A pilot program trialling workplace giving circles has delivered compelling results.

workplace giving circlesWhile the giving circle model has an established track record in private philanthropy, the idea of donors within a workplace pooling their resources to fund charities or causes is mostly unexplored territory.

Last year giving platform, Good2Give, sought to change that by partnering with Westpac Group to trial the effectiveness of giving circles in the workplace as a model for corporate philanthropy. The Centre of Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology has released a report on the trial, with strong results.

The Giving Circles at Work trial

Seven giving circles within the Westpac Group were established, ranging in membership from 5 to 16 employees with 67 employees in total. Employees pledged donations towards their giving circle, which were matched by their employer. Each giving circle was led by a designated ‘Champion’, who was sometimes assisted by a ‘Deputy Champion’.

Good2Give developed a package of resources for participants including Champion and Member ‘Toolkits’, held information sessions and provided intensive support and guidance for the giving circles, working very closely with the Champions in particular throughout the pilot.

Two models of giving circle were trialled. ‘Cause-led’ giving circles focused on a specific cause area, such as ‘refugees in Australia,’ and eligible charities could apply to receive a grant. Members voted to determine which charity received the grant and in some instances also provided a smaller grant to runner-up charities. ‘Charity-led’ giving circles focused on a specific charity, with the charity proposing various programs the giving circle could choose to fund.

The total amount raised by the giving circles was $45,328, which included employer matching. Nine charities received grants, ranging in size from $500 (for a runner-up grant) to $11,538. The median grant was $5,180.

The evaluation

The evaluation was conducted by the Centre of Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology using a mixed methods approach involving both quantitative and qualitative data collection. It included a pre-pilot survey of participants conducted in August and early September 2019, three post-pilot surveys conducted in March and April 2020, and a raft of semi-structured interviews conducted in April 2020.

Benefits of giving circles to employees

Overall satisfaction with participating in the pilot was high – 85% of participants found the experience positive and 83% were positive about recommending it to work colleagues.

Benefits to employees included feeling that their work environment enables them to make a positive contribution to the community, developing enhanced relationships with work colleagues, developing a better understanding of charities, and feeling that their giving is making a difference. Developing communication, decision making and teamwork skills were also benefits for some employees.

One theme that came out of the qualitative research was that participants liked understanding what was happening with their donations.

Here’s a sample of comments from participants on their favourite aspect of participating in their giving circle.

“When the charity came in and spoke to us.”

“Hearing about the charities and the impact they are making.”

“Learning about all these amazing small charities out there.”

“Learning about the number of charities delivering programs in line with our chosen category.”

“To be able to provide input and have a say in how the funds raised would be allocated to the charity.”

“Great to hear directly from the charity and see what they need from us.”

“Working with a group of passionate individuals on a cause, learning more about our charity and tangible outcomes of the donation.”

“Feeling like we were making a difference. Great to hear directly from the charity and see what they need from us.”

“Getting to work alongside a charity representative to decide how the funds we raised would be spent and understanding the benefits they would deliver to the community.”

“Inviting the charity to speak with the Giving Circle. It was a really valuable experience and helped the Giving Circle understand how significant our impact will be to the organisation.”

Benefits of giving circles to employers

Many of the benefits for employees delivered benefits for employers. Satisfied, engaged and motivated employees are more productive, and the giving circles created a positive, giving atmosphere and encouraged collaboration.

Workplace giving circles are also a way to advance an organisation’s corporate social responsibility activities within the community. Some 80% of participants responded positively to the statement, ‘Participating in a giving circle in my workplace made me feel that I was contributing to my employer fulfilling its social responsibility to the community’.

Benefits of giving circles to charities

Benefits to charities include obtaining financial support, strengthening relationships with corporate partners and staff, and raising awareness about their work.

Data from the pre-pilot and post-pilot surveys showed a statistically significant increase in participants’ sentiments regarding their understanding of the charities they support and also the general operating environment for charities. There was also a statistically significant increase in participants self-reporting that they do research on charities before deciding which ones to support.

Changes in giving behaviour

There was a statistically significant increase in the self-reported giving of money between the commencement of the pilot and its conclusion. In replying to the survey question, ‘How much do you donate to charities and causes you care about annually?’, the mean response post-pilot was $830.56, up from $581.39 pre-pilot.

While causality cannot be established between participation in the pilot and increased levels of giving, the report notes that this is a promising and encouraging finding that could be further explored should corporate giving circles be rolled out more widely.

Recommendations for success

The report advises that giving circles should be cognizant of the burden they place on charity applicants. In the case of the trial, the application process required could be viewed as onerous given the small level of funds available. Charity survey respondents commented that time taken to ‘win’ the funds must be taken into account as this was a cost to the charity. Simplifying the application process and/or increasing the size of the giving circle to increase the pool of funds would address this issue.

Survey respondents highlighted the importance of the Champion role enhancing the participation experience, and there was a strong view that sharing leadership and responsibility across the entire giving circle would not be effective. However, some Champions found the role challenging in terms of their time and keeping members engaged and informed – only 43% who completed the survey expressed an interest in leading another giving circle as a Champion.

The report recommends that that a senior executive-level ‘sponsor’ or equivalent acts as an organisation-wide ‘champion’ for giving circles in the workplace. This support by senior leadership would reinforce the value of giving circles to the organisation and endorse employee engagement and participation.

While support of senior leadership is key to success, the report recommends giving circles in the workplace should be employee-led. Related to this, the report noted that the terminology ‘charity-led’ may not be appropriate and recommended ‘charity-specific’ as a better name for a giving circle model model with one charity as its focus.

A compelling case for giving circles in the workplace 

Overall, the Centre for Social Impact’s report on the Giving Circles at Work trial concludes that there is a compelling case to roll out giving circles in the workplace more widely.

Lisa Grinham, CEO of Good2Give, said the results demonstrated the benefit of fostering a better understanding of charities, the work they do and the important role they play in Australian communities.

“We are encouraged by such overwhelmingly positive results showing there is a real value in companies offering Giving Circles at Work to their people. Workplace collective giving is a significant innovation for corporates on our platform, providing a way to further support donors and charities, particularly meaningful during these challenging times.”

Read the full report on the Giving Circles at Work trial.

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