Work Force of Good

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Workplace campaigns continue to be a considerable player in charitable giving, generating over $4 billion annually.

By Edward Loftin 

Workplace giving campaigns provide employees the opportunity to make tax-deductible contributions to charitable organizations while on the job. Traditionally, an organization like the local United Way would organize an annual campaign, employees would pledge their gift, and the donation would be deducted from their paycheck and passed on to organizations in the community.

Technological advancements, the demands of a new generation of donors, and ideological differences over participant eligibility in public workplace giving campaigns are just a few of the factors influencing modern workplace giving. Nevertheless, workplace campaigns continue to be a considerable player in charitable giving, generating over $4 billion annually. Many workplaces now offer year-round giving opportunities, matching donations, volunteer opportunities, events, and giving packages tailored to specific causes or donor bases.

In the private sector, some corporations and businesses choose to develop their own giving campaigns, while others rely on outside expertise from one of the “big five” of workplace giving: America’s Charities, Community Health Charities, EarthShare, Global Impact, or the United Way. These five charities are membership organizations that focus on connecting employees to charities. In the public sector, federal government employees rely on the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).

Private Business, Public Good: Workplace Giving in the Private Sector

Private sector workplace giving is organized by either employers or one of the five charity federations and ranges in size from the church bake sale to large corporate departments. The charity federations determine which charities can participate in their campaigns, and Stephen Delfin, former President and CEO of America’s Charities, says his organization “takes into consideration the CFC criteria, state and local campaign criteria, and additional reviews of finances, governance, and public education and outreach efforts,” along with Better Business Bureau (BBB) Standards for Charity Accountability.

A powerful example of workplace giving in the private sector comes from banking giant Wells Fargo’s Community Support and United Way Campaign. Wells Fargo employees donated $97.7 million in 2014, including $70.5 million during the workplace campaign alone. These gifts supported over 30,000 nonprofits and schools, but Wells Fargo employees also contributed their gift of time in 2014, volunteering 350,000 workplace giving hours and a cumulative 1.74 million volunteer hours, including both workplace and nonworkplace hours, “serving meals to the homeless and working in food banks; cleaning waterways and restoring parks and public land; and delivering financial education to individuals and families.”

Don’t Get Hung Up on the Numbers

There is a cost associated with donating to charities through workplace giving campaigns. For America’s Charities, for example, the fee associated with workplace giving can be between 7 and 17 percent. Overall, however, the organization spends only about 5 percent of its total expenses on fundraising and administrative costs combined. These figures are well within the thresholds set by BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. While there is a cost associated with doing business with charity federations, consideration should be given to the value added by the campaign organizers in their efforts to connect workplaces and charities. Additionally, many companies simply don’t have the resources or expertise to run a successful campaign on their own.

We Want Results!

As with giving in general, donors in the workplace expect results. According to America’s Charities’ Snapshot 2014, which surveyed nearly 240 nonprofits, 61 percent of respondents indicated their corporate partners and donors sought “greater accountability regarding impact and results measurement.” Beyond results, donors want proof. In fact, 68 percent of Snapshot respondents believe that “the digital culture is driving the demand to demonstrate impact,” and 68 percent indicated that “operating in a digital culture requires them to be more transparent with donors and stakeholders.” In a marketplace in which individuals can give to charity through a cause-related purchase of a box of cereal at the grocery store, add a dollar to support a cause at checkout, and text a donation on their way to the car, workplace giving campaigns need to ensure their charities are telling their impact stories.

You Reap What You Sow: The Rewards of Workplace Giving

Giving through the workplace can be a rewarding form of charitable giving as many giving federations and employers offer ways to engage with charities beyond checking a charity’s social media feed or browsing through charity websites. Engaging younger donors is especially important simply because these young adults will be supporting charities for decades to come. However, Delfin points out that engaging millennials with the expectation of greater giving is unlikely to bear much fruit. He adds that greater giving is a function of “awareness, engagement, age, and disposable income.”

Student United Way, on 80 college campuses across the United States, offers just this type of millennial engagement by calling on young leaders to “identify and meet needs on campus and in their communities.” Projects range from tutor and mentor programs to poverty simulations. Down the road, in the workplace, the young adults will remember their experience with Student United Way and hopefully participate
in workplace giving.

Community Health Charities has developed Cause Platforms that address the needs of employees, bundling Signature Causes into packages such as Every Kid Deserves, which focuses on children’s charities, and HomeFront, which targets aid to military and veterans groups. The First5 bundle takes aim at five health conditions “that drive costs for companies and their employees, including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, mental illness, and addiction.” Tom Bognanno, President and CEO of  Community Health Charities, says, “A productive workforce is one that is engaged, with healthy employees who are volunteering and using the resources a charity provides at a community level.” To this end, beyond the opportunity to give to a specific cause, employees can use Community Health Charities’ Health Matters at Work, a portal connecting employees to support groups, programs, and services provided by a nationwide network of health charities.

To be competitive in a marketplace with so many giving options, workplace campaigns will need to continue to adapt to the needs of employees. Coordinators of workplace giving campaigns need to play to the strengths of their fundraising model while keeping a close eye on trends in technology, social media, and the giving habits of younger employee donors. Successful campaigns will increasingly need to include charities that have been subjected to holistic vetting and can show evidence that their work is making a difference. Allowing flexibility in giving options and engagement opportunities will also be critical to ensuring that workplace giving remains an important part of the public and private sector charitable giving equation now and in the future.

Edward Loftin is a Research Analyst at BBB Wise Giving Alliance. He is originally from Asheville, NC, and holds a B.S. from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and an M.P.A. from George Washington University. He enjoys spending time with his two children.