Charity benefits both humanity and business. Not only do employees feel good about being socially aware and supporting communities in need, but working towards a common charitable goal also forges a bond with colleagues as they help tackle issues together that are larger than themselves. Many socially conscious companies are interested in becoming involved with charitable work, but find it easy to get overwhelmed with the myriad of charitable options and different strategies available when actually working to implement a charitable giving program within an organization.
The key to a successful charitable program is finding an ongoing source of funding and making contributions automatic. Here is the an overview of the framework my team successfully implemented – helping us raise over $94,500 USD, in the last two quarters alone (more than $189,000 after the company’s match). Consider these five tips as a guideline to potentially help you launch a program that is also successful in such a short period of time:
Follow the money. Identify an ongoing source of funding within the company that could be redirected to the charity, if employees agree. This could be bonuses, rewards, or you perhaps alternative sources of funding available such as airline miles.
Make it easy. Set up a system that makes these donations automatic. Eliminating the need for checks to be written or employees to take action is critical. The easier the process, the more likely you are to succeed.
Make it visible. Keep track of the various donations – for example on an internal Wiki where the rest of the company can see the progress of the program. This can also spark friendly competition and publicly acknowledge the team’s generosity.
Make it fun. Celebrate milestones such as breaking certain fundraising goals and recognize those employees that are going above and beyond to help the cause.
Take it to trial. In large companies, it’s best to run a new charity program as a trial within one division. Based on its success, leadership can then discuss options for rolling it out to the broader organization.
Using Innovation for Charity
My employer does a great job providing its employees with various opportunities to support charities through its EMC Gives Back program. The company has successfully raised significant dollars for charity: water in 2014 and 2015. Charity: water is a non-profit organization whose goal is to provide clean water to rural areas around the world. It’s amazing to think that in this day and age, hundreds of millions of people still do not have access to clean water. The ramifications are startling: illness is rampant and quality of life negligible – no school, no work, no fun – for women, men and children of all ages.
Using this program as a baseline and the tips I discussed above, I wanted my team to think differently. As the CTO of EMC’s Enterprise Content Division (ECD), I wanted to infuse innovation into our giving, so I followed the money in our group.
We have a patent reward policy where inventors of approved patent applications and granted patents are rewarded for their contribution to innovation. Engineers within ECD with innovative ideas are encouraged to submit invention disclosures to our patent committee and our patent lawyers. ECD’s patent committee vets all invention disclosure submissions to identify those that are most important and relevant for our business. Once approved, our patent lawyer prepares a patent application with the inventor(s).
I thought about the initial reward that’s paid upon an application being filed, and realized that it was an untapped financial resource. So I proposed a program called Patents4Water, where I asked our internal technical community to consider donating that initial reward – their response was overwhelming!
With assistance from legal, the program was extremely successful, and employees raised $94,500 for charity: water. Employees felt good about their contributions, driving both innovation and efforts to make a difference in the lives of people who need it most. The Patents4Water submissions went through the normal scrutiny, such that only those that truly met our patent filing objectives and guidelines were filed. This ensured that true innovation was at the core of the program. And, by only asking for the initial reward in the patent process, we enabled employees to get the second reward when the patent is actually granted.
Patent rewards are just one source of dollars in a corporate environment, assuming similar policies are in place. Here are a few other areas that could generate similar results for your company:
Miles4Charity. Many workers rack up frequent flyer miles due to business travel. What if corporate frequent flyer programs would give you an option to automatically donate these miles to a charity? The key here is to make it automatic. If the employee has to take action to "give" these miles, the program likely will not be as successful.
Fold4Charity. If you are a frequent flyer, your company may allow you to fly business class for long flights. If you chose coach instead, you would save the organization money. What if you could split the cost benefit between the business class ticket and the economy ticket and donate the difference to charity? Be willing to “fold” yourself into a coach seat for a few hours and your charity could see significant rewards.
Features4Charity. In the software world, it’s not unusual to get requests for features that may never be part of the roadmap. Consider an option where customers could bid on a feature and employees could donate their time to build them. Customers would be happy and maybe get a tax write-off at the same time.
Hopefully these ideas can spark some innovation in your thinking when looking for untapped financial sources within your organization to support philanthropic efforts. If you follow the money you’ll find surprising opportunities to fund the charities that are important to you and your company.