Down With Thresholds!

August 26, 2013 benevity


A laser-like focus on generating greater impacts, the drive for higher employee engagement and improved technology mean its time for a rethink on approaches to Dollars for Doers and volunteer grant programs.

Many giving and volunteering programs were originally developed to have, and still maintain, threshold levels where employees must volunteer for a minimum number of hours (often between 20 to 50 hours) before they receive a grant (that typically must be given to the organization that they volunteered with).  Although this seems like a good idea to reduce admin, leverage scarce budget, and focus on employees that are really committed, thresholds like this can actually hamper employee participation and engagement – two of the very key goals your program is trying to achieve!  Find out why and what to do about it…

The Way We Were: The Threshold Tradition

Thresholds in Dollars for Doers programs are standard and traditional. The idea that employees reach a threshold limit of hours before the company kicks in a reward seems intuitive, since employees earn the company’s contribution, and worked well for many years mainly because it was manageable for corporations to implement. In an era where tracking and reporting on volunteer hours, administering the associated rewards and distributing the funds to the charitable organizations was largely manual and fell to employees and program administrators to undertake, thresholds made sense. (But hey, let’s not forget this was also an era that started when large shoulder pads, leg warmers and hair scrunchies shined as well). It’s also important to remember that employee engagement didn’t figure as largely in the goals and outcomes for most corporate social good programs.

The Trouble With Thresholds

For context, let’s make sure everyone agrees that it’s okay (read desirable) for a company’s giving and volunteering program to not only deliver social impact, but also to help provide more meaning and engagement for the participants around their employment. In an environment where 70% of employees are either not engaged (50%) or actively disengaged (20%) with their employer, this has tremendous potential impact for businesses, as well.  For further context, one of the most common complaints we hear from program admins is that “people are volunteering but don’t track their time”…

So if you even have a D4D program, good on you.  At least you’re giving people a theoretical reason to track their time. The challenge with thresholds is that it’s easy to see how they can thwart employee participation and engagement, which can, sadly, negatively impact your program’s success.  

Here’s how:  Virtually every employee within your company has a cause that he or she is passionate or at least cares about.  We also know that the majority of adults do volunteer in their communities, so a great number of your employees do participate in volunteering throughout the course of a year.  This is great because it means you have an opportunity to both engage the majority of your employees through helping them give their time to a cause that they care about, and an opportunity for most of your employees to be brand ambassadors in the community.   Yet typical participation rates in Dollars for Doers programs are often less than 10%.  We think thresholds are part of the problem.  Consider the many reasons why employees may not be able to log 20 or 50 hours of volunteer time:  maybe they are single parents, maybe they are looking after an ailing family member, maybe they are pursuing further education at night, maybe they are going through a tough time personally, like a divorce.  Even though employees in these situations may not be able to reach the threshold, they may be able to give 5 or 10 hours of their time and they may be very, very passionate about the causes they support.  Yet they likely won’t participate in your program at all because of the hours threshold requirements.  

Thresholds unintentionally filter out employees with time constraints (who are not necessarily cause-passion constrained!) and inadvertently make your program non-inclusive.  The end result can be lower than desired employee participation rates, a huge missed opportunity to engage employees and a lower social impact since these employees are not self-identifying and their volunteer hours are going into the ether. 

The Way Forward: Inclusivity and Flexibility

So how to move past “that’s the way we’ve always done it” and into “here’s the way we ought to do it”?  The good news is that technology is your friend on this front.  

New technology solutions for delivering corporate volunteering programs (yes, like Benevity’s) make it possible (and easy!) to create, track and reward employee volunteering hours for your Dollars for Doers programs differently and flexibly.  It’s now possible to roll out inclusive programs where incremental volunteer hours can be tracked, rewarded and funds electronically distributed to charities.  It’s now possible to provide flexibility to employees around the rate and caps on which they are rewarded, where they direct the reward, the use of a threshold to drive better benefits, rather than earning inclusion, etc.  Instead of a threshold, reduce the hourly contribution rate and let people earn their reward from the get-go.  We guarantee you will see more hours being tracked and yes, you may have to manage your budget differently but it will be inclusive, rather than exclusive.  

As another example, think about this: an employee who is passionate about autism (but not necessarily homelessness) may participate in corporate sponsored volunteer opportunities with homeless agencies throughout the year because they can earn up to a $250 D4D reward but direct it to their autism charity.  They participate with the T-shirt on where they might not, the shelter gets the volunteer assistance it wants, the autism charity gets what it needs (i.e. more dough for research) and your employee feels like you’ve got the greatest program on Earth!   

It’s now possible (if not imperative) to roll out Dollars for Doers programs that have the potential to meet the needs and tap into the passions of more of your employees so that, overall, you can realize greater impacts.  And isn’t that what corporate volunteering is all about? 


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