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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.

3. Do you have a communications plan ready that takes multiple perspectives into consideration?

Do your homework so you can be ready to respond to an avalanche of questions. Each division, not to mention each internal stakeholder, may require a slightly different "pitch," so it's important to consider what makes sense to them. You'll need to be able to talk about how the program underscores the company's goals, as well as each division's goals, and explain why it's worth it for managers to allow employees to spend time volunteering, for instance.

4.  Do you have a plan to establish and communicate goals and expectations as you progress?

Not only do you need to share goals and accomplishments with those traditionally involved in your company's sustainability programs, but with other teams, too. Aside from green-team leaders, you'll want to communicate your progress with senior management, the human resources and marketing teams -- and external stakeholders. In order to make giving and volunteerism an integrated part of your culture and strategy, you'll need to set expectations and win over your stakeholders, team by team. So start early.

5. What are your administrative requirements?

Consider how much automation you really need (and can afford) to make the program successful. Some companies pick more complex systems that connect to backend payroll systems, for example, to enable more automated giving, while others go with less expensive Web-based solutions that can keep track of donations and volunteer hours without connecting to payroll systems.

6. How can you encourage employee giving and engagement?

Once you've got your ground rules set up, it's time to think about how to motivate employees to rally around the cause.  One way is to connect volunteer opportunities with donations, by encouraging employees to volunteer at the nonprofits they are collecting for or giving to. Aside from giving them a chance to spend a day giving back to their communities, volunteerism gives employees a chance to develop vital personal connections with the campaign. 

Another option is to invite your nonprofit partners to discuss how the employees' donations are being used. A combination of compelling data and stories will help demonstrate the worthiness of the campaign – and relay the need for help – encouraging both donations and volunteers.

Making it easy for employees to donate can also help. Charitable payroll contributions can make charitable giving a more feasible option for younger employees, for instance, but will also require some education for those not familiar with how they work.

Finally, as Cheron Carlson, EarthShare's campaign director puts it; the most powerful motivator is the feeling that an employee can affect change. "If the company can communicate this to the employees by sharing charity impact statements and illustrating what small gifts can actually accomplish, the employees see it holistically – it all adds up and yields an enormous impact," she says.

Read the rest of this series:

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