Best practices in workplace giving

In today's episode, we discuss best practices for workplace giving campaigns and how to increase participation and employee engagement. We explore how to find your workplace giving champions, asking for budget, and how to measure your programs. We also review advanced tips for seasoned CSR professionals, how to adapt to employee turnover and how to get your leadership team to continuously participate. Finally, we talk about the integration of corporate purpose into businesses today.

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Karl Yeh:

So today I'm joined by Janelle St. Omer, Regional Vice-President with Benevity, and we're going to talk about workplace giving and strategies to help maximize participation and grow your CSR program. But Janelle, maybe we can do this in two parts.

Let's say you are a brand new CSR or just new to the field, how would [00:01:00] you go about creating an effective workplace giving campaign, especially in an organization maybe that has never done something like this before?

How to start a workplace giving campaign from scratch

Janelle St. Omer:

Well, I think one of the first pieces when you're creating a program is to really understand the culture of your organization.

  • How are employees currently getting involved?
  • What level of support do you have from your executives at the top?
  • Are employees currently involved in a variety of grassroots initiatives already?

Because what you'll want to do is really harness all of that, instead of recreating [00:01:30] the wheel.

And I think a popular misconception around workplace giving campaigns is that it has to happen at one particular time of the year, generally in the Fall.

And we generally do see this as giving season, however, it doesn't need to be that way.

I think historically, a lot of companies used to partner with organizations and that was their fundraising model. But so many companies over the last 10 to 15 years have really seen great success in running year round campaigns for organizations or having [00:02:00] that open giving throughout the year.

But perhaps having a concentrated period within a timeframe where they will do certain activities that are fun and educational and raise awareness.

I think that's the first thing that I would suggest to anybody who's going to be implementing a new workplace giving program is really think about, what is the structure of your organization and what model would make the most sense for you.

You'll definitely want to figure out how to get that commitment and endorsement and buy-in from the top, so that they are advocating for the campaign.

They're encouraging [00:02:30] employees to make those donations, really buying into the "why" behind running a workplace giving campaign and encouraging people to connect to their personal "why" and connects the organizations that might be a need in their local area.

You also want to connect to employees from a bottom up perspective, as well as champions.

Those who can be those ambassadors for the program, those who might make the peer to peer ask, and explain to a colleague why a certain organization is going to be getting the support, the needs [00:03:00] of that organization has, how they're perhaps connected to the company, and all the various ways that an employee can get involved.

Karl Yeh:

And you touched on a couple of points there.

One is the champion. How do you go about finding those champions in your organizations? Because sometimes you never know until that person actually is in that position to actually champion those causes that you're involved in.

How to find your organizational workplace giving champions?

Janelle St. Omer:

Absolutely. So I think that there's a few ways that it can happen.

Call out

So one is to do a call out.

So do a communication [00:03:30] out to all of your employees, perhaps you will announce it at a town hall or something like that, where you're really recruiting for champions.

And of course, we'll get people who self-select at that point.

Work with leadership

You can also work for your leadership.

So leaders tend to have a good finger on the pulse of who within their team or department is really actively engaged, and perhaps they can also put forth some recommendations.

I would also say if you have a volunteer program perhaps with volunteer rewards, you don't yet have a workplace giving program, take a look at the [00:04:00] most active volunteers within your company as well.

Who every single year is requesting a volunteer grant?

Who is the one putting up their hands on the social club?

Who is perhaps a green team ambassador, so they're involved from a sustainability standpoint?

All of those employees who might get involved in other aspects outside of workplace giving traditionally might have some level of interest in actually driving some of your workplace giving programs, because they're already actively engaged in your employee culture.

Karl Yeh:

And the second part of that is, [00:04:30] if you are starting out, is it something that you want to ask budget for, or do you have to bootstrap it and be lean when you're just starting?

Should you ask for a budget when starting a new workplace giving program?

