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The Unrealized Potential of Workplace Giving

3p Contributor | Tuesday July 30th, 2013 | 1 Comment

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By Bradley Depew

We are not providing an effective outlet for employees’ philanthropic energy, and this is cause for concern. Employees want to give, and the statistics show that they are giving in great numbers and to great effect. Companies have long recognized the value of providing employees with opportunities to make donations to charitable organizations through the workplace. In many cases, companies will even match employee donations up to a certain amount (for example, up to $10,000 per year). But not enough giving is happening through the workplace.

Around 88 percent of American households give to charity each year, and that giving accounts for nearly 75 percent of all charitable donations. That works out to $227 billion given by individuals in 2012. Yet, workplace giving only amounts to around $5 billion each year. More worryingly, average participation in employee giving programs has fallen from 41 percent in 2006 to 33 percent in 2012.  And an estimated $10 billion is left on the table every year because employees do not take advantage of company matching programs. So, for every dollar funneled to charity through workplace giving programs, two dollars are being left on the table.

Millennials bring new expectations

These statistics should alarm us. What they tell us is—despite employees’ clear interest in giving—we are failing when it comes to offering employees meaningful giving experiences through the workplace. What’s more, workplace giving programs that do not inspire employees to participate are a strategic failure: money left on the table represents a missed opportunity to build relationships within our communities.

If we don’t take steps to increase engagement and participation, then these problems are likely to get worse as Millennials increasingly make their presence felt in the workforce. Millennials are bringing new expectations to giving, including the expectation that their giving will take place online. They want websites that are sleek and look contemporary, they want charities to keep them informed with stories about successful projects and programs, and they want to be able to quickly and easily connect and share the impact of their contributions with friends and colleagues. If workplace giving does not offer them that experience, they will simply find it somewhere else online.

Improving accessibility

Too many companies bury employee giving opportunities in obscure corners of their intranet—somewhere between the information on changing insurance providers and updating emergency contact information. The result is that too many employees are not even aware of the opportunities that are available to them. Clearly, employees are not going to participate in workplace giving programs if they do not know that those programs exist, or if they don’t know how to find them.

Millennial employees simply have no patience for limited accessibility. They grew up with smartphones and laptops: they are accustomed to constant connectivity, and they expect a wealth of information at their fingertips. Why would they wade into the murky backwoods of the company intranet when they could pull out their phones and find accessible, enjoyable giving opportunities within seconds? If finding workplace giving opportunities is not as easy as a quick search on Google or Wikipedia, then Millennials are not going to bother.

Promoting the spread of information

Employees know what issues matter most to them, but they may not know which nonprofits are working in those issue areas, much less which nonprofits are doing the best work. We know that giving employees more options for which charities they can support through workplace giving leads to an increased rate of participation in workplace giving programs and an increase in the amount raised. But we risk overwhelming employees by presenting them with too many options and not enough information about these options.

Millennials are more interested in supporting causes than in supporting specific organizations, and they want to see concrete evidence that their contributions are making an impact. They are only going to be attracted to workplace giving programs if those programs help them to feel like informed, effective donors to the causes that matter most to them. That means that workplace giving programs will need to provide Millennial employees with a wide range of information about which charities are out there and what kinds of results they are producing. Millennials want transparency about what nonprofits are doing and how donations are used.

Empowering employees to improve the world

The folks behind services like Bright Funds or Give Something are beginning to see the need for sleek, intuitive platforms that put informed, high-impact giving at people’s fingertips. These platforms are designed to take the confusion and frustration out of the process of donating to charity by connecting people with opportunities to engage in informed, effective giving that produces tangible results. They do this by analyzing nonprofits to determine which ones are doing high-impact work, and by providing evidence of results in the form of regular updates from these high-impact nonprofits. This means when users give through these platforms, they do so with confidence that they are making a real impact and improving lives. That confidence is empowering.

To realize the potential of workplace giving, we need to make it about offering employees this feeling of confidence and empowerment. Company matching is one way to do this, because it enables employees to put more funding in the hands of their favorite nonprofits than they would be able to do on their own. But the $10 billion left on the table every year shows that company matching is not enough.

Empowering employees is also about making sure that they know exactly what workplace giving opportunities they have available to them. And perhaps more importantly, empowering employees is about making them feel like giving through the workplace will enable them to locate and donate to the nonprofits doing the best work in the issue areas that matter most to them. This provides them with a reason to give through the workplace rather than on their own.

Companies give employees the opportunity to select from among the highest-performing 401Ks. This empowers employees to maximize the return on their investments. Employees should also be given the opportunity to select from among the most effective nonprofits. After all, isn’t giving to charity making an investment in a better world? We owe it to our employees, our communities, and the world to help workplace giving programs fulfill their potential.

Bradley Depew is a seasoned writer for Bright Funds, an innovative platform that works to change the way we think about giving. For more information visit brightfunds.org.

[image credit: windwaerts, Flickr]


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  • Andrew Flachner

    RealScout is using Bright Funds for workplace giving and it’s made the whole process much more meaningful and manageable. We were up and running within a day and employees are already making recurring “investments” in the causes they care about.