Over the past year our world has revolved around COVID-19, seeking protection under face coverings and living day-to-day unsure of what to expect next. Looking back at emails from a year ago, when we had just been introduced to the virus, I can’t help but laugh reading statements like, “Let’s push our meeting back a few weeks when things have calmed down.”

When I reflect back over 2020, I am surprised at how things that felt so novel then have quickly become second nature. I live in a near-fully virtual atmosphere, buying groceries online and joining friends for Zoom happy hours. My fiancée and I easily brought our jobs home in a communal workspace and have loved indulging in the new business casual, athleisure wear.

While we may now take many of these conveniences for granted, there is one aspect of our new normal that I hope we all continue to value: an eagerness to support others in our communities and around the world however we can. Employee engagement programs and workplace giving opportunities help us achieve the aspiration for greater giving; however, COVID-19 created many challenges for those responsible for planning and carrying out these campaigns behind the scenes.

Seeking to translate the workplace giving experience to a COVID-19 world, campaign leaders found themselves having to suddenly ditch their familiar campaign structures and blindly navigate a new fundraising landscape. How do you facilitate charity participation in a campaign when they are coping with their own pandemic burdens? How do you bring employees together for fun and excitement in a virtual atmosphere? How do you promote the campaign without posters, brochures and giveaways? 

What we ended up seeing were campaign teams coming together to create a unique and innovative giving experience. Campaigns supported charities by offering easier application processes and advocating for support on their behalf by highlighting the exceptional challenges they all faced this year. They turned to digital communications with animated emails, energetic videos and social media to share charity stories and inspire giving. Participation was acknowledged through charity thank-you videos and “I gave!” email signature stickers. Colleagues gathered on video platforms for virtual kickoff events while enjoying mailed goodies, and teams coordinated group activities like online BINGO to add some life into the campaign.

Although the pandemic has had many negative effects on our personal and professional lives, it has also opened the door for innovation and creativity. Here are four examples of how Global Impact partners adapted their campaigns to respond to the changes and challenges we faced over the past year:

An orange heart on a blue background reading "Still together"

A more accessible application process 
King County Campaign
When COVID-19 forced Washington residents into quarantine, nonprofits were facing unprecedented financial and operational stress. Seeking to relieve some of this burden, King County eased eligibility rules for participating charities by waiving the program’s strict tiered financial reviews and automatically rolling over qualified charities from 2019. The average cost of an independent financial review can be thousands of dollars, and with the strains of social distancing causing delays and closures, organizations were faced with the possibly that they would not be able to complete this requirement before the close of the application period.

By changing this condition, King County was able to help provide immediate relief of expenses and access to funding for participating nonprofits. The decision also helped create a more robust offering of charities for their employees to support. Small and medium sized organizations were most impacted by this decision, resulting in a 9% increase of participating organizations with annual gross income below $1 million. King County had over 1,200 charities participate in their campaign this past year and the campaign raised a record-breaking $2.4 million in unrestricted support at a time when nonprofits need it most.

Innovative virtual events to engage employees and inspire giving 
Combined Federal Campaign
Like most workplace giving campaigns this past year, leaders within the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) found themselves scrambling to address the challenges of converting a historically in-person campaign to a nearly all-virtual experience. Teams across the CFC embraced this opportunity for change and put their heads together to produce what ended up being a season full of exciting, creative and unique virtual gatherings!

In the Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capital Area (CFCNCA), the campaign season started with an impressive, five-day virtual kickoff experience. Throughout the week, 5,000 employees tuned in to enjoy unique events that brought all of the same, if not more, excitement and energy as the traditional in-person version. The CFCNCA team hosted a number of engaging events like live social media broadcasts, virtual campaign worker trainings and a lunchtime webinar to hear from participating charities.

