Open-Choice Giving: How to Empower Employees to Make a Difference

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs should fulfill two core objectives: improving conditions for the community and empowering their employees. Yet too often, programs fall short on the latter.

Open-choice giving is a type of workplace giving program where organizations allow employees to direct their charitable contributions to causes that resonate with their own values and personal experiences. Implementing an open-choice giving program can boost participation by giving employees more of a voice and stake in the company’s CSR strategy.

Everyone wants to feel like their work matters. In today’s world, where employees often struggle to feel valued in the workplace, corporate giving programs are one way to provide a sense of meaning. Open-choice giving is one strategy that organizations are implementing to make their giving programs more employee-centric and meaningful.

Workplace giving programs create a virtuous cycle

Workplace giving programs serve as a powerful catalyst for employee participation in corporate philanthropy because they create a cycle of giving that benefits employees, company, and community equally. 

Employee giving programs typically provide multiple options for employees to contribute either money, goods, or time towards a cause. Some examples of workplace giving programs include:

  • Monetary donations to nonprofits, taken directly from payroll deductions
  • Contributions of goods or services (e.g., a toy drive)
  • Volunteer programs organized during work hours, (aka volunteer time off, or VTO)

Workers not only want to work for companies that offer these opportunities; they demand it. According to research by America’s Charities, 71% of employees say that it’s either “imperative” or “very important” that their workplace’s culture supports giving and volunteering. 

In addition to nurturing a company culture of doing good, workplace giving programs foster a sense of purpose and connection. Employees feel like the impact of their work truly extends beyond their office walls, tying together what they’re doing for the company with what they’re doing for their community. This feeling spurs increased employee engagement, since employees are more likely to feel like their contributions–whether to the company or their community–are making a difference. 

When employees are able to contribute through their workplace, they can feel more fulfilled and aligned with their organization’s values. These employees are also less likely to quit, as the company is providing the giving and volunteering opportunities that they want. It costs more to replace an employee than to retain them, so you can calculate the ROI of workplace giving programs accordingly. 

The problem is that too often, employees don’t feel empowered through workplace giving programs. Workplace giving is often treated as a simple transactional approach: company receives $X from employees and puts that amount towards Y outcomes, determined by leadership. However, this top-down style of decision-making can discourage employee participation because it removes employee autonomy from the equation.

Instead, companies need to treat employees as stakeholders in their workplace giving programs and treat CSR efforts as a conversation between all parties. Open-choice giving is one way to provide space for that much-needed conversation between employer and employees, and take workplace giving from transactional to transformative.

Open-choice giving gives employees agency

Open-choice giving lets employees decide where and how they want to donate their time or money. The company simply serves as the facilitator for that giving effort.

Open-choice giving amplifies employees’ voices, turning employees into active stakeholders in your CSR programs. In doing so, employees gain a sense of ownership and pride in their individual contributions going towards causes that matter to them personally. This transforms CSR from a company directive into an employee-driven initiative to which the company is providing resources and support. 

Employee choice matters. Employees are more likely to participate in open-choice giving programs and to give more, on average. According to the Giving in Numbers 2022 report, the employee participation rate for “open choice” matching gift programs was 21% vs. 16% for limited-choice giving programs. Yet open-choice giving programs raised more than twice as much, with a median dollar total of $2.06M vs. $.95M.

Open-choice giving doesn’t need to take the form of money, either. Especially during hard economic times where people might not be able to spare the funds, you can give employees the chance to participate in other meaningful ways. 

For example, you can run a clothing or food drive where employees choose which organization to donate the goods to. You could also sponsor company-paid volunteer time off for employees to volunteer at any organization that aligns with their values. Not limiting open-choice giving to cold hard cash gives employees the flexibility they need to feel like they can still make a difference towards causes they care about.

Matched giving makes you more than a facilitator 

Employees don’t want to feel like the entire burden for workplace giving programs falls on them. They want their employers to do their part, too. Matched giving is one way that employers can demonstrate their commitment to their employees and that causes that they care about–putting your money where your mouth is.

Matching donations amplifies the impact of employee choice, creating a multiplier effect. It also serves as an incentive for employees to participate, in order to increase the total value of their contribution. According to the Big Give, 84% of employees who donated through their workplace said they felt more likely to give if matching was offered. That same survey found that on average, matched gifts were higher than unmatched ones, and that one in three donors said they gave more specifically because of employer matching. 

