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Employee giving guide for companies: How to get started

May 06, 2024
Four employees pick up trash at a volunteer event while participating in an employee giving program.

Corporate philanthropy is constantly evolving as business leaders and nonprofit organizations discover the most impactful ways to make a difference in their communities. Recently, we’ve seen a shift from disjointed corporate social responsibility (CSR) approaches that don’t resonate with employees to more strategic philanthropy initiatives that prioritize measurable impact, like employee giving.

By starting an employee giving program, your company can create real change alongside your employees. This guide will explore the basics of employee giving, how to start a program, and tips for making the most of it.

What is employee giving?

Employee giving is a CSR strategy that empowers employees to participate in and shape their employer’s corporate philanthropy program. In these programs, employees and employers work together to give time and money to worthwhile causes.

Companies may have one or several employee-giving programs, depending on their budgets and employees’ interest levels. In every program, employees should actively participate by choosing the causes they support, initiating the giving process, and providing input about ways the program could be improved.

Do employees care about employee giving?

The short answer is yes — over 80% of employees want to work for socially responsible companies with values that align with their own. This means that potential hires may consider employee giving when they make decisions about joining a company, staying engaged, and remaining with a company long-term.

Several studies show that philanthropy initiatives like employee giving play a role in employees’ decision-making. Take a look at the following research findings:

The donor cultivation cycle, which features four stages that play a part in donor acquisition

  • In one study, 96% of employees cited empathy as an important engagement and retention factor.
  • Among Gen Z employees, 90% believe that companies should take social and environmental action.
  • Up to 71% of employees specifically say it’s important that their employer supports giving and volunteering programs.
  • When employees do participate in employee giving and volunteering programs, they’re 57% less likely to leave their jobs.

Clearly, a majority of employees care significantly about corporate giving initiatives. When you give them the chance to take the lead with employee giving, your company will show employees that you share their values, boosting their engagement and trust in your business.

What are the benefits of employee giving for companies?

Along with improving relationships with employees, a few core business benefits of employee giving include:

A few common donor acquisition KPIs include:

  • Higher employee retention levels: Employees who believe in their company’s values and trust their employer are more likely to be actively engaged, productive, and committed to staying with the company long-term.
  • Ability to generate more impact on a variety of causes: By giving your employees the freedom to choose which organizations they support, employee-led giving programs can greatly increase the number of causes your company gives to. This allows you to make a broader impact with corporate funding and ensure that the causes you support resonate with employees.
  • Increased public trust in your company: Employees aren’t the only ones who want companies to give back to the community — customers do too! By donating to more causes and reporting on your company’s impact, you can improve customer relationships and your business’s reputation.

Since employees play key roles in these giving programs, your company benefits from learning more about the causes that are most important to them. This allows you to prioritize certain causes or organizations your team members care about when you expand your philanthropy efforts, further increasing employee engagement and trust.

Core types of employee giving programs

While any corporate philanthropy program that lets employees take the lead can be considered employee giving, the most common programs include:

The donor cultivation cycle, which features four stages that play a part in donor acquisition

Matching gifts

Matching gifts is one of the simplest, most effective employee giving programs. Through this program, companies match their employees’ donations to nonprofits (usually at a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio). This means that if an employee gives $100 to their favorite organization, your company would donate an additional $100 (or $200 if you use a 2:1 match ratio) to the same nonprofit. Employees love this program because it gives them the freedom to choose which causes corporate funds go toward and helps them double their personal charitable impact. Businesses love matching gifts, too — more than half of Fortune 500 companies have a matching gift policy, and matching gift revenue accounts for about $2 billion in charitable donations per year.

Dollars for Doers

Also called volunteer grants, Dollars for Doers programs are a type of employee giving in which employees volunteer with a nonprofit of their choice and your company donates to the nonprofit afterward. Additionally, employees can give money to that nonprofit or any other eligible nonprofit, depending on how the company wants to structure their program.

Typically, companies give grants based on the number of hours an individual employee volunteers. For example, you might donate $100 to a nonprofit after an employee volunteers 25 total hours with the organization. Or, you might give $10 to the nonprofit for each hour an employee volunteers up to a certain amount.

The donor cultivation cycle, which features four stages that play a part in donor acquisition

Volunteer grant programs help nonprofits recruit volunteers and raise more for their purposes while allowing your employees to financially support their favorite organizations without using any of their own money.

Payroll giving

With a payroll giving program, you can simplify the donation process for your employees and promote regular, sustainable giving. Employees choose one or more nonprofits they want to support often, then they define a certain amount they want to donate directly from their paycheck each month (or biweekly).

After setting up payroll giving once, employees don’t have to think about the giving process — then they define a certain amount they want to donate directly from their paycheck either one time or on a recurring basis.

Charitable spending accounts(CSAs)

A charitable spending account (CSA) is a consistent amount of money set aside for each employee to give to charitable causes each year. CSA's have a very wide application when it comes to amounts of money utilized. For example, a CSA might be used to give all new hires $100 to give to charity within the first calendar year of their employment. Another instance could be that you might give each full-time employee $500 to donate to the organization of their choice.

Many team members like this employee giving program because they don’t have to use their own funds, motivating more employees to give.

Employee giving campaigns

Company-wide employee giving campaigns can take many forms. You might host a team giving challenge for employees, an annual campaign supporting a specific cause such as Disaster Relief, or a seasonal campaign that invites employees to tap into the giving spirit of certain holidays or affinity months. No matter what, this employee giving program involves a concerted effort to encourage employees to give during a specific time frame.

