It’s High Time for a New Employee Giving Experience

For people running employee giving and volunteering programs, one question looms largest: How do you get people to participate? 

In trying to answer this question ourselves, we realized something. It’s the wrong question. As important as participation is, that’s not what should guide employee giving programs. 

Because when you become hyper-focused on getting people to show up, you can lose focus on creating experiences they actually want to show up for. 

The problem is: when metrics around participation become the goal, they often take precedence over employees’ individual experiences. Employees start to feel like just a statistic and don’t have a sense of agency or ownership in the company’s CSR efforts. 

When we looked around, we noticed that many of the systems built to support employee giving have been misshapen by this skewed framework. Much of the technology creates a disjointed experience and doesn’t connect giving to an employee’s day-to-day work. So, we’ve decided to do something about it. 

That’s why we’re creating a new employee giving experience. The functionality we’re building into our software will help employees feel more connected and engaged, and improve their sense of purpose. It will also reduce the workload of the CSR and HR professionals responsible for running these programs. 

The first step is self-reflection 

Employees want to give. But many aren’t participating in workplace giving programs. According to a recent survey, 71% of employees say they want a culture supportive of giving and volunteering. But the latest CECP report shows a 19.4% participation rate for matching gift programs. 

This participation gap isn’t new. In 2018, CECP reported that participation in year-round employee giving programs was a measly 10%. 

The CSR and HR professionals responsible for employee giving are desperate to close this gap. They know that strong employee engagement in these programs is good for company culture, retention, and productivity. 

But zeroing in on participation has many program managers prodding people to get involved, rather than inviting them. It’s easy to understand the impulse when the stakes are so high. But trying to cajole or force people to participate can backfire in a big way. The pressure undermines employees’ natural desire to give

In turn, these programs, which were created to make employees feel more connected, have the opposite effect. Instead of feeling welcome to show up, employees feel called out. Their enthusiasm sours and they don’t participate. 

This dynamic creates a rough cycle, in which program managers perpetually don’t have the employee feedback and engagement they need to guide their strategy. Over time, the program drifts farther and farther away from what employees actually want.  

Instead of putting the onus on employees to participate, company leaders need to be more self reflective. It’s time to shift from “how can we get people to show up?” to “how can we create an experience employees want to show up for?” 

Employees crave a sense of connection

Employees want what everyone wants—a sense of connection. The feeling that their daily efforts are tied to a bigger purpose that aligns with their values.  

Most employers understand the need for connection. They create all kinds of employee programs specifically to achieve this goal—mentorship initiatives, wellness challenges, performance awards, tenure milestones, employee resource groups, volunteering opportunities, giving campaigns, and more.  

But when those programs aren’t linked to each other, employees don’t feel that sense of connection they crave. Instead, they feel these programs are scattered and disconnected. Or worse, pointless. They might get the impression that, within the company, the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing, and there’s no greater purpose. Engagement dips across all programs. 

If you want your employee engagement programs to be a source of connection, you need to create a cohesive experience for employees. One that’s tied to something meaningful. Because it’s impossible to feel connected on a deeper level if you feel frustrated, confused, or like you’re the one who has to hold all the pieces together.  

Employees need to feel like programs are naturally connected and all map to a deeper sense of purpose. They don’t want meaningless rewards or points. They want their daily efforts to make an impact that extends beyond the workplace. 

A great giving program takes the employee perspective

The root of many of the problems with corporate giving programs is a “check-the-box” mentality. Too often, the employee experience gets overlooked. 

To close the participation gap, program managers need to take on the employees’ point of view to understand what the opportunity feels like for them, where potential obstacles are, and how giving ties into their overall experience. 

We’re taking a fresh approach. We’re coming at employee giving from the employee perspective to help bring giving into the day-to-day. 

A move from “easy” to “effortless”

To boost participation, many companies focus on making giving and volunteering as easy as possible. That’s the right impulse. But we want to go beyond easy to make giving effortless. Giving should happen so naturally, it feels almost automatic.  

A straightforward, intuitive platform is the first step. Employees don’t want to chase down details or go through a long, drawn-out process to get involved. You need to make sure nothing stands in their way. 

But no matter how easy giving is, if the program isn’t tied to other workplace initiatives, it’s perpetually at risk of being shuffled behind other priorities at both a company and individual level. 

