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Empower Employees: Let Them Choose How to Give Back

Empower Employees: Let Them Choose How to Give Back

It’s okay to let go and let your employees give how and where they choose. Here's why your giving program — and your employees, company, and community — will be better off for having an open program. Philanthropy Cloud is built on a simple idea: give employees an easy way to give back through their workplaces to the causes they care about. And just as they do in other aspects of their lives, employees want choices. The research is clear. They expect their workplace giving and volunteering programs to let them connect with the organizations they care about most. In fact, many companies run very successful “open” programs that do exactly this while also encouraging employees to participate in specific giving and volunteering opportunities that align with the company’s social mission.

The benefits of an open giving and volunteering program

We’ve found the benefits of open programs far outweigh the risks — and so have many of our customers. Kate Banting, Marketing and Social Impact Manager of Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Toronto, said, “We believe in the freedom of choice and that employees should follow their passion. And we’ve been pushing to be more open. This year, for the first time, we branded our campaign as a giving campaign.” (Traditionally, BCG would name the campaign after the nonprofit for which they were raising funds.) 

Banting believes an open campaign drove increased engagement. “People loved that we included any donation in this year’s campaign. We even had people send their receipts in for donations they made outside the platform. They wanted to make sure their donations counted toward our campaign.”

Open programs provide a framework that embraces employees’ passions and interests. This, in turn, increases employee buy-in and engagement. A bottom-up approach also enriches your program. Employees will naturally feel more connected to their causes and more inspired to involve others — especially in volunteer activities. 

Addressing concerns about open programs

We know there are still concerns about the perceived risks of running open programs. Here’s a look at some of them.

Concern #1: How can we be sure employees are giving to “good” nonprofits?

Due diligence in vetting nonprofits is a valid concern. No one wants to be affiliated with a nonprofit engaged in unethical or unlawful conduct. There are trusted third parties that vet and rate nonprofit organizations to increase transparency about exactly where donations go and how they’re spent. With Philanthropy Cloud, for example, only organizations vetted by GuideStar are available for employee giving. 

Concern #2: What if our employees donate to causes we don’t agree with? How do we ensure their donations don’t tarnish our brand?

501(c)(3) nonprofits are expressly forbidden from engaging in any partisan politics or electoral activity. Unfortunately, many of our toughest challenges as a society — global warming, education, healthcare, inequality, etc. — can also be divisive. Although many companies avoid being associated with causes they perceive as controversial, the reality is your employees are already donating to “controversial” nonprofits. Employee donations that come through a workplace giving platform don’t add any legal or brand risk for companies. That’s because individual employee contributions made through a company-purchased workplace platform are not publicized as such. In fact, they’re not publicized at all! Employee contributions are private. Only the employee, the recipient organization, and payment processor are privy to who gave what to whom. 

Also, individual employee donations do not equate to company support. Today’s employees want choice, and companies don’t get blamed for offering it to them.  Instead of locking down your employee giving platform, look for other ways to demonstrate your company values. The best way to show where you stand as a company is to start company-led, giving initiatives that align with your values and mission. Then work with your marketing team to drive engagement and get the word out about the positive impact the company is making.

Concern #3: Our company has a matching gifts program. How do we ensure we’re not giving our corporate matching funds to organizations we don’t support?

Providing an open platform means letting your employees give their money to the causes of their choice. But matching dollars are not employee dollars — they’re corporate dollars. That means you may wish to exercise more control over where they go, either to avoid risk or to align your matching dollars with your company’s strategic giving priorities.  

BCG in Canada, for instance, prides itself on matching funds to specific challenges. The company focuses on improving the lives in the communities in which they live and work, as well as disease prevention institutions. So although individuals can donate to any Canadian registered charity through the platform and campaign, the firm matches donations only to those organizations that meet specific criteria. Employees can check whether their donation can be matched — and in most cases, it can, thereby doubling the impact.

A fine line indeed, but one employees understand and accept once it has been explained. Exercising some control over which gifts and nonprofits are eligible for corporate matching funds is definitely compatible with the idea of an “open” employee giving and volunteering program. Just be sure to post the company’s matching guidelines where everyone can easily find them.

The Philanthropy Cloud team is in the process of building matching gifts functionality. Companies will be able to specify the business rules for their specific matching programs, including the ability to specify which nonprofits are eligible for matching funds. (Stay tuned for more information later this year.)

Bottom line: it’s okay to let go and let your employees give how and where they choose. Your giving program — and your employees, company, and community — will be better off for it. Your company will get to claim giving that it had not been able to before. And if you provide a simple, easy way to donate or volunteer without limits, your employees will give more time and money overall. This benefits them, your company, and — most important — your community. Philanthropy Cloud brings choice directly to employees, complete with vetted 501(c)3 organizations. Download our datasheet to learn more.


Jon Stahl

Jon is Senior Director of Product Management for Philanthropy Cloud, where he is responsible for bringing to life our vision to connect people and the causes they love. Jon joined in 2016, and has over twenty years of experience at the intersection of technology, philanthropy, and nonprofits. He holds a Masters in Public Administration from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, and a B.A. in Political Science from Williams College.

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