Matched giving creates collective responsibility, where company and employee commit to drive positive change together. As noted by Patricia Toothman, social impact manager at Splunk, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

As Sam Caplan, VP of Social Impact at Submittable says, “Engaging employees is important because of one simple truth: Social impact is a collective effort. It’s not about any one single person or leader. The power of the work is in what everyone can accomplish together.”

Matched giving is one way to keep the collective ball rolling by building trust and rapport with employees. You’re supporting employees’ choices instead of them needing to support yours. 

Your employees aren’t a monolith. Open-choice giving lets them express the vibrant spectrum of their lived experiences. Through company matching, you validate your employees’ experiences and passions by directing company resources to the causes they support.

Still, open-choice giving can be a dramatic change from the way organizations have always done things. Here are some tips for how to make open-choice giving work for your company.

Tip #1: Gain employee buy-in through transparent communication

Employees will be more likely to participate in your open-choice giving program if they understand why and how it works. To that end, transparency is key. 

“The future of CSR hinges on transparency and accountability,” Sam Caplan says. “Social impact professionals need to think about how to build and maintain trust with employees and the community.”

Be explicit about why you’re doing open-choice giving. Articulate the ethos of the program, so they know how open-choice fits into that vision. Explain how open-choice giving aligns with the overall corporate purpose and values of your organization and its CSR program. Centralize all information on your workplace giving programs in one visible, accessible location—such as a page in your company wiki or knowledge base. 

Emphasize the role that each employee plays as part of your open-choice giving strategy, and the positive impact each individual can have on their communities. Make sure to communicate that impact before and after implementing your giving programs. Employees need to understand the influence their contributions have after the fact as well. 

Establish channels for employees to communicate and provide feedback on your CSR programs. For example, set up a Slack or Teams channel dedicated to discussing your employee giving programs. By doing so, you demonstrate that employees’ opinions truly matter—not just in terms of where their money should go, but in guiding the direction of your workplace giving programs. 

One way to advocate for employees and solicit guidance from them is by leaning on your employee resource groups. ERGs can serve as sounding boards and safe spaces for employees to raise concerns, which leaders can then bring to the discussion table.

Tip #2: Make the giving process as easy as possible

Employees are much more likely to participate in your CSR programs when there are fewer barriers to entry. Simplifying the steps involved in your workplace giving program removes friction, encouraging employee participation.

Offer resources and support to help employees make informed decisions about where and how to give. Empower employees at all levels of awareness. Some employees may already have relationships with nonprofits and know where they want to donate; enable these employees to simply choose the exact organizations they want to support. Others may know what causes they care about, but don’t know what organizations to give to. Instead of making these people do extensive research about nonprofits on their own, they should be able to search easily within your giving software for organizations that align with those values.

Minimize the administrative lift on both the employee and company end. If there’s tons of paperwork and tools involved, employees are less likely to take the time out of their day to jump through those hoops. 

The CSR team at Trulieve lowered such barriers to participation by simplifying the sign-up process and getting the word out via channels employees were already using. For example, they posted QR codes on breakroom TVs so that employees could easily sign up via smartphone, and highlighted CSR initiatives in an established, internal monthly newsletter.

Tip #3: Integrate your CSR efforts

Open-choice giving shouldn’t exist in isolation as a standalone initiative—it should be integrated strategically with your other CSR efforts. By interconnecting your different CSR initiatives, you create a more cohesive corporate giving program, which maximizes the overall effectiveness and total reach of everyone’s collective efforts.

Connect all of your initiatives—including community investment (e.g.,grants and scholarships), volunteering, and giving—to create more of a visible, tangible impact out in the community. Build relationships with nonprofits to foster deeper partnerships with organizations that do good, and invite those nonprofits to come speak to your employees as part of your CSR initiatives.

Use reporting to evaluate results, measure impact, and determine where you may need to put more effort. For example, do you need to increase outreach, or send out more reminders to employees to participate? Are employees struggling with specific steps of the giving process? Your CSR software should be able to provide these answers to you

For all CSR initiatives, but especially open-choice giving, it’s important to center the employee experience and demonstrate to employees that their contributions matter. Follow up and thank employees personally for their donations. Highlight and call out the total impact of your CSR programs at a company level. For example, how many organizations your company donated to, the average gift amount, and the total amount raised by your employees (and matching program, if applicable).

You can centralize all your CSR programs with full-suite social impact software like Submittable. Our tools help companies seamlessly integrate their giving efforts and measure impact while delivering an enhanced employee experience. Schedule a demo today to see how.

Hsing Tseng

Hsing is a content marketer and ex-journalist who writes about tech, DEI, and remote work. Beyond the screen, she enjoys building custom mechanical keyboards and playing with her dog. You can find more of her work at