The key is integrating giving into an employee’s day-to-day life so that participation becomes automatic. Employees don’t have to go out of their way to get involved; from day one giving is a pillar of their employee experience and a natural part of their workflow.  

Giving becomes the common currency

At many companies, giving programs live on an island. They aren’t ingrained into the broader employee experience. But what if every employee reward program could incorporate a giving component?

This is the crux of how you connect giving to the broader employee experience. Instead of each program having its own set of rewards or incentives, giving becomes the common currency. Now, any initiative can include charitable giving as a reward, including:

  • Wellness challenges
  • Safety awards
  • Tenure milestones
  • Employee training
  • Kudos programs
  • Volunteer grants
  • ERG leadership

For example, if a warehouse team goes 100 days with no accident, perhaps each team member gets $10 to donate to a cause of their choice. Or, when a new hire completes their initial training on time, they could get $25 to donate. You can choose the goals and amounts that fit your company and employees.  

When you make giving the common currency across programs, you create a natural connection between employees’ day-to-day work and the causes dearest to them. Plus, their daily efforts have a real, tangible impact beyond their job. 

Each employee gets their own giving account 

Every employee should have their own impact wallet: a personal account where funds can be added through payroll deductions, one-time donations, or any employee program that includes a giving component. 

Employees can watch their wallet funds grow, and distribute it when and how they see fit. They can also access a private transaction log anytime (which is especially handy during tax season).

Offering this autonomy gives employees the power to decide whether they want to give smaller amounts throughout the year or save up to make one big donation to a single organization. They also have the ability to wait for company matching opportunities or specific community events. In short, employees have full control over their giving. 

Philanthropy gets personal

Giving should be personal. Everyone has causes that are close to their heart. Your giving program can empower them to deepen that commitment by letting them choose who they want to give to—whether they want to donate to organizations they know or find new ones. 

Every employee should have a personal dashboard where they can do everything, from setting up donations, viewing and signing up for volunteer opportunities, and connecting with ERGs. This dashboard can even suggest upcoming opportunities tailored to their location and preferences. Plus, with integrations, employees can access their dashboard from the digital spaces they already work within, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. 

Employees shouldn’t have to give on a company’s timeline. They ought to be able to give when they want and know their donations make an impact right away. If your CSR software batches donations and disburses them monthly or bimonthly, nonprofits will have to wait for that money. 

This delay is particularly bad for disaster response efforts. If employees are trying to get resources into communities with urgent needs, they don’t want their donations sitting in a holding pattern for weeks. Make sure to choose a solution that doesn’t add unnecessary delays. You don’t want the technology you use to make employees feel less empowered or further removed from the causes they care about. 

Companies show up

As much as employees want to give, they don’t want to feel like they’re the only ones doing their part. The company itself must put funds toward giving campaigns—whether that comes as matching donations, Dollars for Doers, community grants, or small charitable incentives. 

Many companies are already in the habit of pitching in resources. But because of software limitations, efforts tend to be piecemeal. Employees might hear about the company’s donations, but they don’t have direct control over them. 

Or, some incentive structures could be wasted with unredeemed gift cards or impersonal company swag that gets lost in the back of a closet. Now, those company contributions can funnel right into employees’ personal giving accounts. So employees can see the funds add up and use them how and when they choose. 

For companies, there’s an additional upside to attaching a giving component to other employee programs. It’s a tool to help meet company goals. Trying to get 100% of employees to complete their required training on time? Want to increase peer-to-peer feedback? Celebrate productivity? Tying small dollar amounts to specific achievements is a great way to inspire employees on a personal level, and to build clear bottom-line ROI into your giving program.  

When it all adds up, you’re creating a stronger company culture and deepening trust in your brand. 

Connect employees giving to deeper sense of purpose

These days, the existence of an employee giving program is not enough. You need to be intentional about how you create an experience that makes employees feel connected to the places they live, the people they work with, and the things they care about. That’s how you close the participation gap. 

Submittable’s CSR software can help you bring giving into the day-to-day, so everyone can feel more connected. If you’re looking for a partner to help you launch or revamp employee giving at your organization, get in touch. We’re here to help.

Laura Steele

Laura Steele is a social impact writer and editor at Submittable focused on the world of grantmaking and corporate giving. Her work often explores the connection between technology, equity, and social good. She also writes fiction and nonfiction. You can read some of her stories and essays at