April 17, 2014

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The Employee’s Perspective: An Insider Look at Workplace Giving

Are changing generations at the workplace leading to a shift between checkbook philanthropy and volunteerism?

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By Kal Stein, CEO, EarthShare

As CEO of EarthShare, I have discussed my perspective on workplace philanthropy, giving tools, employee engagement and green teams at length and often - all from my particular viewpoint, influenced by having a front row seat to successful engagement and giving campaigns in multiple industries and benefitting numerous nonprofits.

Now I'd like to focus the lens on the on-the-ground view of workplace giving and the people directly involved, including the grassroots activists and the green team champions. We talked to four employees in different roles, companies, and industries about their experiences with workplace giving and volunteerism programs.

Our objective: To get a sense of what's working and what isn't, as well as understand whether changing generations at the workplace is leading to a shift between checkbook philanthropy and volunteerism.

Beginning to Give: Opportunities & Making the Connection

For Min Yoo, community relations specialist at City National Bank, her previous experience working for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. helped her gain perspective about both sides of the coin: the donors and the doers.

Yoo works in City National's community relations department – a team of two – and is responsible for planning, organizing and executing community investment and involvement programs. This year, the City National workplace-giving program had achieved a 90 percent participation rate, up from 80 percent the previous year.

“As a donor myself, it really makes me feel good to work for a company where community connecting the dotsinvolvement is a priority and the bank puts resources behind encouraging colleagues to be more involved," she said in a recent conversation.

Facility Manager Bryan Duggan's stint with workplace giving began when he joined Phillips-Van Heusen (PVH) 17 years ago. Duggan quickly moved past the role of active donor to a leading role in his company’s giving program, thanks to his passion for organizing and promoting workplace giving.

According to John Spindler, a senior investigator with UnitedHealthcare, the company's volunteerism program and robust workplace giving options allow employees lots of opportunities to work in the community.

Both Duggan and Spindler agree that the workplace giving programs at their companies are supported from the top-down and that their leadership was heavily invested in the idea of employee giving. In nearly all cases, that buy-in led to a high participation rate.

But for Asuragen scientist Tiffany Sanford, who has also moved from donor to leading her company’s giving program, workplace giving remains at an all time low – about two percent of 120 employees -- despite having an outdoors enthusiast for a CEO.

“I don’t think people realize how easy it is. You could even give the amount of one Starbuck’s (visit) a week and you wouldn’t really miss it,” she said.

That said, Sanford acknowledges that with the recent economic recession, many colleagues feel that they need their entire paycheck. And specific fundraising initiatives like the firm's yearly Earth Day celebration does drive participation and fundraising. "We usually raise our funds through potluck brunches (employee prepared and donated food), raffle ticket sales, bake sales and silent auctions," she said.

Building a Relationship: Why Do It?

The decision to give at work is an individual one, and everyone’s motivation is different. Sanford is a lifelong champion of the environment so she was quick to volunteer to lead her company’s efforts. “I love it on a personal level,” she said, “although across the company, we don’t have a lot of buy-in.”

environmentShe is also hard at work to change the status quo. “Our health and the health of our environment are so important that it is almost like a requirement. I have to do this. I want to ensure that I do all that I can to protect the environment.”

Spindler expressed a similar sentiment. “I always saw a real need for assisting and making donations to various charity groups, but when I began working at UnitedHealth, the online giving tool made it easy," he said. Also a bonus: the company's dollar for dollar match policy.

As one of two people spearheading City National's campaign, Yoo works with 150 cross-departmental “ambassadors” who help promote campaigns at the bank's various locations; these representatives play a crucial role in informing, motivating and energizing employees.

“Working with them has been such a rewarding experience. It’s very much a grassroots effort and it’s been wonderful to see these dedicated, passionate colleagues get excited about the organizations we support and encourage others to join the campaign.”

Duggan was also quick to point out an “unintended benefit."

 "[PVH’s workplace giving program] has created a culture where people are proud to work, contributing to workplace satisfaction and people’s pride in their jobs.”

The opportunity to get to know the people behind the causes they support can be a critical connection for supporters, too. For Duggan, meeting the people who actually work at the various charities his workplace supports made it real. “Learning more about what they do and where the money goes was eye-opening for me.”

Sustained Giving & Volunteerism: Lessons Learned Along the Way

Workplace giving programs take on unique personalities at each company, and each of our interviewees admitted to learning their own lessons along the way.

“Something we did wrong – we made fundraising competitive between departments, and whichever department came in last had to organize the whole thing for the following year. Which was not a very good motivator," said Duggan.

