Explore these professional tips for engaging employees in corporate giving programs.

Engaging Employees in Corporate Giving Programs

In the 1800s, corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the United States started with giving. In the 1950s, the term “corporate social responsibility” was coined and stuck. In the ’90s, CSR started to become an expected function of large corporations. Giving was the inception of modern CSR and has been a constant companion throughout the history of corporate responsibility. As CSR has evolved, as society has changed and societal expectations have shifted, so too has the role of giving at corporations.

At Realized Worth, our priority is the employee citizenship experience, and giving is certainly a key part of that experience. But we find that engaging employees in giving is often approached only by looking at the mechanisms for engagement, and not necessarily the “why” behind those mechanisms. Without understanding the global social implications that affect giving programs, companies can’t fully understand which levers to pull to effectively engage employees in giving – or whether those levers are really working.

Let’s look first at some of the mechanisms being used to engage employees, followed by a deep dive into what drives employee behavior around these mechanisms.

There are several key components to consider when engaging employees in corporate giving programs.

Mechanisms to Engage Employees in Giving

In the past five to seven years, we’ve seen a huge shift in how companies support and encourage employee giving. Historically, giving programs tended to take the form of the annual (and still widely available) payroll deduction campaigns. Some companies still offer this as the primary way for employees to give to their communities and the causes they care about.

In terms of CSR programming, companies who are at a lower level of program maturity tend to have less diverse program offerings for employee giving. Companies with a higher level of maturity in CSR programming offer payroll giving alongside a range of options for employees, including offerings like:

  • Matching gifts
  • Dollars for Doers
  • International giving
  • Disaster relief campaigns

While payroll deduction programs are a great place to start, offering employees a variety of options to give and flexibility as to how they give to their communities is more likely to increase engagement in social responsibility. America’s Charities found that employees are five times more likely to participate in workplace giving when they have the opportunity to choose not only which charity they donate to, but also in what capacity.

Offerings like matching gifts, opportunities to give internationally, to volunteer and receive funds for donation, and the opportunity to support during intense times of need due to disaster are all useful incentives.

You can find some examples of unique employee giving programs here.

Engaging employees in corporate giving programs means defining and communicating priority focus areas.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Along with diverse and unique employee giving program offerings, companies can galvanize employee focus and action by accurately defining and communicating priority focus areas and strategic programs. Priority focus areas define causes or issues companies prioritize for investment, whereas strategic programs are the “how” of that investment.

In its 2019 Giving in Numbers report, CECP defines a strategic program as “the signature program area for which companies measure outcomes and/or impacts of their grants and that takes up the most time, money and management resources.” (p. 14). The report also looks at whether companies are being consistent when it comes to investing in causes they report as part of their focus areas.

This is important data, as it comes back to credibility, trust, brand strength, and transparency. In short, it analyzes whether companies are putting money where they say they are. And this matters enormously to employees in terms of engaging with social investment programming.

“In 2018, 42% of companies reported that the program area with the highest allocation of total giving also corresponded to the program area associated with their strategic program and also matched to the program area associated with their top-priority focus area.” (CECP Giving in Numbers: 2019 Edition, p. 14).

If your company is looking to more deeply engage employees in giving, take a hard look at the following:

  • Does your company have priority focus areas?
  • Does your company have strategic programs to support these focus areas?
  • What do you hope to achieve with your strategic programs?
    • Broader participation? Participation of specific groups of employees?
    • Center it around an important date or holiday (e.g. MLK Day).
    • Recognition: How do we recognize employees who contribute?
  • If your company has both priority focus areas and strategic programs to support it, are you investing a higher proportion of your giving dollars into strategic programs that support your focus areas?
  • Are you communicating clearly and regularly to employees what your focus areas and strategic programs are? What are you doing to make giving easy for employees?
  • Are you measuring the outcomes and/or impacts of your strategic programs effectively, and telling that story internally and externally?

When engaging employees in corporate giving programs, make sure to fully define your company's approach.

Defining Your Approach to Corporate Giving

This brings us to the underlying questions that should be fueling your company’s approach to employee giving. If you have a priority focus area or a signature cause, if you have strategic programs to engage employees in giving – there are some additional questions you need to be asking:

  • Are you looking at what’s happening in society both globally and in the places where your employees live and work?
  • What are the gaps – what is the most overwhelming need or needs? Which of these needs align best with your business?
  • What are the risks of tackling this identified gap through your company’s cause focuses and strategic programs? Will your approach create controversy? Do you welcome controversy? Why do you welcome controversy? How will you deal with it?
  • What are the opportunities of addressing this identified gap? What do you hope to achieve? How will this support business objectives such as employee engagement and happiness, talent attraction and retention, business development, brand awareness and loyalty, sustainability?
  • What do your employees care about most? Are you asking them what they see as the most pressing social needs your business should be investing in? Do they feel like you truly care? How do you know? While you should not necessarily choose focus areas based on employee desires, you should be able to demonstrate that you’ve listened and that you care. We’ve seen some employee activism play out in 2019 that acts as a lesson learned when it comes to listening to your employees and their values – such as Wayfair and Amazon.

Take full responsibility in engaging employees in corporate giving programs.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.

These questions and this approach to designing high-impact employee giving programs that engage employees are some key starting points. We live in a globalized world where information is currency, where transparency and truth are constantly being questioned, and where corporations – and their employees – are being held accountable by a global audience.

This year, CECP looked at something they’ve identified as “Total Social Investment” or TSI, which represents the “S” in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) (CECP Giving in Numbers: 2019 Edition, p.10). They found that companies where Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Human Rights were managed within the same department that manages overall contributions had higher median total giving than at companies where this was not the case.

The point here is perspective: CECP has started looking at TSI to determine what “good beyond giving” looks like for large companies. Giving will likely always be part of a company’s corporate social responsibility approach, but it can’t exist in a vacuum. The future of CSR is about integration – a holistic approach. And not just within the company, but without. This means paying attention to the most pressing societal needs and being bold enough to claim ethical responsibility for making the world a better place as much as one company can.


This guest post was contributed by Realized Worth.
Kelly Lynch is the guest author for this post on engaging employees in corporate giving programs.
Author: Kelly Lynch

Kelly is a Lead Content Strategist and Subject Matter Expert at Realized Worth. She oversees Realized Worth’s internal and external brand and content delivery. Her background is in corporate communications, community relations and volunteer management and she specializes in employee citizenship program strategy and management.

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