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Kate Gault

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Workplace giving: new research sheds light on the gap between interest and action for Millennials

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Modern workplaces increasingly recognise the need for a more flexible approach when it comes to how they reward and manage their staff, and in particular the expectations of a growing Millennial workforce. Many are adapting by offering flexible, individually-tailored benefits packages, but one area that has remained fairly static within this mix is the option for employees to sign up to regular charitable giving.

Research by industry-leading body CAF has revealed that only 3% of employees in the UK give regularly through the payroll, despite almost a third saying that they’d be likely to. So at social enterprise Makerble, we wanted to make it our mission to find out what’s causing this gap between interest and action, looking specifically at the attitude of Millennials. Makerble conducted a research project with leading strategic innovation consultancy ?What If!, speaking to employees at more than 100 companies, as well as 16 experts, to understand more about this issue.

As soon as the research got underway, what became quickly apparent was the significance that employees attached to the role their company played in inspiring their workforce to donate. Younger employees specifically felt a strong desire for management involvement: they saw management as role models to emulate, and said they would be more likely to feel inspired to give if they knew their seniors were leading the way. There was also a strong desire for their companies to offer match-funding, in order to create the feeling of a shared goal and commitment, which in turn helps deepen relationships between staff across hierarchies and functions.

What’s more, the employees wanted to be backed by their companies to support the causes that resonated with them personally. They weren’t entirely averse to supporting causes that were in line with their company’s own missions and values, but felt a far stronger inclination to give where projects had a personal resonance. Those who spoke most positively about the process of donating to charity in the workplace did so because their company provided financial backing to top-up the donation that the employee wanted to make personally. One respondent explained, ‘Knowing that my employer cares about the causes that matter to me is really motivating – it makes me feel cared for, trusted, and I’m inspired to work harder because of it’ (Female, 29).

A key issue that Makerble’s research identified was with the subscription-basis of most workplace giving models, which some young people saw as a commitment and a burden. One respondent went so far as to state that, ‘once I’ve set up a subscription, the main feeling I have is one of guilt for the disappointment I’m going to cause the charity if I cancel it. I just feel bad so I end up ignoring it, and pretend it isn’t there. It’s not a great experience!’ (Male, 26). They compared this to the experience of donating money to a friend or colleague involved in fundraising activity. The instant emotional gratification and ‘thanks’ that they received as a result of this was far more appealing. They felt that more could be done in the workplace to emulate this feeling of reward and recognition, and to increase the appeal of a subscription-based giving model.

On a more practical level, a high proportion of the employees interviewed felt that their limited financial means puts them off committing to any long term charity subscription. This seemed to be a finding with particular relevance to the recessionary climate and often small wage packets of Generation Y – many of whom talked about accounting for their monthly incomings and outgoings in tiny detail. They described their ideal subscription model as one which includes a level of flexibility to accommodate any cash shortfall, since, when money is tight, ‘a charity subscription is the first thing that has to go’ (Female, 23). They also sought a degree of flexibility when it comes to their charity allegiances, and admitted to shifting preferences re who to support, for which they did not want to be made to feel guilty.

Crucially, almost all the interviewees expressed a desire for workplace giving to clearly offer more than if they were donating as an individual. There was a strong desire to feel actively part of something, and that through their charitable behaviour they could gain a personal experience, or an opportunity to strengthen their sense of the community at work. Whilst many workplaces already engage in a range of charitable initiatives, from fundraising events to paid volunteering days, this rarely translates to encouraging regular donation habits – which is perhaps where the opportunity to make the biggest difference lies. Plus, with many young people feeling that the amount they can afford to give is so small that it’s insignificant and ‘not worth it’, by facilitating events that stimulate a belief in the collective power of the workforce, and linking this to regular subscriptions, young people may be inspired to give more and understand that their contribution really will make a difference.

All of these findings have led us to conclude that employees involved in workplace giving should be celebrated, both by the recipient charity and by their company. The benefits would be for employees and companies alike, who, in adding more weight to the value of their employees’ contributions will be simultaneously boosting employee morale with a knock-on effect to company culture. It feels like there is an enormous opportunity here: both for companies to improve their internal dynamics, and to generate much-need incremental donations for the charity sector.

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