After about a year, PVH scrapped that and now participation is completely voluntary. “We made it really exciting and put it out there and advertised it and let people decide if they wanted to volunteerismparticipate.” The program has grown exponentially, he said, creating a constant buzz around the office. Other tactics: PVH utilizes iPad giveaways, raffles and “dress down” days, among other incentives.

No company culture is the same, however, making it crucial that your workplace-giving program fit well with your workforce dynamics. Where Duggan found that workplace giving competition soured his colleagues on the experience, Yoo found that it inspired her coworkers. An online thermometer tracked team and departmental participation and employees could click on it and see how everyone was doing. “This competitive edge really boosted participation,” she said.

All four interviewees said that their employers offer direct payroll contribution giving, which gives employees the opportunity to opt in to donate a certain amount from each paycheck, which is then distributed to the cause or causes of their choice.

So What About Volunteering?

Again, the results vary. While Yoo and Sanford’s workplaces concentrate on workplace giving and currently don’t have formal volunteerism components, both companies are working toward including volunteering on a more formal basis in coming months.

The obvious question then: does every workplace-giving program require a complementary volunteerism initiative? Although they don’t track participation by age, Yoo believes that increasing the volunteer aspect of their program would coincide well with their efforts to attract younger workers. “Part of my job is coordinating volunteer efforts, and many of the people coming out (to participate) are from the younger generations.”

In 2011, City National employees logged over 27,000 volunteer hours.

Duggan is also working to expand PVH’s volunteer efforts. "Many people have a desire to contribute to their communities," he said. "Showing people where and how to donate their time really facilitates this. Some causes just resonate more with certain individuals and having variety is key."

EarthShare: Adding Environmental Causes to the Mix

Although at EarthShare we pride ourselves on making great connections between businesses and volunteeringnonprofits, we were surprised and pleased to learn just how much our organization had impacted our interviewees.

Duggan, Sanford and Yoo all talked about the historically overwhelming turnout for EarthShare fundraisers. Even at a company like Asuragen where participation is low, turnout for EarthShare has been healthy and gratifying.

For City National, the decision to partner with EarthShare was driven by employee feedback for an environmental option in their campaign.

“Once we realized an environmental organization was missing in our campaign, it was an easy decision to add EarthShare,” said Yoo. 

“They work with hundreds of environmental agencies all over the country and it was important that our dollars stay in the areas where we work and live. Every dollar donated from a specific region goes toward supporting an environmental organization in that region. EarthShare was also incredibly easy to work with. They understood what we needed from our partners to run a successful campaign.”

Volunteerism & Workplace Giving: What Will The Future Bring?

Despite a challenging economic climate, it is heartening to note that our programs continue to inspire loyal givers. To date, EarthShare has facilitated more than $300 million in donations for the nonprofit environmental and conservation organizations we represent. Due to the passion and amazing work of the many employees who are involved in workplace giving, and those who have taken that passion even further and assumed a leadership role, we believe workplace philanthropy and engagement have a bright future.

City National has an astounding participation rate of more than 90 percent, helping Yoo and her coworkers reach their 2012 goal of raising $1 million (from more than 3,000 participants), and she vows to maintain the same numbers next year. Her next challenge: how to utilize social media to promote the campaign and coordinate a Volunteer Recognition program to celebrate top dedicated volunteers.

For Duggan, the focus moving forward is to improve the volunteering component and integrate it into PVH's workplace giving program by reporting current volunteer successes and inspiring more people to give their time and skills to causes that matter to them.

Sanford is continuing to spread the word and is hopeful that her coworkers will not only decide to give through Asuragen's giving program, but will also be enthusiastic about giving their time through volunteering opportunities.

At the end of the day, individuals and their passions are what make workplace giving campaigns successful and beneficial to any and all causes supported by them.

The fact that each of the people we spoke to not only choose to “give at the office,” but felt strongly enough to lead efforts encouraging their fellow employees to give back is enormously gratifying. Change happens one person at a time, and considering the number of people we have impacted with EarthShare programs, that translates into a substantial amount of change.

Are you with us?

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Related:

Picking the Right Workplace Giving Tools: 6 Critical Questions to Ask

The Anatomy of Green Teams: Igniting Change

4 Environmental Issues That Matter to Employees – and Employers

Progress or Propaganda? The Corporation's Role in Promoting Workplace Giving

The Virtuous Cycle of Workplace Philanthropy

The Basic Rules of Impact: EarthShare CEO Connects the Dots

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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