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Commerce and Philanthropy Part 2: Workplace Giving

October 22, 2012

Last week on CSR Now!, I noted that many of the country's wealthiest people – some of them founders and CEOs of companies – are also among the country's most generous givers. This week, I'm focusing some attention on another wonder of commerce and philanthropy: workplace giving.

October is workplace giving month – a time when many companies encourage their rank and file employees to give, or make pledges, to the nonprofit organizations in their communities. For over 50 years, employers have conducted annual fundraising drives – often called employee giving campaigns – to mobilize their employees behind charities – often matching their contributions with corporate dollars.

The first of these campaigns were typically centered on local United Ways (although the first employee fundraising campaign at American Express was in 1885 when we asked employees to contribute money to build the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty). These local drives were a convenient way of funneling money through one organization to support a variety of causes in a community.

While United Way campaigns are no longer the exclusive model, these types of campaigns – often facilitated by payroll deduction – have contributed well over $100 billion to nonprofit organizations in just the last 30 years according to a report published in 2006 by America's Charities and The Consulting Network.

According to this report (Changing Direction: Developing Employee-Friendly Workplace Campaigns with Technology and Best Practices), in addition to the dollars raised through workplace giving, employers and employees experience other benefits from these campaigns:

For Employers:

  • An effective campaign sends a strong message that the organization is interested in engaging employees.
  • The campaign helps build a sense of community among the workforce.
  • Workplace giving is another demonstration of being a good corporate citizen and helps improve an employer's image in the community and among key stakeholders.
  • Employees look favorably on their employer for conducting a charitable giving campaign.
  • The program provides opportunities for employee involvement and team building experiences.
  • The campaign can be an effective tool to improve employee morale, relations and retention.

For Employees:

  • Employees like having the feeling of helping others.
  • The campaign is an opportunity to provide exposure to charities and the services they offer in the community.
  • The campaign provides a one-stop charitable giving opportunity to employees.
  • Employees continue to value the ease and convenience of payroll deduction.

The report is admittedly several years old, but I think it's still current in its assessment of workplace giving and its assertion that the future of workplace giving rests on these three pillars:

  • Offering greater choices in giving, consistent with employees' diversity and varied giving interests.
  • Utilizing technology to facilitate the ease of giving, the efficient operation of campaigns so more of employees' donations go to the charities of their choice, and expanded information content about participating charities.
  • Developing a campaign that will engage employees and build value as one of the most effective ways to support the community through volunteerism and financial support.

Charity Navigator ( suggests six tips for employees who donate through workplace giving programs:

  • Examine your values to determine which causes you want to support.
  • Review your personal finances to determine how much you can afford to give.
  • Learn how the participating charities were pre-screened and back it up with your own research.
  • Find out what percent of your donation is going to the charities that you've chosen.
  • Maximize the amount of money going to charity by reviewing your employer's matching program.
  • At the end of the year, find out how your donations were put to use.

At American Express, our annual employee giving campaign, called Give2Gether, takes place every fall in the U.S., Canada, India and the U.K. Despite the fact that the national average participation for employees at companies is less than 20%, 75% of our employees in the U.S., 50% of our employees in Canada, and similarly high percentages in India and the U.K. give through our campaign.

Last year, over $4.5 million was donated by American Express employees to over 5,000 nonprofit organizations in the U.S. alone, and this amount was matched by the company for a total of $9 million of unrestricted operating support. We partner with federations like America's Charities, Community Health Charities, Earth Share, Global Impact, Hispanic Scholarship Fund, UNCF and United Way to manage our campaign.

It's a tremendous effort, and we are quite proud of the number of employees who contribute to worthy charities in their communities – proving once again that commerce and philanthropy really do go together.

If you have a question or comment, please send me an email message here.

P.S. Did you know that 40% of companies that conduct an employee giving campaign offer some form of an employer match?


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