April 18, 2014


Employee-driven philanthropy

Brent Gendleman

Brent Gendleman

An employee-driven philanthropy program is something that all companies, large and small, should consider.

Going beyond demonstrating an organization's commitment to society, employee-driven philanthropy honors the people behind the profits - and their connection to the world at large.

Most people want to give time and money to causes they care about, but often they can't, or can't give as much as they would like.

Employee-driven philanthropy lets people use the workplace to connect to what matters, and comes in many shapes and sizes.

A program might take the form of employee-directed giving, paid volunteer time or a combination of both. It might invite employees' participation in a major cause that the company supports. The common element is employee engagement.

A powerful way to help your work force support causes that are dear to them is employee-directed giving. While the company defines the donation amount, employees determine where the money goes.

The process can be quite simple. One approach is the three-step process:

Nominations. At fiscal year-end, staff members are asked to nominate organizations to receive corporate contributions. Each employee may nominate one charity by a certain deadline, including a description of the charity and indication of why they're nominating that particular organization. Typically, this can be done through a company's intranet.

Voting. Once nominations are in, the company can post an online survey (nothing fancy - SurveyMonkey is adequate), asking each employee to vote for one charity.

Here's where the fun begins. As not everyone nominates a charity, a lobbying process can ensue where employees solicit colleagues' votes for their charity. The lobbying is lighthearted, of course, but employees know their vote affects the amount of money the charity receives.

For example, one vote equals one share in the total amount donated. The math can be as simple as: the total amount set aside for the corporate donation divided by the number of employees equals the amount of money per share.

Distribution. Since every vote holds equal value, every charity that gets a vote will receive some amount of money. For example, at our company last year, 38 percent of employees voted to donate to Medicins Sans FrontiĀres (Doctors without Borders). Therefore, that organization received 38 percent of the total distribution.

What is important is that management has no more say than employees in how the money is distributed. It's an egalitarian, democratic process.

At 5AM, we are committed to employee-driven philanthropy. Each year, 5 percent of our net profit goes to charities of our employees' choice through the 3-step process.

The other half of our philanthropy program is paid time off to volunteer. Every employee receives three annual paid days to volunteer at the charity of their choice.

Not everyone makes use of their volunteer time (myself included), but volunteer days can be donated to other employees.

This year, three co-workers and I gave our volunteer days to a colleague so he could have enough time to assess reporting procedures at community health clinics in Bhutan.

We were glad to help. That's what employee-driven philanthropy is about - helping people give back to the world. Some things are greater than the balance sheet.

Brent Gendleman is president and CEO of 5AM Solutions, a life-science software company based in Reston, Va.


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