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illustration of employee engagement
By
Deanna Neiers

It’s been said time and time again – 2020 was a year like no other. This sentiment applies to the employee giving space as well. The COVID-19 pandemic forced an abrupt shift to remote working, which also meant that workplace campaigns would need to take place remotely – and for many, this would be the first time doing so. It was an uncertain time for all, and looking back, we can see both positive and negative outcomes.  

Here are five trends from the 2020 employee giving season – and what we expect to see this year as a result: 

  1. Campaigns were limited or didn’t run at all.
    Unsurprisingly, many campaigns were unable to run at all, and some decided only to continue existing pledges into the next year, pausing on enrollment for new donors. One public sector campaign partner stated that due to the pandemic, they just didn’t have the resources to run a campaign in 2020; however, they felt hoping that their campaign would definitely be back in 2021 given the improving conditions. Another private sector partner who had run a fall campaign for years shifted to a year-round – or evergreen – campaign model. This means that an employee can make their pledge at any time throughout the year, instead of only during a specific campaign period. These outcomes had big effects on the overall campaign and employees, impacting participation rates and the amount raised. 

    TAKEAWAY: Was this the right call? Many workplaces were concerned about the toll the pandemic took on employees, and we appreciate the sensitivity. But the data shows an overall increase in both donors and dollars in giving in the U.S. with an estimated 5.2% increase year-over-year in 2020 when compared to 2019. There were individual success stories within our campaign partners, as well. In the public sector, for example, one state campaign increased pledges from $466,116 in 2019 to $500,313 in 2020. In the private sector, a company offered a 200% match to all donations. When you look at overall giving across the country, this may have been a missed opportunity. It goes back to the central principle that the number one reason people do not give is because they have not been asked. 2020 tells us that people want to give and sometimes just need to be asked, even if the timing doesn’t seem right.

    The other key take away is the opportunity for rollover giving, which means that a donor’s pledge from the previous year is automatically rolled over to the next year. This was a strong way to sustain giving levels when an organization did not have the staffing capacity to launch an annual campaign in 2020. If your employee giving program does not offer this, consider making this a regular policy.
     
  2. Virtual ruled. 
    Looking back at a 2020 event analysis, we saw a major shift in format – 96% events were virtual. Many campaigns that hosted virtual events had never done so previously. Our Virtual Employee Giving Hub helped equip campaign managers and volunteers with resources to design and run effective virtual campaigns that would inspire greater giving. 

    While there were definitely some hiccups along the way – especially involving technology – there were some bright spots, too. For the first time ever, a campaign could meaningfully involve remote workers and people outside their region in meetings and events, expanding their reach dramatically. For example, the Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capital Area (CFCNCA) hosts a kickoff each year with around 300 in-person attendees. By contrast, in 2020, their remote kickoff clocked in at an incredible 5,000 views.

    TAKEAWAY: This focus on engaging employees virtually will have an everlasting effect. It’s already forced campaigns to prioritize remote employees, a group that will continue to grow in number as organizations determine their return-to-work policies – if they officially return to in-office work at all. As a virtual worker myself, even pre-pandemic, I can say I am very happy about all of the improvements in engagement with my team and my organization.
     
  3. There was a rise in interest in domestic programs. 
    COVID-19 affected every corner of the world, including our own communities. As a result, some of us even found ourselves in dire situations, including job loss, food insecurity and contracting the virus itself. With the pandemic’s direct impact in our lives, we saw several of our normally international-focused Charity Alliance partners begin or expand their domestic programs. For example, one of our larger health-focused charities launched U.S. programming for the first time in decades to support contact tracing all across the country. They had years of experience with infectious disease contact tracing in countries around the world and wanted to step in and help when this service was suddenly needed at home. 

    It is our human instinct to protect and serve those around us, so we sprang into action and supported local causes when we saw the unprecedented need from our neighbors. However, as the U.S. continues to get the virus under control, there remains a great need in getting resources to underserved countries around the world. 

    TAKEAWAY: Donors will rally around causes they are passionate about. In any given year, current events will influence the giving trends. The top causes in 2020 were hunger, homelessness and racial equality (https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/press-releases/us-professionals-increase-year-over-year-workplace-donations.html). What will influence 2021 giving? That is yet to be determined and is why it is important to include a wide variety of charities in every employee giving program and ensure nonprofits have regular opportunities to cultivate employees. This cultivation is key to showing donors examples of how charities have pivoted their work and responded to the most pressing needs of communities around the world.
     
  4. Charities who promoted their COVID-19 work raised more. 
    Within our Charity Alliance, charities who promoted their COVID-19 work and asked for help raised more than those who did not. Similar results were seen in organizations who were able to support racial justice initiatives, especially following the death of George Floyd. 

    Looking on a bigger scale, there was a similar trend. Organizations who were able to innovate and pivot from existing fundraising models – and also weren’t scared to ask their supporters for help during a pandemic – found that people still wanted to give. They just needed the opportunity to do so. Organizations that sat on the sidelines waiting for COVID-19 to be over performed poorly in 2020. According to GivingTuesday.org, the percentage of organizations who fail to fundraise normally hovers around 1% in prior years. In 2020, this number rose steadily throughout the year and hit 4% in Q4. It was undoubtedly made up of these organizations who lacked flexibility and innovation. 

    TAKEAWAY: The ability to be flexible and responsive is still important and remain so in the future. Charities should always be ready to prepare new content, be transparent about what they need as an organization, and continue to innovate their programs and fundraising strategies for an uncertain future.
     
  5. Rearranged budgets allowed for additional investment in technology 
    This was particularly apparent in the public sector. Without the need for travel or print budgets, many states invested in website development and offered more opportunities to showcase charities, share stories of impact and improve the overall donor experience. Global Impact submitted more videos, success stories and photos on behalf of our Charity Alliance than ever before. State websites offered a list of COVID-19 responders and volunteer opportunities. One campaign hosted an online marketplace where charities could build out a profile that simulated a display as if they were presenting at a charity fair. Charities were encouraged to be present at their booths during certain hours so employees could visit to ask questions and learn about their mission. It has been an ongoing challenge to engage younger donors, and we are encouraged that these investments may help improve the experience. 

    TAKEAWAY: Meeting the content needs of each individual campaign is a daunting task. That is where a partner like Global Impact can help maximize a charity’s visibility across many campaigns. We also know from our experience that technology alone is not the only answer to increasing participation. It is the tools used to complement technology that craft a compelling story about the benefits of giving through the workplace and the impact that donations can have on the world – and participating charities are essential to crafting that message. 

 

So, what will 2021 have in store? We are hearing that many campaigns will run a hybrid model with some events taking place in-person and others staying remote. Being flexible and agile will be vital to future campaign success. At Global Impact, we will continue to utilize best practices for fundraising in both remote and in-person environments and would love to strategize with your organization. Reach out and start the conversation today. 

Deanna Neiers

Deanna Neiers

Deanna Neiers is the director of the northeast and central regions at Global Impact, and leads corporate and charity partnership efforts in her regions.  She is passionate about the organization’s alliance of international nonprofits and loves inspiring employees to donate to them.  She also loves to travel, eat out and explore the city.  Though born in the Midwest, Deanna has lived in New York City for the past 17 years which has earned her the title of an “official” New Yorker.  She and her husband frequently ponder one important decision—should they raise their two young children as Cubs fans or Yankees fans?  Only time will tell.  

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