Why Many WPG Programs Miss the Mark: The Top 5 Things That Get in The Way of Your Program’s Success

September 21, 2015

Originally posted on and written for the Charities@Work Blog Series.

There is a very good reason why the corporate giving landscape is replete with companies re-examining their workplace giving program strategy, design, technology and providers: quite simply, they want to drive more successful outcomes.

We and others have talked a lot about how a starting point for improvement of programs is the recognition of a broader notion of employee and stakeholder engagement: one that goes beyond mere fundraising or grantmaking-based goals. Let’s take this point as a given (or for more on some of the empirical evidence, check out our most recent blog post).

If your workplace giving program isn't yielding the business and social outcomes that you aspire to (which should include raising your profile in the company and attracting more budget!), it is very likely that one or more of the following issues are getting in the way. These are intentionally macro issues (rather than program features or approaches); though we’ll get to the more granular stuff in a subsequent post - or come to thecharities@work conference!

These hurdles are really just opportunities looking for a bit of go-getter-ness and an appetite for change.

1. The Nature of Your Platform
Is your program fettered by the nature of the platform or provider that powers it? If you are dissatisfied with your workplace giving software, the user experience, the amount of effort required for fairly flat take-up rates, imagine what your employees think!? If you want broad participation in today’s uber-connected, web savvy world, you need to pay attention to the user experience, advancements in technology and the way those two can impact your strategy, design and outcomes. We live in a web-centric, highly visual, one or two click world. With a litany of personal experiences using technology in everyday life, the modern tech-savvy employee already has an idea of how he or she should be able to conduct their giving business at work. Software needs to be EASY, visually appealing and have a compelling user experience… if not, people won’t play. It also needs to free program managers and administrators from glorified digital pledge forms and the long odds that “drinking from a fire hose” of thousands of volunteering opportunities, will produce events and opportunities that align…

When programs and platforms are empowering, intuitive and thoughtful, you’ll be amazed at how much of the heavy lifting an engaged community will do for you!

2. Empowered Choice (or rather lack thereof…)
This is a concept that is so accepted it seems worn to discuss it, but there are still many programs that don’t deliver it, either because they are charity-run or because of item number 1 above (or both!). Enabling broad user choice while still creating bias toward corporate sponsored causes is often difficult to execute due to the burden of administration that comes with it. Do you want to connect with your people on issues that matter to them? Match their gifts broadly at one rate. Want them to donate to your featured or brand-aligned causes and pillars? Feature and match them more prominently. This is not just good CSR/CI thinking around the way to create more evangelists under your brand, it’s basic web conversion theory: if I know that the cause I am passionate about cannot benefit from a matching gift or D4D grant in your system, the likelihood of getting me to use it is very low. If I never go in, the chance of you converting me to donate my time, money or talent to your corporate aligned programs is therefore zero.

Also, think about the once-a-year charity-run delivery model. If broad engagement is your goal, you will have to move beyond it (not necessarily supplant it). People today – especially younger employees – don’t want someone else to decide where their money goes. If you want to capture more of your employees’ charitable activity, you need to broaden your program’s commitment to choice, flexibility, convenience and creativity.

3. Program Design & Execution
The diversity of the workforce requires different strategies for the various segments of an increasingly broad demographic, so it is not surprising that some of the conventional approaches are losing uptake.

Are you reaching your target audience with relevant, resonant content no matter who and where they are? How you execute your giving program should be as creative and diverse as the people you are hoping to connect with. Participation should be passionate, unforced and yes, even inspiring! Ironically, many well intended programs put so much emphasis on arm-twisting to hit a targeted donation number or have such cumbersome processes that they turn something that is supposed to be an aspiration into something that generates ambivalence (if not animosity) at the employee level.

Happily for society, there are many people that will participate in a program no matter how clunky or narrow. The key is to try to get at the other 90% of the population that is webby, empowered, time constrained and may have more of a WIFM orientation. Some may need a tool that is super-easy to use; others may want status, preferential access, power or tangible rewards such as differential Matching or Dollars for Doers. Your giving program is about engaging your people; let your employees connect with it in a way that makes it their own.

4. Cultural Commitment
Businesses are increasingly realizing the potential impact of differentiating themselves through ‘outbehaving’ their competitors, but recognize (or should!) that it cannot be lip service. The opportunity to connect with employees emotively around issues and causes that matter to them can create more loyalty and engagement than a tweak to their benefits plan, but it needs to be supported by management. You’ve got to walk-the-talk, be creative, flexible and try new things! Your people have greater expectations than ever before about the "how", not just the "what" of weaving social responsibility, sustainability and community investment into the culture of what you do.

Too many companies still have a marketing orientation around corporate and workplace giving. They’ll donate a bunch of money to a handful of charities and spend a ton of money advertising what they’ve done in hopes that it will resonate with their employees, customers and brand. And the data shows that it doesn’t work…

Remember: it is far more powerful to deploy your funds to foster a broad, horizontal passion for fishing than to (merely) hand out fish! If senior management doesn’t understand the potential business impact of a wildly successful workplace giving program, let us at ‘em!

5. A Willingness to Effect Change
Getting back to item number 1, even the best technology platform in the world (ahem, say Benevity’s for instance ;) ) is only part of the improvement formula. We talk about it as being necessary, but not sufficient to drive better outcomes. The fact is, switching to an easy-to-use, more compelling solution will improve some of the metrics that matter to you, but if you’re just looking for a shinier version of your current program, you will not see order of magnitude improvements. You have to be willing to explore changing the status quo, recognizing that it may be a process.

Creating giving programs that derive real value for businesses, their people and the benefiting charities seems tough, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. When done with creativity, passion, automation and a sophisticated platform, it creates a bona fide win-win-win that can truly affect cultural engagement, cultural commitment and social and business ROI.

So thank you for our time on the soapbox…This isn’t about good or bad, right or wrong. It’s really about identifying what is changing and trying to evolve with it. It’s a pretty exciting time to be you!

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Nicole Campbell (Benevity User Conference, 2016)
Nicole Campbell (Benevity User Conference, 2016)

Last month in San Diego, business leaders from the U.S. and Canada gathered at Benevity's Goodness Matters ...

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Webinar Reflections | Key Strategies for Building Engagement in your Workplace Giving Program
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