Workplace giving – Technical support in works

By Todd Cohen

America’s Charities, a federation of 100 charities that raises $20 million a year in the workplace, is developing a Web-based system to let employers run their own campaigns and promote employee giving and volunteering.

The group, based in Chantilly, Va., also is talking with other federations and charities about creating a national workplace-giving resource center to provide services and technical support for employers and charities.

The two initiatives aim to meet the needs of companies that promote philanthropy as a business strategy but are not in the business of raising and processing charitable funds, says Steve Delfin, a member of America’s Charities’ board and director of community relations for Booz-Allen & Hamilton, the management consulting firm in McLean, Va.

“Companies that are really integrating and looking at workplace philanthropy strategically are looking at how it fits into their broader employee relations and community relations efforts,” he says.

Booz-Allen developed PledgeFirst, a Web-based system that America’s Charities is piloting at five to 10 companies. Overall, the federation participates in more than 230 workplace campaigns involving 10 million employees.

Employers can customize the new system with their own logo and material, and include whichever charities they choose.

The system is designed to help companies more efficiently deduct employees’ donations from their paychecks, and can process contributions made using cash, check or credit card.

The system tracks data on employee giving and volunteering that the company can use to make matching gifts, and features news and information on charities in the workplace campaign.

It also gives campaign administrators current data and reports on overall contributions, employee participation rates and donations to designated charities.

“It’s a year-round model that employers can use to communicate with employees” and provide regular information about charities and volunteering, says Don Sodo, president and CEO of America’s Charities.

America’s Charities either will provide the system at no cost to employers and deduct $5 per donor plus 25 cents per employee from proceeds it distributes to charities or, if an employer opts to pay those costs for the system, America’s Charities will distribute 100 percent of all employee gifts.

By comparison, Sodo says, the cost of commercial Web-based workplace-giving systems typically ranges from $25,000 to $200,000. United Way, the traditional fiscal agent for workplace campaigns, typically keeps 10 percent to 15 percent of employee gifts to cover its costs.

An informal group of corporate executives advised America’s Charities on development of the new product, which is designed to be revenue-neutral and tap the federation’s nonprofit experience.

“The idea is to help companies streamline and make more efficient their fiscal process, thereby maximizing the passthrough of charitable dollars,” says Delfin of America’s Charities’ board and Booz-Allen.

The consulting firm plans to phase in PledgeFirst at its internal Web site that features content about philanthropy and volunteerism, initially testing the product among 2,500 employees before making it available to all 11,000 employees.

America’s Charities also is talking with other fundraising federations and charities about creating a nonprofit center to provide direct services, research and technical support on workplace giving for companies and nonprofits, Sodo says.

The center, for example, might offer companies and federations centralized fiscal services such as tracking donations and employee participation designed to reduce duplication and costs.

It also would conduct research on issues such as best practices in workplace-giving and matching gifts, and provide assistance with campaign communications and evaluation.

“We’re looking at partnering with some other folks to make something like that happen,” Sodo says. “We think this would be a service to the sector as a whole.”

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