How to Start a Charitable Giving Program at Work

Donating, fundraising and volunteering with your work colleagues is great for morale. How can you get a charity-supporting project going?

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Over the last 10 years, Marisa Arpaia, a principal at Toronto-based interior design firm Straticom, and her colleagues have raised $162,000 for Second Harvest, a charity that rescues fresh food destined for landfill and distributes it to social-service agencies.

The project began after a colleague suggested the firm raise money for the charity’s annual Turkey Drive. A small group, Arpaia included, pulled in just $500 that first year. Now, with more employees on board and an annual fundraising party that’s a must-attend, the 22-person firm raised around $42,000 last Winter alone. “It’s a way for everyone to take a step back from business and do something good for the community together,” Arpaia says.

Whether you’re someone who wants to start a workplace giving initiative or an entrepreneur who wants to support their employees, workplace giving is good for business.

With people becoming ever more socially conscious, more employees are pitching their bosses – and more business owners are getting pitched – on potential charitable giving ideas. Whether you’re someone who wants to start a workplace giving initiative or an entrepreneur who wants to support their employees, workplace giving is good for business.

Devon Hurvid, director, social enterprise for Imagine Canada, an organization that supports charities, says supporting employee-led initiatives can help employees develop new skills, boost retention, help with recruitment and lead to deeper connections with clients and customers. Arpaia’s work with Second Harvest helped her employees bond. “It’s a chance for people to really get to know each other, to work together and problem-solve in a different way than we’re used to,” she says.

If your workplace doesn’t yet do much in the way of giving, consider jumpstarting a project. That could entail earmarking a charity for donations, seeking out a volunteer opportunity for your staff, putting together a company team for a charity race or organizing a new fundraising event.

Here’s how to convince others, get a project off the ground and make it stick over time.

Sell the idea

If you want to start your own workplace giving program, you’ll need to get management’s buy-in first. Talking about the many benefits – such as retention and bonding – can help you sell the idea, says Hurvid.

Then make sure the charity you have picked is registered with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). These non-profits can issue tax receipts, and the financial status of CRA-registered charities is publicly available. Plus, they must follow guidelines that determine how much of the money raised on their behalf goes to their charitable activities.

Show and tell

You’ll then want to explain to your colleagues how the non-profit connects with your workplace’s values, which is important. There should be some reason why a company would want to support a particular charity.

This was effective for Straticom. “In our industry, being able to repurpose building materials is huge, and the idea of not leaving a large footprint is something that’s important to a lot of our designers,” says Arpaia. Second Harvest does similar work, but with food.

Use what you have

When it comes time to plan an event, you don’t have to do it all yourself. Many charities offer resources to guide workplace giving. They can also help keep you on the right side of any fundraising laws and regulations, including tax rules.

Meanwhile, look to your company’s resources to find ways to give that are a natural fit. Maybe you have space you can donate for a non-profit’s meetings or events. Or consider donating professional services or products.

Make it stick

One-off drives or events are great, but you’ll give more – and get more out of it – if you can run a project year after year. It helps to start small and not overwhelm people with huge demands of their time, says Arpaia. Every year, her team would set bigger goals and bring more people into her fundraising group.

Another idea is to set up a company-wide fundraising committee. The employees who serve on it can both nurture ongoing projects – even after the initial founders move on – and help with other projects across the company, says Hurvid.

But remember, while giving can feel great for some people, never force anyone to volunteer or donate, says Hurvid. “If you’re able to give employees some options or the ability to volunteer and support organizations that they are already close with, that’s ideal,” he says.

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