Janelle St. Omer:

I'm a big advocate for asking for everything that you need right out of the gates.

You can only get the answer no if you ask, so really determine what it is that you're going to need.

So do you want to pay for a speaker to come in as part of your campaign?

Do you want to have various fun elements to raise some awareness [00:05:00] at a different event?

If you're going to be doing some events, you'll certainly need a budget.

So I would really assess the kind of campaign that you want to run and those educational slash fund infusing opportunities that you might want to align to it, and then determine what the cost would be from there.

But I do think if you're going to be going out of the gate to perhaps build a business case around launching a workplace giving campaign, and for a program overall, you should really think strategically about how you do secure a budget and what that budget [00:05:30] might need to be every single year.

Are you going to do matching as part of your workplace giving campaign?

So for every $1 that employee donates, your company's going to give a dollar or $2 or 50 cents on the dollar.

So those are the kinds of things that you'll also need to get budget for.

We've certainly seen the companies that do offer matching have greater success in terms of employee engagement.

When you can get behind, when employees making a donation to rewards, they feel that much more connected to your company, and people always love giving to the charities that they care about in a two to one or [00:06:00] three to one fashion.

Karl Yeh:

And I know we talked about this previously, but when you are just starting a new program, how do you go about marrying maybe the interest that your company actually wants to do versus maybe some of the interests that your employees are passionate about?

How do you find that connection?

Because I remember you mentioned about the sweet spot, but maybe you want to touch on that again.


How to balance company driven initiatives vs employee preferred causes?

Janelle St. Omer:

So we tend to call that the Power of "And".

And the reason we call it the power is because [00:06:30] historically there's been a lot of tension between that, between what a company or the organizations that they need, to to encourage their employees to give to, versus the organizations that employees care about.

But it doesn't need to be that way, there doesn't need to be that tension.

I think understanding if there's an organization down the street from your corporate head office that your employees are to get involved in, and it makes sense to align with, perhaps you are a financial institution and you also have a financial literacy program. [00:07:00] Those things make sense, it aligns to your business.

However, a big part of your campaign is your people. And they are essentially the life and the breath of any program that you're going to have.

So their engagement is really critical.

So I do think that you absolutely can say, "You know what? We as a financial institution, we align to these five financial literacy organizations."

And you encourage your employees to make donations and to volunteer with those organizations.

But you can also say, "We get behind our employees, we stand behind the causes that [00:07:30] they're most passionate about, and we encourage them to be those agents of change themselves, and to find the organizations that really personally resonate with them.

And we're also going to match to those organizations."

Perhaps you matched at a different rate, perhaps to those organizations that align to your strategy as a business, you run a match at a two to one perspective.

And then for the organizations that don't, perhaps you're only going to match one to one or 50 cents on the dollar, but there's definitely ways to really create that narrative for your employees.

And these are the things that we get behind [00:08:00] as a company, and certainly encourage them, provide that education, that level of awareness for them on those organizations.

But at the same time, really encourage your employees to find the things that they're most passionate about and to recognize, celebrate, and support those organizations as well.

Karl Yeh:

And once your campaign or campaigns are complete, when you're starting out, how do you go about measuring and showing the results of that to your team and to executives and to leadership?

How to measure your workplace giving campaigns?

Janelle St. Omer[00:08:30] :

So I think a big part of measurements is really understanding what you're trying to actually do.

So this comes back to sort of your purpose, your "why", because there's a lot of ways that you can measure it.

I think one of the most obvious and the easiest ways are the outputs.

So really just looking at number of people who donated to the campaign and the dollars that were raised.

Those are easy metrics, and most people who run an employee workplace campaign will have those metrics.

But I think understanding further from that[00:09:00]:

  • how many donors are repeat donors year every year?
  • How many donors got involved in the different educational events that you had?
  • Did you have a higher level of employees who wanted to sign up to be champions and to be ambassadors for your program for this year?
  • Did you actually host any making it real events where you brought in speakers from organizations to actually talk about the impact that their organization had in make community?

