Launching a workplace giving program? 6 questions to ask

[Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of six blog posts from EarthShare about corporate giving. Read last month's piece about the evolving roles of corporate social responsibility and corporate philanthropy.]

As the market for corporate philanthropy grows ever more crowded, companies are looking to get more value from their giving. And that's a good thing. Today, companies are aligning their CSR and community development efforts with their business strategies and working to engage the workforce with their goals in meaningful ways. As a result, though, the search for the right tools, the right partners and the right measurement parameters keeps getting more challenging.

At EarthShare, we've seen evidence of this during our Green Team forums, which act as networking and support groups for employees from different companies to share challenges and solutions. Participants in these forums have moved beyond the questions of "why" or "whether" to do corporate philanthropy and are tackling the more specific problems of "how," "who" and "where." The questions often include how to align their workplace-giving programs with their market strategy and culture, how to motivate employees during a recession, how to assess the outcomes they want and how best to measure their results using systems already in place.

Checklist for a successful workplace giving program

From these discussions have come a collection of six factors to consider when developing a program at your organization.

1. Is there support from leadership?

For any corporate giving program to be successful, investment and support needs to come from the top down. Make sure you have the executives on board, and that means more than just signing off on the weekly or monthly newsletter. Are they willing to join employees in volunteer projects? Contribute to fundraising goals and encourage employee giving, such as by matching gifts or incentives? Serve on potential nonprofit partners' boards? Find out what your executives will do and make sure you can get a strong "yes" before moving forward.

2. Have you tailored your campaign to reflect your workplace culture?

Successful corporate-giving programs are hardly one-size-fits-all affairs. Think about what makes your workplace unique and craft a program around that culture. "A workplace-giving campaign should be a reflection of the company's culture and values – that's why there are so many variations. That was not true when all campaigns were United Way, but once companies started owning the campaigns, the company culture asserted itself," EarthShare CEO and President Kal Stein says.

If employees are into gaming or social media, for instance, those tools could be used to help spread the word about the program internally. But it might not make sense to opt for electronic pledges if employees aren't often using their computers for work. 

As Robin Perkins, EarthShare's director of marketing and communications, points out, "Standard paper pledge campaigns, brown bag lunches and educational presentations might work better for entities where employees are typically not sitting in front of a computer all day, while a more “wired” workplace will expect and want to be able to offer their employees interactive online options."

While it's important to get leadership on board [see No. 1, above], it's also critical to find out what causes employees care about by collecting data. Employees are almost always more willing to contribute toward a cause they feel strongly about, and a simple survey can go a long way toward determining the ultimate mix of offerings that can be most effectively included in your giving campaign. (EarthShare has a sample survey we provide to potential partners who are seeking more insight into their employees’ interests.)

A campaign that's a collaborative effort can garner more employee engagement than a top-down directive. "Let the employees own it," Stein advises.

Photo of senior executive standing by StockLite via Shutterstock.

Next page: Boosting employee engagement