, workplace giving and other social responsibility initiatives that increase engagement, brand differentiation and return on social and community investment. To find out more, visit us at www.benevity.org and view our short video at www.benevity.org/goodness3.0.

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