It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out: raising employee awareness of a company’s corporate philanthropy programs is key to greater employee participation and program success. But it goes beyond that. Research has amply demonstrated that well-run corporate philanthropy programs – with enthusiastic executive support and participation, well-planned internal communications and employee recognitions and awards – boost employee participation rates, deliver a host of strategic benefits to corporations and boost aid to receiving non-profits.

So if your company is serious about leveraging corporate philanthropy as a strategic asset and wants to accrue the many proven benefits of workplace giving, make sure philanthropy program managers:

#1 Do all they can to communicate workplace giving programs to employees at every touch point – in person, through corporate blogs and across your website.

#2 Facilitate the ease with which employees can participate in giving programs by leveraging technology and your corporate intranet.

#3 Publicize the positive impact that employee participation has on your company’s contributions to meaningful causes through success reports, employee recognition and awards.

Here’s why: A blog by Double the Donation (based on data from The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Corporate Giving Survey) sheds light on what drives workplace giving and employee participation at America’s biggest companies. The blog reports that employee requests for Matching Gifts – where the employer matches a certain percentage of the employee’s contribution to a qualified non-profit – varied widely from company to company. On the face of it, one would expect employees to enthusiastically tap into their companies’ matching gifts programs to boost contributions to the charities employees chose to give to, such as their local churches and communities, but data tells us otherwise.

As the blog reports, within the same industry, employee participation rates vary widely for Matching Gift programs. While one of America’s top banks had a participation rate of just 11%, its rival had a participation rate of 70%. Or, where Microsoft had a Matching Gifts participation rate of 65%, other large technology companies had participation rates in the low single digits.

So why do participation rates vary so widely when so many companies offer Matching Gifts programs?

The answer lies in how well these programs are communicated or publicized within the company. Often times, even in America’s largest companies, employees are simply unaware that their companies offer Matching Gift programs. So Microsoft’s solid 65% participation rate clearly reflects better-than-average internal publicity of the company’s Matching Gifts program, and likely reflects the ease with which employees can submit matching requests and get their company to match contributions.

In hindsight, Microsoft’s high participation rate isn’t surprising given its technology roots and employee savviness in using online systems through the company’s intranet to easily request a match. So, in addition to internal communications, user adoption along with some propensity towards technology probably also influences program success, with participation likely lower where Matching Gift requests need to be filled out via paper forms and hand-delivered to program administrators.

In addition to better communication and ease of participation, the third component of every program’s long-term success is repeatability – which comes from giving employees a good first-time participation experience, showcasing program value, and getting them to come back for continued year-round participation. And a good way to achieve this repeatability is by putting together and publicizing success and impact stories, and recognizing, rewarding and thanking employees for making the program an ongoing success, so they feel good about workplace giving programs and look forward to future events.

In a nutshell, make sure your program focuses on communications, ease of use and employee recognition for long-term program success, improved employee engagement and strategic advantages that accrue from well-run giving programs.

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