Since employee giving campaigns typically focus on a specific nonprofit organization or cause area, this type of program can also lead to in-depth, mutually beneficial partnerships with local nonprofits.

How to start an impactful employee giving program

Now that you understand your options, let’s explore the steps to starting a new employee giving program at your company.

1. Align employee giving with your company values.

Instead of choosing programs solely based on your budget or the latest workplace giving trends, start by finding programs that align with your company’s values. Show employees that your new employee giving program is sincere and worth their involvement by staying true to your philanthropic purpose and the values that drew them to your company.

For example, say that one of your business’s core values is inclusion. You might create an annual employee giving campaign that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) nonprofits, or you might start a matching gifts program that offers 2:1 matching during affinity months like Black History Month.

Make sure that these programs align with your employees’ interests, too. Ask yourself if each proposed program is something a majority of employees would be excited to participate in. If you’re not sure, send out a quick survey to gauge employees’ interest levels.

2. Set program guidelines.

Once you’ve chosen the programs you want to offer, determine guidelines for each one. While guidelines will vary slightly from program to program, you should outline basic restrictions like the type of nonprofits eligible for corporate funding and how much your company can donate.

For a matching gifts program, for instance, you would need to set the following guidelines:

The donor cultivation cycle, which features four stages that play a part in donor acquisition

  • Minimum and maximum donations you’ll match
  • Which nonprofits are eligible
  • Which employees can participate in the program
  • Match ratio, such as 1:1
  • Submission deadline for matching gift requests

Additionally, determine the request and approval process for each program and outline any special promotions you might offer. This might look like offering a higher matching gift maximum on GivingTuesday or during the holiday season.

3. Encourage participation in your new employee giving program.

Announce the program to all of your employees once you’ve ironed out the details. Schedule an informational meeting, or send out documentation about the program’s guidelines, the purpose behind it, and how it benefits your employees. Be prepared to answer questions and note any initial feedback that team members have.

As you launch your employee giving program, encourage participation by promoting the program internally. Empower employees to start giving right away, and highlight those who do participate early. Send periodic emails about how the start of the program is going and what you’ve been able to accomplish with it so far.

Monitor the program’s results over time.

Measure the success of your new employee giving program by selecting outcomes and key performance indicators to measure, such as total funds donated and hours volunteered. This information will not only help you improve the program and boost employee participation but also demonstrate your company’s philanthropic impact to stakeholders.

Use an employee giving platform to simplify this process and ensure that you’re tracking important impact metrics. With an intuitive CSR platform, you can quickly gauge your program’s impact using automated and custom dashboards.

For instance, this example from Bonterra’s Strategic Philanthropy solution shows the total amounts donated and matched by a company based on cause area:

The donor cultivation cycle, which features four stages that play a part in donor acquisition

From this information, the example company might determine that education causes matter most to its employees and partner with an educational nonprofit in the future. The company could also share this graph with investors, customers, and employees to demonstrate the monetary impact of its employee giving program.

Strategies to boost employee giving participation

Remember that your company’s work doesn’t stop when you launch your employee giving program. Use the following strategies to inspire more employees to get involved and truly maximize your program’s potential.

Gather and implement employee feedback.

The best way to ensure your employees are excited about your program is to involve them in the decision-making process. Ask for team members’ input periodically to show them you value their opinions and want to make the program better.

For instance, you might send out a company-wide survey that asks open-ended questions about:

  • Which charities and cause areas they value the most
  • Which fundraising events and campaigns they like to participate in
  • If they prefer donating money, time, or in-kind donations
  • What would make your employee giving program more appealing to them

Take the feedback process a step further by asking a team to conduct in-person employee interviews about the program. This gives team members the chance to share more in-depth feedback and reflect on the impact they’re making through guided conversations.

Incentivize giving with rewards and recognition.

Thanking your employees for their participation with special perks will energize your employee giving initiatives and improve morale across the business. Consider offering one or more of the following incentives for employees who go above and beyond in engaging with your program:

The donor cultivation cycle, which features four stages that play a part in donor acquisition

  • Offer additional vacation time, such as special volunteer paid time off days
  • Use leaderboards to recognize top donors and volunteers among your employees
  • Plan a team outing to celebrate employees’ impact after a major initiative
  • Send gift cards to all team members who participate in employee giving at the end of the year

While many employees will want to participate in employee giving solely for the sake of contributing to charitable causes, it doesn’t hurt to offer additional motivation. See if these incentives resonate with your team, or tailor your incentives to team members’ unique interests.

Empower employees to take initiative.

To keep employee giving top of mind and center your employees in the giving process, empower your employees to take initiative both within and outside of your program.

For example, a team member who volunteers with a sustainability nonprofit might have ideas about how to reduce your company’s environmental footprint. Or, they might come to your leadership team with an idea for a company-wide volunteer outing or giving campaign that supports sustainability organizations.

Listen to your employees’ ideas and encourage them to take the lead. This will inspire further involvement with philanthropy and show other team members that the possibilities for giving are endless.

Embracing the power of employee giving

Employee giving initiatives have the power to create real community impact while engaging employees and empowering them to take philanthropy a step further. When your company embraces employee-led giving, you can make a measurable difference, together.

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