Corporate giving campaigns may seem to be going well, but they require attention to potential weaknesses for success to continue.
by Peter Dudley, SVP and Manager, Team Member Philanthropy , Wells Fargo
I don’t trust success. Big numbers have a way of obscuring little nuances that might become significant problems if left unattended.
I’m not talking about other people’s success here, mind you. We should always appreciate press release facts with the understanding that press releases, by their nature, exist to paint the best possible picture. No; the success I distrust is my own.
Current Success Can Mask Future Problems
Over the past five years, my company’s (Wells Fargo) workplace giving campaign has put up some pretty big numbers. I have very pretty graphs that rise so steeply they’d be difficult to climb if they were mountains. When people ooh and aah at my graphs, it’s easy to convince myself I’ve found a formula for success, that my progress will continue if I just keep doing the same things.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken.
The risk is that we get so distracted by the big success that we fail to notice the world changing around us, or the silent cracks forming in the foundations. We keep doing the same thing, feeling good about apparent progress when we’re actually setting ourselves up for a big fall.
Apparent progress can hide the ways in which we’re actually hurting ourselves, like the farmer who had a brick wall around his farm to keep the wolf from getting his sheep. His neighbor said that the wall, four feet at its tallest point, needed to be higher, so the farmer took some bricks and made the wall six feet. This made him feel good, but he knew he could do better. So he kept adding bricks until the wall was twenty feet tall.
But that night, the wolf stole one of his sheep.
“I don’t understand,” the farmer lamented to the neighbor. “I did what you said. I made my wall higher.” The neighbor asked, “Where did you get all the extra bricks?” The farmer replied, “I took them from the wall on the other side of the farm.”
Don’t Pressure Employees
At first, this seems a silly story, but this kind of thing happens all the time in business. A perfect example in workplace giving is when a manager pressures employees to beat a fundraising goal. The manager sees the totals go up when he demands that they give more, not understanding that he or she is eroding their enthusiasm and happiness with each successive demand.
I’ve seen it happen: the manager trumpets the group’s success with the dollar total, but the survey results tell the story of bitter employees who hate the campaign because of the manager’s pressure.
Over time, this works against the fundraising campaign and against the manager. My research shows a strong correlation between feeling pressured and reduced giving over time. As my former boss used to say, “It’s easy to force someone to give a dollar today. But we’re trying to create lifelong donors.”
Pay Attention To The Demographics
Recently, I wrote for Charities@Work about the changes that workplace giving needs to make to serve millennials (typically those employees born between 1977 and 2000). If I trusted that one graph earlier that shows our dollar totals going up every year, I’d never have seen what’s really going on in my workplace campaign. I didn’t have to look far to discover that our success may not be sustainable.
First, check out the number of donors. Roughly the same number of people had donated while the total they’ve given had doubled in five years. That iin tself may be interesting, but when I look at who those donors are, I see a very different future looming.
Wells Fargo isn’t particularly unique among big companies in the makeup of our workforce. Like many big companies, we have a significant number of employees approaching retirement age, but we also have a huge number of employees under 40 years old. As the workforce ages, we hope to use our workplace campaign to create lifelong donors of these younger employees.
You’d think with all that growth in dollars raised, we’d be doing a pretty good job of that, right? Let’s just say there’s room to improve.
Young employees, as you can see by this third chart, aren’t jumping into the workplace campaign like we’d hope. Maybe this graph looks the same as it did 10 years ago, but I can’t assume it will look the same in another 10 years.
Workplace giving hasn’t evolved much in decades, but advances in technology and adjustments of social attitudes are changing the workplace in new ways.
In looking at the dollars going up-up-up, I’d assume that everything else is going up in support of that top-line total. But deeper analysis shows that’s not the case, and if I don’t change with the times, I might wake up one day to find that those young donors didn’t follow the previous patterns and that my big numbers start dropping.
Celebrate Successes But Do Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth
What’s the lesson here?
Don’t let success go to your head. Certainly, celebrate your successes. But when your results are great, don’t trust that they’ll stay great if you keep doing what you’ve been doing. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, but almost always something is getting ready to break, and it’s our job to figure out what that is before the wall we’ve been building has too big a hole to fix.
What lessons have you learned by looking deeper into your employee engagement and community support programs? If you can’t get to the Charities@Work Summit on Employee Engagement in Corporate Citizenship happening today or tomorrow in New York City or join us on Livestream, help me learn by connecting with me on Twitter @dudleypj.
About the Author:
Peter joined Wells Fargo in 2001 after 10 years in software startups. As manager of Team Member Philanthropy, he runs the nation’s largest workplace giving campaign (ranked #1 five years in a row by United Way Worldwide), multiple volunteer programs under the Wells Fargo Volunteers brand, and employee hardship and scholarship funds. He is a member of United Way Worldwide’s Global Corporate Leadership Council. A native of Connecticut, he has a degree in Electrical Engineering from UC Berkeley. In his career, he’s worked on the B-2 stealth bomber, the first-ever smart phones, and the first PDAs.