Your #1 Stakeholder: Build a Giving Strategy through Your Employees

Ever buy a hot dog on the street?

Maybe the hot dog vendor grimaced as he passed you the dog. Thoughts you may have had:

  • Was that disgust?
  • Is there rat poison on this hotdog?
  • Is this even real mustard?

These perceptions then became the basis for your interpretation that the hotdog guy? He can’t be trusted. A guy who makes a face at his own hotdogs? There’s no way you’re eating that wiener. That’s sensemaking – when human beings take lived experience and construct meaning around it. And we do it all the time.

Teamwork. Three young architects working on a project

By Kelly Lynch

Employees sensemake a corporation’s intentions or rationale behind donating or grant-making in a similar way. How employees understand a company’s goodwill is based on how dollars are given and on how that donation is communicated, both of which help employees understand the why of the donation. If the hotdog vendor had been better at communicating that his hot dogs were totally fine to eat, if he’d personalized the experience and threw in a “have a great day!” you may have perceived the situation, and his wares, much more positively.

Another important thing to remember is that a corporation’s identity is decided on by its employees through critical mass. If enough people think the same thing, or make sense of giving strategies in the same way, it becomes truth. It becomes reputation. Which is why volunteer and matching programs are just as essential to a company’s giving strategy as corporate donations and grant-making.

A well-run employee volunteer and matching program fits with corporate culture, and provides diverse ways for employees to take part in volunteering and to give back to the causes they love. And it’s a must have.


Employees are your number one stakeholder.

When it comes to corporate identity and reputation, employees play a dual role. They are invested in the company and in their communities. If you give them a meaningful way to connect with and give back to the community through the company, you are creating the best face for your organization and your people are doing good. You’re also giving employees a way to take part in the giving process, helping them see firsthand how the company is investing in communities.

Corporate giving and public perception

Reputation also plays an important role in how employees engage with the business and take pride in what they do. Public perception (which you can think of as public sensemaking) of an organization shapes an employee’s work identity and how they perceive value in what they do and the services/products their company provides. If an employee can see internally that their company supports them, through giving programs and otherwise, they will bring that experience back to their communities. And more and more corporate giving is becoming an unquestionably important part of public perception. However, building goodwill can be especially difficult for corporations.

Why is it so tough?

If ever corporations were between the proverbial rock and a hard place, it surely must be now. Contemporary organizations must operate within a globalized economy that is not only characterized by rapidly changing technology and fierce competition but also plagued by turbulent financial markets, decreasing consumer spending, and plummeting public trust. Despite or perhaps because of these challenges, today’s companies are increasingly expected to be “good corporate citizens” and to “behave with a corporate conscience” (Mize-Smith, 2010, p. 369).

Corporations are often better known for making money than giving it, and when they do give back, they don’t talk about it in the right way. Often, giving isn’t celebrated in creative ways; talking only about dollar amounts doesn’t tell anybody anything about the impact those dollars have made. If the public sees a gap between how a business says it cares about its customers and communities and how it acts upon those statements, then you’re doing it wrong.

Corporate giving plays a huge part in building customer loyalty by giving back to those customers and their communities. It shows that the relationship is not transactional.

There’s such great wisdom in the saying, “to whom much is given, much is expected.” A corporation’s customers give significant dollars to that organization. But, what’s more important than the customer paying for a service or product is their loyalty. Loyalty is so much more valuable than dollars in exchange for service because it means longevity. People will keep paying for services and products and – gasp! – may actually come to trust an organization if their loyalty is gained and kept. Corporate giving plays a huge part in building customer loyalty by giving back to those customers and their communities. It shows that the relationship is not transactional. And this brings us back to employees again, because if they’re given the right tools and support, they help foster that loyalty from the ground up.

If employees see their organization seeking out what their community needs and actually providing it, they might sensemake like so:

Hey, the place I work is doing stuff in the community – good stuff. Community seems to play a big part in how my organization does business, and that makes me feel pretty good. It makes me want to participate in my community more. I can do community work with the support of my employer, and that makes me think my employer cares about me, too. I think I like where I work, and I’m gonna let other people know it!

Give your employees what they need to help, support them generously, and they’ll bring the goodwill they foster back to the organization tenfold.

Building reputation through corporate giving

The big question we’re left with is: how does a corporation build reputation through their giving activities? The answer is that there’s no secret formula – every business is different and, based on the services/products that business offers, its employees, customers, and communities will perceive or sensemake differently. But a few key things corporations should consider are:

  • Make community giving a standard, ingrained part of business strategy. Let it permeate corporate culture and it’ll do some of the work for you.
  • Involve your employees. Help them give back to the causes they love. Help them interact with and give back to the community through the company.
  • Find out what your employees, customers, and communities need, and what their expectations are when it comes to giving. Let this inform your strategy.
  • Talk to your communities. Respond to your communities. Talk to your employees about your communities. Communication should be consistent, constant, and should have input from all parties where possible.
  • Talk about impact. Tell everybody. Dollars are great, but impact is even better.
  • Ask yourself: Is your giving long term? Will the impact last? How is it helping people?
  • Align your grant making and employee giving strategies. The two can complement one another beautifully and will make for a robust overall corporate giving structure.
  • Always remember: With great power comes great responsibility.

