Employers’ Charitable Programs Need to Engage Millennials

By Kathy Gurchiek May 1, 2013
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Filling out an annual charitable pledge card in the workplace doesn’t cut it for Millennials, who are challenging long-held ideas about workplace giving programs. This workforce of 80 million, born between 1982 and 2001, has “vastly different expectations of the workplace” that extend to employer-sponsored philanthropy, said Marcia Bullard, chairwoman of America’s Charities board of directors.

America’s Charities is a coalition of charitable organizations that work with employer-sponsored giving campaigns. It held a panel discussion, “Trends and Strategies to Engage Employees in Greater Giving,” in Washington, D.C., on April 24, focused on its 2013 research.

The average employee participation rate in company-sponsored programs was 33 percent in 2012, down from 41 percent in 2006, according to the group’s 2012 survey, conducted with 100 U.S. employers.

Businesses can do “significantly more to foster” employee philanthropic involvement, according to the findings, such as supporting individual donor activities and empowering employees to participate in charitable giving inside and outside of the workplace.

“Young people really want to feel good about where they work and how their work is more than just making money,” noted panel member Tom Watson, president of CauseWired.

Survey respondents said workers expect the following of employers that sponsor charitable campaigns:

  • Employers matching employee contributions.
  • Supporting and encouraging employee participation.
  • Promoting and sponsoring volunteer opportunities.
  • Providing opportunities for employees to give throughout the year to any charity.
  • Making time for employees to volunteer during the workday.
  • Encouraging teams of employees to volunteer.
  • Offering financial grants to the favorite charities of employees who do volunteer service.
  • *Sponsoring volunteer projects that allow employees to participate with colleagues.

Some employers are using these tactics: 93 percent of survey respondents in 2012 said they let employees choose which charities they contribute to during annual campaigns, and 63 percent match payroll contributions.

Engaging Millennials

One issue for employers, said panel member Marc Johnson of APCO Worldwide, is that Millennials are microfocused on philanthropic programs. An organization whose charitable focus is eradicating hunger, for example, likely concentrates its donations on areas of the world where the problem is most prevalent.

A Millennial, however, will ask his or her employer what the company can do to help hungry children he or she may be working with as a volunteer outside of work.

“At the end of the day, they want to take these issues on the micro level and make changes as best they can,” Johnson said.

They’re all about collaboration and want to be part of the decision-making, he added. Use this generation’s digital skills to see how the employer brand is viewed and to build relationships directly with donors.

Technology and digital culture are transforming the employee-giving experience, he noted, pointing out that this tech-savvy generation “can post these campaigns on the fly” and incorporatecrowdfunding.

“We have these people who are good at building connections and elevating issues on a regular basis,” Johnson said.

Empowering employees to participate in the giving experience inside and outside of the workplace walls is another trend the survey identified.

“Giving them access to some of the power structure … is the best way to engage these employees,” he said. “If you engage them, they will radically change the way you attack community relations and cause marketing,” he said, pointing to recent presidential campaigns. “It’s on employers to change the way they democratize these campaigns.”

He urged employers to find ways to bring structure to charitable campaigns that allow “collaboration between [those holding] the purse strings and those running the program.”

Heather Lofkin Wright, national director of community services at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), highlighted the Points of Light Foundation’s annual conference and Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship as resources for businesses looking for best practices. One strategy she is introducing at PWC is a mash-up of Facebook and Evite, in which employees invite co-workers to volunteer on a project for a charitable group.

Millennials are entering the workplace fully aware of their value, and they want opportunities to display it, she noted. She recommends that employers provide opportunities for them to run a volunteer project or demonstrate leadership through volunteerism.

Millennials also seek employers that share their values.

“We can’t assume because we have them today, we have their loyalty long term,” she said. To retain these workers, employers will need to incorporate strategies “that makes them feel really a part of [your] culture.”

Panelist George Weiner, founder and CEO of WholeWhale.com, acknowledged the uneasiness employers will feel in giving up some control to employees but urged them to take that step.

“These are long-term investments; you can’t expect results right away. Just because something’s not catching on immediately doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. You don’t have to throw away everything you knew. You can start to take baby steps … that align with your strategy and [incorporate] these trends.”

Related Article:

Online Tools Give Giving a Boost, HR Magazine, December 2012

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