What’s the matter with payroll giving? Jonathan Sandall thinks it’s time for a new approach
As many readers will know, a corporate fundraiser’s job can be a challenging one. Being chosen as a company’s charity of the year is always a great moment of celebration, tempered by sober reflections on how, with limited resource, you can meet the expectations of a new partner often struggling with its own issues of resource, budget and, in some cases, experience.
Planning tends to focus on the short-term aims of the partnership expressed as a calendar of fundraising activities, income targets, and volunteer engagement, but less so in terms of setting legacy goals that will survive the term of the relationship.
In my view, a charity partnership is about more than just fundraising. In a broader CR sense it promotes a change in organisational culture, embracing the benefits each individual can make to society and demonstrating that this runs through the heart of the company.
There will always be a vanguard of employees who enthusiastically engage with the fundraising and volunteering programmes. They climb mountains, jump out of planes, run marathons, grow facial hair and do any number of other things to raise money. But how many of us notice that focusing just on this aspect of fundraising can actually disenfranchise staff that lack the fitness, time or inclination to take part?
So, how do we build wider engagement?
One answer is to make payroll giving a key component of any new partnership at the planning stage, establishing a recruitment target and agreeing a campaign plan and budget to make this happen.
Payroll giving is an excellent way both to promote and measure staff engagement. It is also the most tax-efficient way an individual can give to charity. Furthermore, payroll donors typically remain involved for seven years compared to the one-to-three years of the average charity partnership.
The benefits are significant. Payroll donors offer an additional level of security in forward planning and budgeting. The charity recruits a new, often untapped, wealth of supporters with whom it can build long-term, valuable relationships.
It seems disappointing then that, according to HMRC, the number of payroll donors has fallen from 754,000 in 2008/09 to 720,000 in 2010/11. And yet there is plenty of evidence that some companies achieve superb results with payroll giving campaigns, which are celebrated annually at the National Payroll Giving Excellence Awards.
Lack of confidence
So why are some companies failing to get it right? In my experience, they sometimes lack the confidence to promote it actively. Moreover, some organisations see payroll giving as more of an administrative function rather than employee fundraising,which can lead to internal conflicts of interest and competition for access to crowded communication channels. I would simplify this by making payroll giving the responsibility of the CSR, not HR, team.
Professional fundraising organisations (PFOs) also have their part to play, and I would like to see them given greater access to the workplace, to promote payroll giving face to face.
Traditionally, charities have used PFOs as their principal tool in recruiting donors. However, they face their own distinct challenges. They are expected to offer a basket of charities, so are unable to capitalise on the headline billing and promotional collateral of the main charity partner. Second, there is limited access to staff as a whole. Despite their proven effectiveness when allowed in, there is a perception that people are put off by face to face selling, and that allowing PFOs into the workplace is intrusive. Current market penetration by PFOs may be as low as three per cent of the UK workforce.
That being the case, an exciting innovation is online promotion and sign-up. Employed alongside PFOs, companies can now provide all their staff – office-based or remote – with an integrated platform to promote payroll giving. The sign-up process is simple, and there is minimal disruption in the workplace.
Incentives such as payroll lotteries and contribution matching can also be highly effective in encouraging staff uptake.
Made to order
Payroll giving portals offer many advantages for the employer, employee and charity alike. They can be tailored to reflect the messages and language of the company. Less clunky as a process than face to face sign-ups, they inform the charity dynamically as new members enrol. This immediate feedback can be used to measure the effectiveness of campaigns, provide good news stories to run alongside other fundraising updates and create a sense of added contribution for the individual donors: a virtuous circle.
There is a palpable and renewed interest from the public, private and charity sectors in the role that payroll giving can and indeed must play in corporate fundraising partnerships. Charities have a real opportunity to take the lead on promoting payroll giving as an effective staff fundraising mechanism, and they now have the tools to do so.
Jonathan Sandall is head of corporate and trust fundraising at Make-A-Wish Foundation