The Future Of CSR Includes Democratized Philanthropy

CSRI invented the charity gift card in 2007. With a charity gift card, the gift giver makes a charitable donation, and the gift recipient chooses the charity that will receive the funds. I built my charity gift card brand around a nonprofit. We had big ambitions and got off to a solid start in the B2C space.

But we didn’t really hit our stride until the second year, when we stumbled into the B2B market. Businesses started calling us and asking to use our charity gift cards to give their employees, suppliers and customers a gift of charity. Although we totally failed to forecast its importance, the B2B market now accounts for more than 65 percent of our charity gift card sales.

We had stumbled into a movement — businesses working not only to give back, but finding ways to democratize their philanthropy through employee donation matching, paid time off for volunteering, and products like charity gift cards. After a decade of observing how hundreds of companies approach their CSR efforts, I’m confident that democratized philanthropy is more than a passing trend — it’s highly effective and critical to meeting CSR goals.

Democratized philanthropy aligns with the values of the fastest growing segment of the workforce: millennials, 84 percent of whom report they give to charity and 75 percent report they would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.

The flexibility of employee-led volunteering and donations celebrates your team’s diverse personalities and interests. According to America’s Charities Snapshot 2017 Report, a full third of employees don’t give through their workplace because they aren’t able to choose causes that matter to them. Helping employees feel engaged with your CSR efforts is as simple as putting the power in their hands.

All of this isn’t to say that democratized philanthropy is a guaranteed success.
A few key elements to keep in mind with regard to democratized philanthropy are:

Your Business Still Needs to Stand for Something. Turning over your CSR efforts entirely to your employees will not achieve your long-term brand management goals, or give your employees and customers a clear sense of your company’s values. Strike a balance — strategic, cause-aligned philanthropic efforts are still important, but supplementing those programs with employee-led democratized giving is a recipe for success.

A Charitable Gift is Not a Benefit. This may seem obvious, but replacing an expected bonus or gift with charity is a great way to make your team real grumpy real fast. Use charitable gifts as a complement to your employees’ other perks, never a substitute.

Size Matters. Giving your employee a philanthropic gift like a charity gift card shouldn’t feel like an afterthought. Think of it like any other gift card: a $10 card is a tchotchke — it gets lost in the shuffle. A $100 card gets remembered. And used.

Any consultant out there will tell you that HR strategy must include employee empowerment. The same goes for CSR strategy. Philanthropy driven by C-Suite and boardroom preferences has its place, but putting the power to give back in your employees’ hands is a powerful and effective path that should not be ignored. It demonstrates trust. It builds loyalty. And it makes the world a better place.

Read more: Beyond CSR: Leading With More Purposeful Engagement