If you’d like our help with your employee volunteering or workplace giving program, please feel free to drop us a line at, leave a comment below, or call us at 855-926-4678. You can also reach out to us on Twitter and Facebook.

Kelly Lynch
Consultant, Project Manager
Realized Worth


Mize Smith, J. (2012). All good works are not created equal: Employee sensemaking of corporate philanthropy. Southern Communication Journal(77)5. p. 369-388.

Dollars for Doers Programs are NOT an Incentive, but Still Essential

Most mature employee volunteering programs now include employee volunteer grants commonly known in North America as Dollars for Doers. Companies position the programs as an incentive to generate participation, which inevitably ends in failure. Here’s some guidance on how to use them correctly.


By Chris Jarvis

First, the facts

According to the latest data from CECP’s report Giving In Numbers: 2014:

  • A whopping 98% of Fortune 500 companies surveyed (261 in total) offered the benefit to full time employees.
  • The median match in 2013 was $10 per hour volunteered.
  • Most companies capped Dollars for Doers programs at $500 per employee.
  • Among companies matching predominantly through Dollars for Doers programs, 57% targeted matches to predetermined strategic partners or cause areas.

And now the sobering statistic: The median percentage of employees who participated in 2013 was just 3%. Yep, you read that right: just a measly 3%.

The incentive nobody wants

We wrote our first blog on the topic of Dollars for Doers programs back in November of 2011. Many readers misunderstood the point of our article as an argument against this type of program, and it’s easy to see how this occurred. In the article we cited five significant difficulties facing Dollars for Doers programs:

  1. High cost.
    Matching gift programs require substantial investments in grant management technology, employee communications, and staff to manage these programs. These high costs can be worth the investment, but you’ll need a higher participation rate to realize a solid ROI on the Dollars for Doers portion.
  2. Low awareness.
    Most employees are unaware of the program because the communication techniques are ineffective. Posting information about the program on the employee volunteering website and sending emails simply will not get the job done.
  3. Clumsy processes.
    Despite the widespread adoption of third-party tools, there often remain significant obstacles. Asking employees to verify hours or learn how to use the online tools is not a simple process. It takes time for people to change behaviors. Despite the advances of the tools in this space, we spend a lot of time helping employees figure out how to use the tools, and then following up with them to make sure they’ve entered their eligible hours.
  4. Low eligibility.
    Most of your employees that volunteer will not qualify for the program. Companies typically require a minimum of 40 or 50 hours per year to qualify. Yet only 1 out of 4 employees volunteer on a regular basis, and most of those employees volunteer fewer than 8 hours each year.
  5. The wrong motivation.
    The bottom line is that for the employees who are both eligible and likely to take part in this program, it just isn’t motivating.

    Here’s why:

Dollars for Doers is not an incentive

Most people don’t volunteer. The most reliable statistic in the United States measuring volunteering rates in 2013 reports a participation rate of 25.4 %. This number is a bit higher in Australia and a bit lower in the UK and Canada. In other parts of the world it can be much lower. In Hungary, for example, the participation rate for formal volunteering is 5.5%. Offering employees a $10 reward to volunteer for an hour will not incentivize people to adopt a significant behavior change like volunteering. Coupled with terribly high thresholds to qualify to receive is not a barrier – it is a disqualifier. In our experience working with over 30 companies on their employee volunteering programs we have not found one example of Dollars for Doers incentivizing people to begin volunteering. Not one.

Dollars for Doers is not a reward

For those employees who do volunteer enough hours to qualify, these programs do not reinforce existing behavior. We refer to employees who volunteer over 40 hours a year (the threshold typically required for eligibility) as either Stage Two or Stage Three volunteersThese employees are intrinsically motivated to volunteer for personal reasons. Adding a small dollar amount to the equation does not substantially reward or reinforce existing behaviors that are already present at an intrinsic level of motivation. In fact, we’ve often found that with small cap programs the math can be disheartening. For someone who volunteers 40 hours annually, receiving a Dollars for Doers match of $500 reduces their contribution to a value of $5 dollars per hour. In many cases the volunteer would rather write a check to the nonprofit rather than go through the perceived difficulty of logging and verifying the hours through the company’s volunteer management tool.

