Annual or Year Round Giving Programs – Is One Better than the Other?

Many companies are in the midst of their annual workplace giving campaigns. I applaud each of you for your commitment and desire to engage employees and give back in some way to your communities. These annual programs hope to motivate employees to make a financial contribution to a nonprofit.

This type of a workplace giving program has been the standard model for decades and frankly has been shown to be successful. As recently as 2013, 75% of the companies that offered a workplace giving program said they conducted it in the fall with specific dates often ranging from a couple of weeks to a month. Thousands of nonprofits have benefited from these annual workplace giving programs.

In the last five years however, giving at the workplace has evolved from a once a year campaign based on payroll contributions to an open and ongoing opportunity for employees to give to charities several times a year through special fundraisers, events, or mini-campaigns. In 2015, it was estimated that more than 60% of companies now have an open giving program where employees have multiple opportunities to give to charities throughout the year.

I’m often asked the question – which is the better model? In other words, they are asking me to tell them which is better, an annual campaign or having multiple campaigns throughout the year?

Intuitively, it makes sense to me that a year-round giving program offers many benefits. We know that donor generosity isn’t limited to a once a year effort, and with the arrivals of the millennials in the workforce, we know they prefer to give when and as often as they want. A year round program of giving opportunities gives them multiple times to engage. Also, a once a year program misses those who join the company immediately following the annual campaign.

Workplace giving Good Done Great

While asking which is a better model is a fair question, I think it is the wrong question to be asking. A better question is: regardless of the time of year, what makes for a successful employee giving program?

So rather than give you one campaign model as a recommendation, I’ll focus on the key elements of a successful campaign. The most important element is to create and implement the campaign model that best reflects your company’s culture and meets the needs of your diverse workforce.

More important than timing is whether employees are engaged, whether it includes charities and/or causes that are relevant, whether you are motivating employees to participate, and whether it is fun. In addition, it needs to be easy and convenient.

The elements of a successful annual and year round program are the same. Any good fundraiser will tell you, if you don’t have a good story, if you don’t communicate that story effectively, and if leadership doesn’t get behind the campaign, then you will not succeed.

I think the success of the annual campaign is based on several key factors including strong leadership, marketing, employee engagement, and where technology is used as a tool rather than the driver.  Those factors are transferrable and can just as easily be implemented in a fundraiser or mini-campaign that is conducted at any time.

Giving needs to be engaging and event driven and employee focused around their favorite causes or themes. Some companies build a fundraising campaign around a specific event or month such as Breast Cancer Awareness month, Gay Pride month, Earth Day, or when there is a natural disaster like the recent hurricanes and flooding.

Mini-campaigns should be relatively short. Perhaps anywhere from 1-3 weeks. These campaigns must be engaging for employees. Focus on the fun aspects, but don’t forget to ask for a contribution. Providing a company match of contributions is a great incentive to get employees to participate.

Employee giving programs have proven to be effective in raising money but also in creating a positive environment at the workplace. There are many benefits to be had by taking time to create an effective giving and volunteering program that happens throughout the year. Let the tradition continue and evolve and reap those benefits.