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Benevity innovates in corporate giving and volunteering with new technology

By 3p Contributor
 “Spark” software program ensures simple, secure and easy giving so grassroots philanthropy can be part of everyday life. Miranda Ingram reports...
Some notable statistics prompted Bryan de Lottinville, a former finance lawyer, to create Benevity, an industry leader in facilitating corporate giving and volunteering, in less than ten years. 
‘I noticed that less than seven percent of the US$350 billion (C$457bn, £262 bn, €317bn) given annually to US charities was being processed online. Moreover, less than five percent of this $350 billion was coming from corporations, despite the increased expectations of the public around CSR and giving back.’
Starting in 2008, de Lottinville and a small team of talented engineers set out to change these metrics – to match corporate goodness with great technology, transforming and modernising the giving and volunteering landscape to create more business and social impact.
Headquartered in Calgary, Canada, the company, Benevity, is a certified B Corporation – one of the first in Canada – and SaaS (software as a service) provider of choice to more than 200 companies, many of which are Fortune 1000 firms. Thanks to its software platform, Spark, which has more than two million users globally, this year Benevity will process employee donations totaling half a billion dollars for more than 100,000 charities around the world. Corporate donations through its software will add almost the same amount.
Spark is proprietary software which ensures simple, secure and easy giving so that user-driven grassroots philanthropy can be part of everyday life. Delivered via the Internet, it is highly configurable, allowing companies to organise their workplace giving, volunteering and grant-making while drastically cutting administrative time, effort and costs.
At the same time, charities registered with Benevity—after appropriate vetting and due diligence—can receive their money electronically, also cutting the time and administrative costs of manually dealing with grants, donations and tax receipts. 
Using Spark, employees across a company, and whatever their geographical location, can easily find and sign up for causes around the world that mean something to them, making donating and volunteering both easy and impactful. They can also track donations and volunteer hours for corporate matching programmes.
The emphasis is on employee engagement. Much quoted statistics show that 70% of employees are not engaged in their job, and 25% are actively disengaged. This costs the US economy alone some US$550 billion (C$719bn, £412bn, €498bn) a year (according to Gallup). Similar findings by Hay Group have estimated that employee disengagement costs the UK as much as £340bn (C593bn, US$454bn, €411bn) every year. 
‘It’s not a silver bullet to employee engagement but an increasingly relevant component. Having employees actively involved in your CSR, volunteering and philanthropy gives them a sense of values and purpose in their work and, if done well, an emotional connection to their employer,’ says de Lottinville. ‘Volunteers are the backbone of charitable efforts, and companies that incent and recognise those efforts find that employees become more engaged, productive and happier in the workplace. 
‘The old ways of the CEO writing a few charitable cheques once a year doesn’t engage anyone. By creating a different approach, we have helped companies understand that their employees want and expect more meaningful ways to be actively involved in giving back. Recognising this helps them attract, retain and engage today’s diverse and tech-savvy  workers by connecting people personally to causes that matter to them.’
And with Spark’s robust reporting features, companies can easily track employee volunteer hours and promote them. All things being equal, prospective employees and customers will choose a company that actively gives back, says de Lottinville. ‘In addition, when your people are giving their time and talents to the community they are also showcasing and developing their skills and your brand. 
‘Our aim is to lead corporate Goodness away from a handout mentality to an investment opportunity, make employee and customer engagement, rather than fundraising, the goal,’ he says.
Having talked the talk, this year Benevity decided to walk the talk too, showing how the company not only enables employee engagement programmes through its platform but also leads the way in spearheading its own volunteer programme.
During this year’s National Volunteer Week, more than half the company’s own staff – three times the average year on year participation rate – volunteered for six charities near its Calgary, Toronto and Victoria offices. 
Putting its own software to the test, the company created a grassroots group of “Goodness Catalysts” to rally employee passion and participation, helping to connect fellow colleagues with causes they care about. They reached out to 50-60 charities to get opportunities organised and used Spark to set them up, manage signup and track participation.
The company launched a robust internal communications plan to promote the initiative, coordinated flexible volunteer opportunities and provided paid time off for hands-on giving. Benevity “Do Gooder” tee shirts contributed to a sense of team sprit and generous incentives, such as C$20 per hour of community service that employees could give to the charity of their choice, helped swell the numbers of volunteers to 113, 51% percent of staff compared to the average 16% of most companies. Benevity’s clients kept pace as well, with a 50% rise in volunteering activity among corporate users of Benevity’s software platform.
Benevity personnel made 150 brown bag lunches, 209 hygiene kits and, including de Lottinville, collected 211 lbs. – 42 bags – of garbage from the river and green spaces around the Calgary office.
“It sounds smarmy, but I teared up a bit watching it,” admits de Lottinville. “It was so powerful to see our team, in our own small way, making a difference that matters. Interacting with the community was fantastic, from the reverence and gratitude we received from recipients and passersby to the engagement when people would grab a bag and help us with the litter clearing, co-owning our initiative.”
‘Putting our own technology to work and putting ourselves in the position of our clients enabled us to properly empathize with our clients, their employee users and the charities we benefit. We could see, feel and touch the way an effective volunteer program that promotes grassroots participation infuses a company-wide sense of purpose and pride.’
Benevity surveyed their staff about their experiences during the week in order to understand what resonated most. Overwhelmingly, they cited doing good with their peers as the highlight, with comments such as “Loved collaborating with my fellow Benevity-ites to make a difference in our community”, “Getting to meet Benevity-ites on other teams at Benevity” and “Seeing how great the entire team felt after doing good!”.
And there is a follow on effect for the community, says de Lottinville: people who volunteer give five times more than non-volunteers.
When it comes to looking ahead for Benevity’s internal programs, the company’s VP of People, Vivian Farris, and Principal of Goodness Consulting, Nicole Campbell, agree that the overall goal is to build a grassroots-influenced culture of Goodness all year round. 
“We are trying to provide opportunities that inspire our team to be intrinsically engaged in giving and volunteering,” says Campbell, “And in fact, we want them to feel motivated to take it one step further and drive those initiatives themselves.”
As a certified B Corporation, Benevity is part of a unique breed of for-profit companies with a social mission who believe that ‘doing well by doing good’ is more than just a catchy tagline. However, de Lottinville’s vision is that one day there will be no need for a separate category of B Corporations because every company will pursue hybrid goals of profit and purpose and giving back to the cause of one’s choice will be “as common and easy as leaving a tip at a restaurant.”
Benevity has sales offices in Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Providence and Chicago, as well as its Canadian presence. But there is still a way to go. Corporate America still only accounts for 5% of charitable giving, and although 80% of companies with over 5,000 employees have giving and volunteering programs, less than 25% are using software to manage them.
“The main challenge facing this landscape is one of scale,” says de Lottinville. “The larger we become, the more aggregation and automation efficiencies we can achieve. The more corporations who use our platform, the more charities we have onboarded, the more volunteer hours we can log, the more value we can deliver to all our users. We want to keep improving the social and business returns companies receive from their investments in employee and consumer giving and volunteering. We will continue creating new opportunities towards our long-term goal of transforming corporate giving into corporate engagement.”

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