Why you still need Dollars for Doers

If Dollars for Doers programs don’t incentivize new behaviors or reinforce existing behavior, are they worth including as part of a company’s employee volunteering program? Absolutely. The key is to reposition the programs as an engagement strategy. Corporate philanthropy does little to engage employees in the company’s community investment programs. Employees often know little about the huge sums of money their employers invest in communities. If they are aware of these charitable donations they often do not see any connection between these donations and their own personal interest in social or environmental issues. They were not consulted on how much to give or where the donations should go. They are spectators in the process. It’s doubtful that many employees would say it is bad that their employer is making such donations – it just lacks a personal connection to the process and the results. Dollars for Doers offers employees the opportunity to participate in the process of creating change in the communities in which they live and work. This can be very motivating and rewarding. But to reposition Dollars for Doers as an engagement strategy, you’ll need to make the following changes:

  1. Get rid of minimums.
    If an employee volunteers for just one hour they should still be eligible to join the company’s effort to invest in the community. Apple has taken this approach in their newly launched employee volunteering program to great effect.
  2. Choice.
    Make sure employees get to choose where the money goes. It’s good to create some kind of alignment between the company’s core business and community investment. But narrowing the focus of Dollars for Doers eligibility to just those social and environmental issues that the company has identified will is not an effective engagement strategy – it’s a focused investment strategy. You need both.
  3. The right leadership structure.
    Work with your Stage Two and Three volunteers by giving them leadership roles in your program. This is absolutely key to increasing participation and helping employees understand that by participating in the program they can truly make a difference that matters to them.
  4. Reallocate charitable dollars.
    It’s not going to be easy, but you’re going to have to start moving money out of your company’s purely philanthropic budget and into the Dollars for Doers budget. Including employees in your company’s community and environmental impact is essential to engagement. But it’s also essential to recruiting Millennials and retaining those with high potential.

For more guidance on how to properly structure your Dollars for Doers programs, read this article by Corey Diamond.

Some ways we can help

Most of the blogs we write are geared toward managers responsible for employee volunteering, workplace giving, and sustainability programs. Our intention is to help you be more successful, whether you engage us formally or not. The work you do is critical to addressing the huge social and environmental issues facing our global society. The role you play in the company you work for is key to humanity’s future. If you’d like our help with your employee volunteering or workplace giving program, please feel free to drop us a line at, leave a comment below, or call us at 855-926-4678. You can also reach out to us on Twitter and Facebook.

Chris Jarvis
Realized Worth Co-Founder
Connect with Chris on LinkedIn
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The Future of Employee Engagement: Empowering Transformation

Up until just a few years ago, most men and women who worked in some facet of corporate social responsibility or employee engagement were accustomed to finding themselves in awkward conversations at dinner parties. Conversations that went something like this:

“So … what do you do?”
“Well, I’m in charge of employee volunteering and giving at my company.”
“Yeah, I set up programs to make it possible for employees to volunteer and make charitable donations through the company. There are a lot of benefits to it.”
“And they pay you for that?”

Thankfully, it’s 2015 and the conversation is taking a positive turn.

young beautiful hipster woman success aviator glasses

By Angela Parker

These days, students are graduating with degrees in corporate social responsibility, writing their Master’s Theses on the business benefits of employee volunteering and looking for jobs at companies that are investing in local communities. The number of Fortune 500 companies that offer employee volunteering and giving programs is nearing 100% and the resources available to them are increasing at an exponential rate. Times have changed and the role of the CSR practitioner is more valuable than it’s ever been. So … what now? What can we expect for the future of employee engagement and volunteering?

From Transactional Volunteering to Transformational Volunteering

In the past, typical volunteer activities were transactional; volunteers would show up, do the work, and leave. While transactional volunteering is not inherently a bad thing, it’s certainly not good enough. The purpose of empowering employees to volunteer is to enable them to become more connected to marginalized people and issues – so connected, in fact, that they become the kind of people who make better decisions because of their experiences. This is the kind of volunteering that leads to significant business benefits such as higher rates of productivity, healthier employees, increased recruitment and retention rates, and greater employee engagement overall.

At this year’s 14th Annual Charities@Work Best Practices Summit on Employee Engagement in Corporate Citizenship, transformational volunteering will be a theme referenced throughout the day. As emcee, I promise to share some practical ideas for making volunteering transformational at your company. You can also join an energetic and engaging speaker, Derrick Feldman, as he shares research on engaging with Millennials.

From Metrics by Numbers to Metrics by Impact

Despite the progress in the field, effective measurement remains a hard nut to crack. Which metrics are valuable? When should we start tracking them? How do we motivate people to report the information we’re looking for? And how can we prove that these metrics lead to a real return on investment? While researchers and practitioners are tackling these questions, one thing has become clear: numbers, such as participation rates and dollars donated, do not necessarily equal impact.

