Should Charity Begin in the Office with Employee Giving?

Should employees donate to the nonprofit organization they work for? Should they be asked, or even required, to give? Should employees never be asked to give?

Over the decades, I’ve had a number of clients ask me about the issue of employee giving. Over the years, my feelings about employee giving have flip-flopped any number of times. On the one hand, I’ve considered it a good idea to express one’s support for the organization before asking someone else to give. On the other hand, I’ve also recognized that nonprofit employees are frequently paid far less than they should be and often work many uncompensated overtime hours.

It’s a complicated issue.

Fortunately, there is now a new e-book that closely explores the subject of employee giving. Employee Giving: Does Charity Begin in the Office? is a free e-book by Ephraim Gopin, founder of 1832 Communications, an agency helping nonprofits raise more money through strategic and smart marketing and communications.

As part of the e-book project, Ephraim conducted a survey of nonprofit employees and consultants so he could explore all sides of a very contentious and complicated topic. The result is an e-book that will help you learn about:

  • Employee giving: The case for yes, the case for no, and why it’s complicated
  • Attitudes about Board and C-level giving
  • How employees working overtime affects giving
  • Can employee giving help when asking donors to give
  • And much more!

Learn from the survey data and over 30 sector experts. Whether you’re in the “oh hell no!” or the “let employees enjoy being a donor!” camp, this e-book will open your eyes to both sides of the issue. Reading the e-book might just change your mind. You can download your free copy by clicking here.

The topic of nonprofit employee giving doesn’t get much attention. So, I was intrigued when I saw Ephraim had written his e-book. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions related to the project. Here’s what he had to say:

 

What workplace ask have you experienced that stuck with you, good or bad?

Here’s how I open my introduction to the e-book: “The honest truth? I never gave. Even when I was a CEO.”

No one ever asked me and I never asked my employees when I was CEO. (It could be cultural as where I live it is definitely not the norm to ask employees to donate.) For me it would have been double-dipping: “I give way more hours to the organization than what’s stipulated in my contract. Now you also want to take a portion of my salary check away?!”

In the survey, I asked how much overtime (unpaid time) employees work in an average month. 41 percent of survey respondents said they work 11+ hours of overtime each month. That’s A LOT!

So, you’re overworked and underpaid, certainly in comparison to the for-profit sector. How would you feel if, now, you also are being asked to donate back to the organization that “steals” your precious few off-hours of family and friends time? There’s a reason why people are very vocal about their opposition to employee-giving programs.

At the same time, the e-book includes a few stories of internal-giving programs done right. No pressure, employees can decide not to give and it won’t be held against them in any way.

As a consultant, I have given back to some of my clients. The truth is that while preparing the e-book, vendor fundraising did come up and I added it as a topic for thought.

However, if I were an employee, would I also be a donor to that organization? Tough one for me to answer.

Why did you decide to write the e-book?

As many things do nowadays, it all started with a tweet. I was curious to hear from my followers whether they donate/d to the nonprofit they work/ed for. My assumption was they did not.

Why would I assume that? Many nonprofit workers are underpaid, overworked and underappreciated. The thought of these employees also being givers — forced or not — never even crossed my mind.

Yet, the responses to my tweet surprised me: Most of the respondents were in fact donors to the charity they worked for! Obviously, it’s a big world out there and there are many nonprofiteers who did not answer my original tweet.

That’s how the ball got rolling. A year after that initial tweet I published a survey that aimed to measure attitudes related to employee giving and numerous issues surrounding it. My goal was to use the survey data as a backdrop to an e-book on the topic.

Post survey, I conducted almost 60 follow-up interviews via phone or video chat. Every single person I spoke to had very concrete opinions about the topic. Should employees be asked to donate? Plenty of NO! and plenty of YES! to go around.

Why write the e-book? It is a complicated topic I was interested in exploring and learning more about. Besides a blog post here and there, no one has really looked into it to understand why employees should or should not be asked. I feel my e-book can bring the discussion to nonprofit leaders who can make wiser and more informed decisions when considering an employee-giving program.

What do you hope to accomplish with the e-book?

Through my research, I realized that in many organizations, employees were being asked to give but in a way that made them feel like cash cows, not donors who should be thanked and stewarded properly.

If your organization is doing that, stop it right away.

Employee-giving programs are like other campaigns nonprofits conduct but they’re also extremely different. Through the e-book, I hope to:

Educate. Many would not consider it a “burning topic of discussion” in the sector. But, the fact is plenty of organizations have internal-giving campaigns, plenty of NPOs ask their employees to donate to the local United Way. Maybe it’s time to discuss how we talk to our employees about their giving.

Present all sides. Those in the “oh hell no!” camp, the “let everyone have the joy of giving!” people, and the “it’s complicated” folks. People can read, learn from the survey data, and also hear from 30+ sector experts who share their opinions on employee giving and related topics.

Explain how to conduct an internal-giving campaign the right way. I provide the do’s and the don’t’s.

Alert sector leaders. Some of their internal practices need to change. Fast.

Discuss what I call “Internal Storytelling.” Employees may know the stories your charity shares with the outside world. But, a central part of fundraising and marketing is storytelling! I devote a chapter to the topic of how to tell stories to people who already know the story. The interesting thing that came out of my research was staff members have a story that needs to get out as well, which can help an internal campaign.

I work at the intersection of fundraising and marketing. It was frustrating to hear of organizations that simply tell employees they also have to be givers. As one senior manager told me: “When I asked how much I was expected to give, the response was, ‘Enough to have skin in the game.’” Ridiculous.

At the same time, it was encouraging to hear about employee-giving campaigns that were treated as a proper fundraising campaign. A marketing and fundraising strategy was crafted, the marketing and fundraising teams worked together to build branding and messaging, employees were treated as donors should be treated.

An employee-giving campaign CAN be done properly. Should your organization run an internal-giving campaign? Maybe yes, maybe no. Read the e-book and consider the various issues before launching your campaign.

 

I thank Ephraim for taking the time to respond to my questions and for providing us all with a free copy of his e-book which you can download by clicking here. But, before you go, please tell me whether or not you donate to the organization you work for, and why or why not?

That’s what Ephraim Gopin and Michael Rosen say… What do you say?

 

UPDATE (Dec. 21, 2020): The Association of Fundraising Professionals global headquarters has announced it will host Ephraim Gopin for a webinar, A Study on Employee Giving: It’s Complicated.” The program will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 1:00 – 2:00 pm (EST). Member and non-member fees apply. The webinar is worth one CFRE CE Credit.

5 Comments to “Should Charity Begin in the Office with Employee Giving?”

  1. Yes–I have always donated to the organization I work for, and consider that it matters and makes a difference that I do. I am in the camp of doing what I’m asking others to do. I understand the rationale that too many are paid too little, and consider working for less than in the for profit sector to be a donation. But I do believe that it makes a difference to be part of the effort that we ask others to support.

    • Hi Mary!
      I’m wondering if you’ve seen donors ask in a meeting if the employees are givers or not. Meaning: Has “walk the walk” made a difference? I discuss this topic in the ebook but always want to hear from sector pros in the field. Thanks in advance!

  2. Yes I do. As one of the main fundraisers, I never could imagine not giving. I love what we do. But, also, I do find it very misaligned to ask people to give to something I’m not giving to.

  3. Good topic. “Yes,” I give and have always given to the nonprofit for which I worked. As a professional fundraiser, I subscribe to the AFP Code of Ethics but also have a personal code. I feel called to invest in the mission of an organization that I market to others. I feel one can’t invite the support of others if one doesn’t personally support at some level. Similarly, I believe in “equal sacrifice, not necessarily equal gift amounts.”

    • Thanks, Joe! In the ebook I discussed this but would love to learn from your experience: Have you been asked in a donor meeting if you yourself (and other employees) are a giver?

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