Throughout the campaign season in all zones, employees had many opportunities to hear stories of impactful work from charities through various virtual engagements. Campaign events brought employees together with their co-workers and even gave insight into each other’s personal lives. At staff talent shows, employees heard husband and wife duets, they moved along to a family dance off, were mesmerized by their colleague’s son’s magic and even learned that one of their co-workers was accomplished in ancient Egyptian math. Employees showed their competitive sides over virtual scavenger hunts and a socially distanced paper toss, or their creative sides in homemade mask and ginger bread house contests. To replace traditional bake sales and cook-offs, employees shared favorite recipes and the stories behind them while leading a cooking demonstration. Colleagues came together for painting lessons, exercise classes, poetry readings and to show off adorable “roommates” with shared family photos and virtual pet parades. One campaign division initiated the Lemon Face Challenge, which became a viral trend among federal employees across the states and abroad. Our team even joined in on the fun!

In a time of disconnect, the CFC was able to implement imaginative events like these and bring together employees across the nation to support those in need. The campaign raised nearly $83.6 million for local, national, and international nonprofits – an increase from the previous year.

Growing impact through an increased match
World Bank Group
In the weeks leading up to the World Bank Group’s fall 2020 workplace giving campaign, the planning team faced the same uncertainties as many other organizations: running a virtual campaign for the first time, being mindful of giving restraints, launching the campaign around a controversial U.S. presidential election and more.

Given all the work the World Bank Group was doing to support the global medical and financial implications of the pandemic, the institution was also faced with the certainty that its NGO partners needed additional philanthropic support to meet the growing need for their critical services. From that, discussions began as to whether the World Bank Group should increase its corporate match from the usual 100%.

On the eve of the campaign launch, senior management of the World Bank announced that, due to the extreme circumstances facing communities and the NGOs that serve them, the workplace giving campaign match would increase to 200%. The response from both NGO partners and donors was incredible. Contributions increased across all giving groups (staff, consultants, retirees, headquarters and country offices), and the amount pledged overall increased from $4.3 million to $6.3 million. Accounting for the match, the amount generated by World Bank’s campaign increased from over $8 million in 2019 to over $19 million in 2020, all during a time when NGOs needed support the most.

A group of people doing yoga outside

Employees who feel good, do good 
Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign
The past year has challenged all of us both physically and mentally, leaving many of us to reevaluate how we take care of ourselves. In response to the uncertainties caused by the past year, the Commonwealth of Virginia created “Weekly Wellnotes” to help employees take the best care of themselves. Each Monday employees received content like articles, original videos or recipes centered on healthy habits related to sleep, activity, diet and stress.

This self-care theme also carried over into the Commonwealth of Virginia’s employee giving campaign (CVC). In the spirit of the campaign, departments came together over healthy activities like the Virginia Information Technologies Agency’s (VITA) virtual yoga sessions. VITA’s “chief yoga officer” and CVC coordinator, Julie Fuentes, had been bringing team members together for mat and chair yoga sessions for about a year before the pandemic hit. After transitioning to a virtual working landscape, Julie took the classes online, leading her colleagues twice a week through a 30-minute mat and chair yoga session focused on breathing techniques, meditation and stretching.

Julie, who developed unique fundraising strategies such as an agency giving day and selling VITA branded merchandise in support of the campaign, used these yoga classes as another opportunity to raise money in support of the CVC. From October through December, participants were invited to donate money for the classes they attended and nominate their favorite charity to receive the dollars raised. Individuals were able to nominate their charity of choice for each class they attended, increasing the odds for their charity to be chosen. “Yoga for CVC” raised $260 for the selected charity, and VITA employees received a mindful break in their weeks to slow down and breathe.

A group of people do yoga inside a meeting room.

As we close out the 2020 campaign year and begin looking ahead to the upcoming season, I hope you are feeling inspired and energized for what’s to come! The past year turned our everyday routines upside down and pushed us to adapt our previously established methods. As they faced the unknown, campaign teams collaborated to improve outdated processes and upgrade older systems, all while gaining a better understanding of each other’s individual struggles and reimagining how we can connect with our fellow colleagues. We have proven our ability to respond in times of uncertainty, and for the next campaign – whether it is hosted virtually, in-person or some sort of hybrid model – we are ready, more than ever, to embrace the unexpected.

For support in planning your campaign contact Global Impact’s team of experts or visit our Virtual Giving Hub to access complimentary campaign resources.