CSR reports were originally modeled after financial reports, but when companies began reporting numbers like 1 million volunteer hours donated, the public began to ask: so what? What did the hours do? What are they doing now? How have lives been changed? How is the world a better place? And perhaps most importantly, was it worth your company’s time? Simply reporting numbers is no longer good enough. The future expects reports on impact.

This year’s Charities@Work Best Practices Summit welcomes Bea Boccolandro, a highly sought-after thought leader and community involvement consultant who leads the way in methods for measuring impact.

From Siloed Efforts to Collaboration

And finally, as the field asks better questions about metrics, we are led to more effective methods of making a difference. Past years have seen too many companies and organizations duplicating efforts and wasting resources. For example, multiple companies have sent groups of volunteers to work on water scarcity issues in Ghana. Why aren’t they working together to develop better, more efficient solutions? Another example is nonprofit vetting. A staggering fee is paid by each company to vet the same organizations. Why are we doing this? Well, the answer is clear: it’s our only option. Or at least it used to be.

This year’s Charities@Work Summit will present IMPACT 2030, a global collaboration between the United Nations and the private sector, created to mobilize corporate volunteers to contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Through IMPACT 2030, companies are empowered to collaborate. They become part of a global movement in which their influence, commitment to corporate volunteering and thought leadership are powerful tools to inspire the private sector to positive action.

Multiple partners of IMPACT 2030 as well as members of the executive committee will attend the Best Practices Summit this year. Join Sue Stephenson, from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Group and vice-chair of the IMPACT 2030 Executive Committee to learn more about the initiative and how your company can move from siloed efforts to collaboration.

Join us in empowering transformation at the Charities@Work Best Practices Summit! You can find more information at or contact John Douglas at 571-451-2874 for further details.

Thoughts? Reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter, or send us an email at

Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
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It’s OK to be a Choosy Volunteer

With all kinds of menial, unpleasant tasks an organization could potentially assign to you, volunteering can end up being a chore. But does it have to be? With my limited experience as a volunteer, I believe I’ve come up with a quick test to identify whether the volunteer opportunity you may be considering is the right fit for you. It’s as simple as asking yourself a couple of questions.


By Anthony Doran

I spent a few months interning with Realized Worth in the summer of 2013. During my time there I developed a better understanding of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) field and some of the keys to successful employee volunteer programs (EVPs). In a blog I wrote during my internship I outlined some organizational benefits of effective EVPs.

Although I was working at RW and writing about the benefits of EVPs, I had very little volunteer experience. In the fall of my senior year I knew I wanted to take on something new. So when a cute classmate took to Facebook to find volunteers for a community center, I signed up. It was a clear win-win situation: minimal commitment and, at worst, I might get to hang out with said cute girl, not to mention the added volunteer experience would bolster my resume as I entered the job market.

At the community center I volunteered once a week as a counselor for the after-school daycare program. Most of the children I worked with were under the age of twelve and required extensive supervision. I didn’t particularly enjoy the “babysitting” role I had acquired. So instead of constantly negotiating the terms of homework with young kids I decided to focus my attention on an older age range. It was really rewarding; I collaborated with a fellow volunteer and a staff member at the community centre to start the youth mentorship program, an after school program for teens to help them with homework and to hone important skills like time management, how to write a resume, and discuss things like post-secondary plans. The two experiences were very different for me: The work I did with the younger children felt like a chore, whereas, the work I did with the older kids was something I looked forward to every week.

Around the same time, I came across an article on a recently published book called Give and Take by Adam Grant. Grant, the youngest tenured Professor of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, is a well respected social scientist. His book discusses in depth the role individuals play in society: as either givers, individuals that look to help others; matchers, people that look to trade evenly with others; and takers, individuals looking to get as much as possible from others. In his research he found that many highly successful people were in fact givers, but that the trend wasn’t consistent; many givers also act selflessly to their own detriment. What distinguishes successful givers from unsuccessful givers is the fact that successful givers are selective in the ways they give. Successful givers help others in areas that the givers themselves excel in, which make their contribution both effective for the receiver and often enjoyable for the giver.

This very approach is practiced by industry leaders in the CSR world. Microsoft, an innovator in the CSR field, has programs where employees visit relatively undeveloped educational institutions and teach basic computer skills. Similarly, Forge54 attracts young marketers to donate their time (54 hours straight to be exact) to help revamp the brand and marketing strategy of a select nonprofit organization.

If I’ve learned anything from my small body of volunteer experience, it is to be selective in choosing where to donate your time. For the future, I’ve adopted two basic questions as a quick check:

  • Will this opportunity allow me to do something I enjoy?
  • Will this feel like a chore?

How you answer these two questions will determine whether it is a likely fit. Don’t stop volunteering, just be more selective!

Anthony Doran
Former intern
Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn