It’s a giving thing

Saturday, 01 April 2023

Denise Cullen

    It’s spruiked as the most simple and effective way for working Australians to support charitable causes — with employers topping up the pot dollar for dollar — and it’s tax-deductible. 

    Workplace giving is the subject of renewed focus, with the federal government saying it wants to double philanthropic contributions by 2030 and work with business to boost charitable giving. But organisations must be smart about how they set up their programs, to maximise the benefits to recipients, their employees and themselves, says David Mann GAICD, CEO of charities Good2Give, which provides technology solutions to connect businesses, donors and charities, and Workplace Giving Australia (WGA), which advises employers on how to structure programs. These two organisations have now merged to create one organisation that can lead the charge.

    “Organisations need to have a broader understanding of their stakeholder groups, and what it means to interact with them, particularly if you look at it in terms of things like the social licence to operate,” says Mann.

    Australian Tax OfficeTO data, released in December 2022 by Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh, revealed falling participation in workplace giving programs. Leigh also said the share of those giving to charity dropped from 70 to 61 per cent in 2011–18, while blood donations were also down as part of a general trend towards disconnection.

    Yet Mann argues that workplace giving programs remain one of the most effective ways for working Australians to support charities, because donations are made from pre-tax dollars. In many cases, employers can also match staff donations — while volunteering, skill-sharing and in-kind support could further amplify the impacts.

    “Regular workplace giving also means charities are better off, because they can see regular flows of income, and therefore budget for them,” he says. “It is also one of the most cost-efficient ways to fundraise.”

    ATO figures reveal that 4.3 million people were employed at a job that utilised a workplace giving program in 2020–21, but just 206,954 employees participated in those programs — a participation rate of 4.7 per cent. The average amount given per employee was $258 — with employees of micro-employers giving the most at an average of $714 per employee, and those in the government sector giving the least with an average of $169 per employee.

    Missed opportunity

    The situation represents a massive, missed opportunity, says Mann, who points out that 70 per cent of corporates, and up to 85 per cent of individuals (including volunteering) engage in some form of giving. The reason for the low uptake is a lack of awareness and engagement of the workforce. “Corporates themselves already do a huge amount, as do individuals,” he says. “It’s the intersect that’s missing.”

    At a business roundtable in December 2022, Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott AO FAICD said, “Workplace giving is a key channel for Australia’s largest companies to directly support the work of the NFP sector. It’s something workers enjoy doing, it brings teams together and it helps support some incredible initiatives.”

    Mann acknowledges that individuals are acutely aware of constraints on their wallets, but dismisses the notion that the flagging results are symptomatic of “charity fatigue”. “People don’t walk away from causes they fundamentally believe in, but they may feel the strain of, ‘Can I really make a difference here?’ This is where giving circles [where people pool their resources] can really amplify the impact you’re able to have,” he says.

    Looking ahead, the growing influence of Generation Z (born 1995–2010), who will make up one third of the workforce by 2030, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, will see workplace giving assume greater importance. Around two-thirds of Generation Z believe communities are created by causes and interests rather than economic backgrounds or education levels, according to research by McKinsey & Co.

    “They are far more connected with the social, and will be more inclined to make judgements on the way in which organisations operate and behave than previous generations,” says Mann, who sees a more general need to reinvigorate community, given sharp declines in union membership, organised religion, community sports and social clubs. “The workplace is one of those places where we still have people to get together — and at the same time as building a good, strong corporation, it can also have the knock-on effect of creating a much better community,” he says.

    The development and introduction of technology that makes workplace giving a much simpler proposition is key to shifting the dial, says Nerida Caesar GAICD, who co-chairs Good2Give and Workplace Giving Australia with Michael Graf. Caesar says the organisation has set its sights on a smart technology platform that will connect the individual to the charity community and to payroll systems, allowing employees to use their mobile device to donate without having to print tax-deductible receipts.

    “The individual can donate as part of their workplace in their own capacity, and they will be able to track their spend over time,” says Caesar. “It would be a much more integrated and end-to-end experience.”

    She anticipates that this will rocket giving from today’s 200,000 individuals to a couple of million over the next three to five years. “This will change the way giving is undertaken in this country and bring about significant funding to the sector,” she says.

    Getting more corporates on-board is also crucial, given that many ASX 100 companies still don’t have workplace giving programs. Non- participants tend to raise a host of objections — but all of them can be overcome, notes Caesar.

