Workplace Giving Data Problems Just Got Worse

Nonprofits everywhere are struggling to get their hands on reliable, useful workplace giving data from corporate giving programs. This has been a problem for a long time. And it is only getting worse. What’s going on?

It used to be a United Way problem

Who remembers the days of charities arguing with local United Ways over the donor data? “We own the workplace giving data,” was the typical United Way response to charities wanting to know more about the donors supporting them, “because they are United Way donors – our donors.”

“But we can’t serve those donors if we don’t know who they are,” was the point of charity frustration. “And if we don’t attend to donor needs and interests, we will lose them.”

A lot has changed. United Ways no longer dominate workplace giving. In fact, they are barely visible in many communities … replaced by a collection of service providers and technology vendors focused on the needs of the corporation and the employee. But that hasn’t solved any problems.

The problem is only getting worse

Usher out United Way. Usher in a dozen or so service companies targeting the workplace giving needs of companies. The result? Charities are more frustrated than ever. Too many sources of donor data to keep track of. Too many bad data management practices on the part of the service providers. And too much confusion over just what defines “workplace giving” today.

The problem is that everything related to corporate giving programs and workplace giving data has changed. Everything.

Our friends at AmeriGives help explain what is going on in two important blog posts. The first, 4 Reasons Workplace Giving is Key to Fundraising Success, makes an important point: don’t give up on the workplace no matter how difficult things are getting. We need the workplace.

The second blog, Why Mid-sized Businesses Need CSR, gives us a map of the problem. “Workplace giving” is actually yesterday’s news. Companies of all sizes have evolved the very idea of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to include employee engagement, cause marketing, and an ever-expanding idea of corporate citizenship that now includes sustainability programs.

Workplace giving is now part of something greater. We all need to understand that “something greater” in order to benefit from workplace giving.

The CSR Spectrum









We have borrowed the CSR Spectrum graphic from AmeriGives to bring home our point about the problem. Charities need to focus on the widest rim of the Spectrum – Corporate Citizenship. And as the graphic illustrates, the larger the circle, the greater the impact.

So, recapping the workplace giving data problem:

  • Charities have many more service vendors to deal with.
  • The very notion of what constitutes “workplace giving” has changed.
  • The data generated by the workplace has changed.
  • And most importantly, the underlying company needs have changed.

Put more succinctly, the entire landscape of traditional corporate programs has changed. Not “is changing”, but “has changed.”

What to do about it

Let’s start with 3 easy steps.

Step 1: To be beneficiary of the generosity of corporate America, we have got to recognize the new landscape. Your corporate sponsor is thinking about “CSR”, “corporate citizenship”, “sustainability”. If you are asking about “workplace giving”, you won’t connect. Your charity risks being overlooked, or worse, forgotten.

Step 2: Don’t think “corporate sponsor”. Think “corporate partner”. The term “partner” implies a relationship and shared responsibility for a positive outcome.

Step 3: Internally, charities need to re-org and re-focus to address the changes. This means changing everything from titles and departments to strategies and tactics to data needed and systems used for data capture. In other words, everything.

It’s like the old Kennedy quote:

Ask not what corporate partners can do for you; ask what you can do to help corporate partners achieve their CSR goals.


What about the data?

Data is important – critically important – to your future relationship with corporate America.

First, be prepared to provide it. To fulfill their CSR missions, to report to their stakeholders, companies need data. Here is just one example – a great example – of a corporate social responsibility report, just released by Allstate. There is invaluable information in there for any charity wanting to understand what companies are thinking about with regard to their communities. Read more than one, by the way. There is no consensus on the definition or limits of CSR or corporate citizenship. One corporate partner’s needs may differ from another’s.

Second, recognize that the data you want from corporate partners and their programs is no longer limited to traditional workplace giving data – name, address, email, amount of gift, date of gift. If that is all you are getting, you are missing the point. Charities will need to engage with companies and their employees in many ways – volunteer projects, sustainability programs, education, health screenings, and so much more – not just through gifts.

Third, all that engagement represents opportunities to establish relationships, not obtain gifts. Think about that. If your charity is participating in a volunteer project with a company and your focus is to get a donation, you’ve missed the boat. You need relationships – and relationships are defined by data.

Closing thought

Data is the only way that the organization knows the donor.

People know people. But orgs know data. Without it, your organization is lost … like a ship at sea with neither a map or stars to guide it. With data, you can chart a clear course to success – and the future can be very bright.

About Gary Carr

Gary is the founder and president of Third Sector Labs. With more than 20 years of experience delivering software and data solutions to a wide variety of clients, Gary turned his attention to the overwhelming problem of data. Third Sector Labs is committed to making sense of data for the nonprofit industry.

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