What are the most compelling trends in workplace giving today? Will the traditional pledge-card campaigns of old still cut it with today’s millennials, who already make up 25% of the workforce and are estimated to comprise 50% within seven years? The answer, according to America’s Charities CEO Steve Delfin, and panelists at a half-day conference on Wednesday, was a resounding no. (Check out the name of the conference, with the hashtag title #givingundertheinfluence: I suppose this was meant to suggest a good kind of “under the influence” as opposed to the bad kind with which we are familiar, much as the charitable giving day, #givingtuesday, is the good twin of the shop-for-yourself day known as Black Friday. And take a look at the report issued by America’s Charities here.)
Instead of traditional campaigns that generate funds for causes selected in the C-suite or in the office of the campaign sponsor, the panelists contended that the new giving model emphasizes total choice indeed that choice is transforming workplace giving. After all, the argument goes, today’s employees often bring their causes with them to work, and they want giving options that center around what matters to them – all of them – not to their supervisor or boss; they want opportunities to engage their networks, share the stories of organizations that move them, take existing campaigns and take them over; and they want to do this in and on their own time, not in one day or month of the year. The dominant opinion among the speakers was that companies are, largely, losing control over workplace giving as individuals shape their giving as they choose moving right around or through what the company may be promoting. Creativity may drive a campaign and make it successful, but control will not.
There is no doubt in my mind that millennials will have a significant influence on the way we do philanthropy, that social media is here to stay, and that not using it is not an option. I am also confident that the old model no longer works. But I am still a bit suspicious about generational paradigms: are all baby boomers or gen-xers the same? Will all millennials be so? I doubt it. So while companies may indeed be losing control over workplace giving (it is the multiplicity of all those “I”s that makes for the loss of coherence), and while millennials typically have skills that their elders lack, it isn’t clear to me that all of the participants come to their philanthropy with a clear sense of direction. I still think there is much for everyone to learn.
Here at the Catalogue we have always believed in choice – not the limitless choice that leaves most people bewildered, but informed choice that invites participants to explore their own passions, find nonprofits that fit those passions, and give thoughtfully. Sharing the news with friends has always been and continues to be an option on our site, campaign pages are part of the arsenal that we provide to nonprofits in our network, and our workplace giving portal – in use at a number of companies around the region – offers a combination of interactivity and choice. But our assumption is that even those who have the philanthropic gene often lack the time to identify effective charities doing work that resonates for them. We don’t all come equipped with favorite charities. Some of us are still finding them.
Marrying what the Catalogue can do (create the opportunity for meaningful exploration) with what social media can do (share awareness and build real support for worthy organizations whenever and wherever people live and work and play) makes for an extremely powerful combination. I hope we will see that combination play itself out in many realized, and as yet unrealized, opportunities in the months and years ahead.