    By the numbers


    Australia’s total annual giving to charitable causes


    of individuals earning $1m+ make tax-deductible donations


    million employed people in Australia


    average amount given per employee in workplace giving programs


    of individuals helped a stranger in 2021


    of people want to work for a business that supports causes important to them


    of US companies have a workplace gift matching program


    of Australians engage in volunteering


    of employees believe workplace culture would benefit if employers embraced giving back to society

    Sources: Philanthropy Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics, ATO, Charities Aid Foundation, Benevity Inc, JBWere, Roy Morgan, Workplace Giving Australia

    “We have solved a range of issues by working collaboratively with our clients to put programs in place that drive terrific engagement with staff and meaningful outcomes for the charity sector,” she says. “We welcome the corporates to join our network where they [can] deepen their understanding of how to shore up the success of a program. Having an executive sponsor and a team of employees to lead the program is important and it will ensure the program has good visibility, engagement and participation. It’s an important part of the corporate social responsibility strategy for every company.”

    Questions for boards to consider

    Do we have an effective workplace giving program — and if not, why not?

    “It’s important to make a profit, but shareholders are not the only stakeholders who need to be satisfied,” says Good2Go/ Workplace Giving Australia CEO David Mann GAICD. According to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, 79 per cent of individuals believe that CEOs are obligated to ensure their home community is safe and thriving.

    What can we learn from organisations that are doing this well?

    Share experiences and learn from others. “Don’t go it alone — borrow ideas from others and put your own twists on it,” says Mann. Workplace Giving Australia suggests at least three years of regular, rolling connections with staff members to engage them in the program.

    Are we clear on the purpose and value of the workplace giving program?

    There are solid business reasons why workplace giving makes sense. “It has a fundamental impact on your business performance, in terms of increasing productivity and creating engagement, which in turn creates retention, which in turn reduces attrition costs,” says Mann. For example, Deloitte research from 2015 showed “mission- driven” companies had 30 per cent higher levels of innovation and 40 per cent higher levels of retention.

    Are we measuring and reporting against our workplace giving program?

    Optimising the amount of money that goes through to the end cause provides a way to measure real impact and keep employees motivated. “What gets measured gets delivered,” says Mann. “The starting point is that this is a deliverable and ostensible value-creation program for the business and it needs to have an impact on the community.”

    Have we involved our workforce or are we holding them at arm’s length?

    Organisations need to select cause areas by asking what the workforce is wanting to do and to achieve. Leaders also needed to throw their weight behind the program. “If the C-suite is seen as being supportive, it gains traction, if the C-suite is seen as dictating, it loses traction,” says Mann.

    Have we put safeguards in place to balance risk to the business?

    As with all areas of business, there are downsides to consider and risks to mitigate. Ensuring that the charities and causes supported are aligned to the business, and that reputational risks are allowed for, is important. Partnering with select, verified charities has clear advantage for a business and for the charities involved.

    Good case studies

    Workplace Giving Australia’s annual awards program showcases a range of strategies directors can adopt (and adapt) to suit the workplace giving goals of their organisations. “We don’t advocate a cookie cutter approach — each program has a uniqueness, which is important,” says CEO David Mann GAICD.

    Domino’s enterprises

    Domino’s refreshed its communications, hosted events such as “Doughnuts for Donations” and simplified its sign-up process to lift employee participation rates from 37 per cent to 46 per cent and the average contribution from $2.26 to $2.39. The company matches this dollar for dollar. “They’re not huge sums, but the importance of this is engagement and participation,” says Mann.

    Tomago Aluminium

    Hunter Valley-based Tomago introduced a union-led program in 1986. The introduction of an opt-out approach, which sees all new employees automatically become a member of the Tomago Workplace Giving Fund, presented an initial challenge, but the company has since seen participation rates increase to 72 per cent, with a focus on supporting local charities and communities.

    PWC Australia

    For employees of professional services firms, the pressure to maximise billable hours has served as a disincentive for donating their time. But at PwC Australia, the introduction of the billable “social impact time” code has seen 28 per cent of a 9500-strong workforce participate in pro bono workplace volunteering via a bespoke platform that matches requests with PwC people.

    The Good Guys

    With more than 100 stores and 3000 employees across Australia, gamification via The Good Guys’ multilayered “Amazing Race” campaign helped lift workforce participation to 40 per cent. Teams were required to complete challenges and check-ins, bringing them closer to charities and their work, and building emotional connections that “reduced the distance from the mission”, the judges said.

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