And perhaps how they've been personally impacted and what the donor dollars from your company would actually mean?

So there's a plethora of other metrics that you can really look at, and really those are most in [00:09:30] line with the impact as opposed to those outfits.

Because dollars raised is absolutely important, and a lot of companies will focus on that, but it's not the only metric that matters.

I really think that understanding the impact of those dollars raised and how your employees now feel in terms of their education on a community issue, how your employees feel in terms of their education on themselves as an agent of change, perhaps how the charity that you're supporting is going to report back on what they have done with those donor [00:10:00] dollars.

That level of impact is really, really an important metric to start to measure, but it goes back to again, your "why".

Karl Yeh:

So Janelle, we've touched on beginner-type CSR workplace giving campaigns.

How about for those who've run this for a while [00:10:30] now, many years, what are some events, tips, that you'd like to provide?

Maybe more so what are things that you're seeing in 2021 and maybe trends that go into the future?

Advanced workplace giving tips for the seasoned CSR pro

Janelle St. Omer:

Do an audit

So I think for those who have more advanced programs, really pause and do an audit.

That's one of the things that I hear the most from companies who have been running programs for the last 10, 15, 20 years, is that they do it the way they do it just because that's the way they've always done it.

So I think it's important to pause [00:11:00] and reflect on, does your program currently work? Is it meeting the needs of your charitable partners?

Is it meeting the needs of your employees?

Are you seeing declining participation rates year over year?

Do you have a very close program where you are limited to a campaign period two to three weeks in the fall, once a year, that's when you do all your activities?

Or are you contemplating actually opening it up year round?

We have certainly seen at Benevity, a big trend around open choice and open giving.

So not only [00:11:30] having it available all the time, year round an employee who basically make a donation anytime they want.

But also really opening it up to any organization that is a 501 C3 or a CRA registered organization in Canada, or even to nonprofits and encouraging your employees to give cross border.

Understand the culture of your organization

I think it's really important to understand the culture of your organization, your people. Do you have millennials? Do you have gen Z?

What are the interests that they have?

What we have seen is that a lot more [00:12:00] employees are really moved by these grassroots movements.

Things like corporate social justice is really emerging as a trend and people wants to be able to respond when things happen, they want to be able to mobilize together to give back to a cause that they're really passionate about.

And I think that companies who do embrace that will see even greater success with their programs, because those are the kinds of things that their people want to do.


And I think that a lot of companies who have historically had very successful programs, making that shift or pivoting, it can sometimes be [00:12:30] a little bit challenging.

But if you slowly do it over time, perhaps you really focus on the communications around, making some of these changes and moving from once a year to year round, you'll really start to see some success. 

And you'll actually see your people becoming more and more engaged, because they now feel like it's not so prescriptive or formulaic.

And that once a year I have to give to these five organizations and that's it.

They can really actually be like, "Hey, I can bring my passion to this. I can perhaps nominate an organization [00:13:00] that I think I feel very, very passionately about for consideration of inclusion into our company program."

Or just pulling the band-aid and opening it up overall, you'll see that your employees are really going to get behind those organizations.

And the story in the narrative becomes collectively, we as a company have had impact to all of these organizations.

Whether it be in north America or globally, across your footprint, it's been, we give back to these organizations and in times of national disaster [00:13:30] or in times of crisis, like COVID or black lives matter.

But that becomes a narrative around your workplace giving campaign that you are available and your employees are mobilized when things matter the most to organizations.

And I would also say too, and this is less so employee giving specifically or workplace giving programs, but from a corporate giving or company granting program, a big part that we certainly see as a lot more companies being very open with their dollars.

So they're less so to [00:14:00] a specific pillar, but more so actually funding organizational capacity to nonprofit organizations as well, recognizing that there is a need for overhead costs for some of these organizations to do great work.

So really thinking about the openness of all of your giving, whether it be from a corporate perspective or employee perspective, is certainly a recommendation that I have for more mature programs.

Karl Yeh:

Well, I think one thing I was thinking about too is, if you've been doing campaigns for say five, 10 years, there's obviously [00:14:30] change in the organization, and I would assume there'd be new employees coming in and some employees leaving. How does someone deal with that change?

So for example, let's say you have a couple of champions, but they leave the organization. And then is it something that you build into your program where it's part of the employee orientation that they understand the CSR program that's happening?

How to adapt your programs to employee turnover

Janelle St. Omer:

So I think a lot of the companies that we see with really, really successful [00:15:00] workplace giving programs, it is infused into every element of their culture.

And not just workplace giving, but their CSR program, their corporate  program is really infused into all elements of the employee experience.

So whether that be actually having a session as a part of your employee onboarding, so all new employees get a sense of, "This is what we do, this is who we are, this is why giving back to community is so important.

And here are all the various opportunities and ways that an employee can do that."

To actually reinforcing that at different [00:15:30] team meetings and actually having team leads talk about that corporate purpose as well, and the various opportunities for employees to get involved.

Having a champion structure, so really having that ambassador of that champion structure where you do have employees who can do that peer to peer ask.

So perhaps you do have some turnover, some of your champions have left, your existing champions will know other employees will be able to at least recommend other employees who are now in the organization who might be interested in getting more involved. [00:16:00] Because I really do feel that peer to peer engagement is so critical. And I think to connecting it's again to the "why", the purpose, the impact is so key.

So really helping employees to understand why your company gives back.

Why it actually matters, how it matters in terms of the local area and the values that your company has from round CSR, around social impact in terms of being a good corporate citizen and encouraging your employees to do the same, and to really see themselves as those agents of change, [00:16:30] is really, really critical as well.

So it doesn't have to be once a year you communicate, but you can do it at different intervals throughout the year.

You can have team meetings that you then infuse a community impact element to, your annual or quarterly people's survey, where you're asking employees, you can ask your people team to include some questions around community engagement and CSR for your employees as well.

So really just making it a part of your culture and a part of your DNA.

So it's not just something [00:17:00] that sits over here with your CSR team, but it really does permeate the DNA of your organization, I think, is the most important thing.

Karl Yeh:

So my next question is a little bit of a two-parter, because I know we touched on the importance of getting leadership into your workplace different programs.

So the first part is, how do you get them to continuously get involved?

Because it's easy when we talked about transactional versus transformational employee campaigns, there's a difference between a one-time thing versus ongoing. [00:17:30]

So how do we get leadership to continuously evolve and grow with that program?



How to get leadership to continuously participate?

Janelle St. Omer: 

Well, I think the first thing is to really have an earnest conversation with your leaders.

1. Understand your leader's goals and passions

And understanding their drivers, their goals, and the value that they see in your workplace giving program, particularly as it relates to your culture.

So how do your leaders view it?

And I would say have multiple conversations with multiple leaders, because your leader in your tech organization might have a different view than the leader in your marketing organization, or perhaps the leader of [00:18:00] your HR organization is someone who is an active volunteer themselves so they might have a personal passion around this.

So I think really having those conversations to understand, what are some of their drivers, what are some of their goals, what are some of the organizational goals, perhaps, that are top of mind for them, or some of the organizational challenges that they're trying to solve for?

But I think really having an open and honest conversation with them around, what is the value that they see and what is the involvement that they potentially see for themselves as well.

2. Encourage your leaders to be an example

And then I think encouraging [00:18:30] them to participate, to really lead the way in some way, shape or form.

So whether that be in endorsing opportunities, whether that be participating in various events, whether that be in their communications.

But really just helping them to be the face of anything that you're wanting to do. And again, asking them how they want to get involved, what role do they see for themselves in this, I think is really important.

3. Create opportunities for your leaders to get involved

I think the third thing I would say is providing opportunities for your leaders, your management team, [00:19:00] and your employees to get involved as well.

So you perhaps could even do an opportunity just for your leaders to get out together, that could be the opportunity for them to do team building amongst your leadership team.

Or open it up, and then that could be the opportunity for some of your more junior employees to get some face time with your leaders as well, and perhaps start to build some of those mentorship relationships across the organization.

So really thinking about how this program is going to help them to achieve some business goals, but also thinking about how it perhaps [00:19:30] will help them to create some meaningful connections, which internal positively benefit the company, but really understanding their drivers is going to help you to engage them the most.

Karl Yeh:

I touched on that, and maybe this has a little bit indirectly connected to workplace giving campaigns, but I'm sure you remembered how Tim Cook mentioned how a lot of the Apple executives, their compensation or their bonuses, I can't remember which one, is tied to not necessarily the performance, the direct [00:20:00] performance of the company in terms of profit and growth, but more so on ESG.

Do you see this as a growing trend among brands going forward to really integrate goodness and CSR into their programs?

Integrate corporate purpose into businesses: Growing trend?

Janelle St. Omer:

Absolutely I do, because I think when CSR started, a lot of companies looked at it over here.

So you had a CSR team that was focused on activities and they would do things a few times a year, they would try to engage with various other [00:20:30] business lines and such.

But I think now that integration and really incorporating into the way that business is done period, is definitely where companies are going.

I think what we've seen is that companies who have higher ESG scores, those companies perform better, they're providing returns to their shareholders.

So I think more and more folks at the executive level understand the benefits to having a very strong CSR program.

And we tend to focus on the S in ESG, [00:21:00] around the social aspects of it, but I think that it absolutely matters.

And I think why companies like Apple are embedding into their leadership performance is, again, because you need that level of endorsement.

It is a change in employee behavior, employee understanding, even a change in the way of doing business.

And with change, you need leadership, because change takes time.

So I think when companies start to talk about it, they start to live it, they start to act like that it's just the way that they do business.

That's what we're going to see that change come from, and I think that's where things like [00:21:30] CSR and the concept of ESG or employee engagement or purpose, or any of the things that you want to call it, will start to become more embedded into the fabric of the organization.

Which will lead, ultimately, to organizational success in terms of the bottom lines of the business, higher returns, higher shareholder value, employee retention, employee performance, and even in employee health, in some cases.

Karl Yeh:

So Janelle, do you have anything else to add in terms of creating effective workplace giving campaigns and programs?

Janelle St. Omer:

I would just come back to that choice [00:22:00] piece. I think that can't be understated.

Really understanding that there's a great big world out there, we're living through technology in a borderless world.

Employees might have causes they're very passionate about that don't align at all to your pillars or to the bottom line of your business, but those organizations are so important to them.

And if you really want to get your people excited about your programs, providing them that space where they can bring their whole selves to work, they can bring forth their passions, they can support those [00:22:30] organizations all under the umbrella of your employee giving program, I think you'll see some really great success from that.

And I think the ability too for employees to share those passions with each other, with their colleagues.

So many companies now are starting to really take a look at everything that they do from a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging perspective, this openness, this employee choice, this spectrum, the range of opportunities and organizations, really does align quite well to the diversification of [00:23:00] your employee base.

Because everybody's different, they sit on different points along the spectrum, they have different interests, different passions, different backgrounds.

So if you think about it from that perspective, having that open choice available to your employees really does help you to meet some of those goals that you might have around your [inaudible 00:23:16] programs as well.

Karl Yeh:

And if you want to learn more about workplace giving, we've got a great playlist here, as well as this five-step series on how to create an effective CSR program, which you can see in this playlist here. Thank you very much for watching [00:23:30] and we'll catch you in our next episode.



Question of the day

How have you run your workplace giving campaigns and what strategies would you like to share? 

Connect with Janelle St. Omer on LinkedIn