Webinar Recap: How to Save the World, One Paycheck at a Time
Featuring Junelle Kroontje, Manager of the King County Employee Giving Program
By Emily Gross on March 7, 2019
Employee giving, or workplace giving as it is traditionally known, is an incredibly vital mechanism for social impact. America’s Charities recently launched a campaign, Saving the World, One Paycheck at a Time, to revisit, revitalize, and emphasize this important point: employee giving is powerful, it works, and it benefits nonprofits, donors, and employers alike. Read more about the campaign and how you can join us in spreading the word about the importance of workplace giving.
On January 20, I moderated a webinar with Junelle Kroontje, manager of the King County Employee Giving Program (KCEGP), and Jim Starr, America’s Charities’ president and CEO, as we discussed key questions at the heart of employee giving. Below is a recap of the webinar Q&A, the webinar recording is here, and the PDF of the presentation is here.
I hope you’ll register for the next webinar in the Saving the World series on March 26, at 1 pm ET. We’ll discuss the value of workplace giving with Susan O’Brien, manager of the New Jersey Employees Charitable Campaign (NJECC).
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept or maybe need a refresher, employee giving, also known as workplace giving, allows individuals to donate to nonprofits through a charitable campaign run by their workplace. Traditional workplace giving programs allow for payroll deduction, where employees have a small amount come out of each paycheck, with the aim of pledging a certain amount over the course of a year. More recently, employee giving has come to encompass a lot of different things including volunteering and donating paid time off, aka PTO. Overall, workplace giving generates $5 billion a year for nonprofits and it's increased about $1 billion over the past decade. This funding comes from all different kinds of sources, and all different kinds of employers.
With this Saving the World webinar series, we're going to interview several different stakeholders in this space asking them the same questions. Today, we are interviewing Junelle Kroontje, manager of the King County Employee Giving Program. This is the giving program for all 14,000 employees of King County, Washington. The campaign just celebrated its most successful year on record, raising $2 million for nonprofits. Junelle has managed this program for more than 10 years, during which time she's increased dollars raised every year, even during the worst recession that King County had ever seen. Junelle has also introduced and passed legislation to bring her program in line with best practices. She has nearly doubled nonprofit participation, and we're really excited to hear more about her program and more about her experience today.
We feel that this conversation is long overdue within our industry, simply because this space has become more confusing. We wanted to clear up misconceptions that were born from this confusion from some articles and other press that suggest workplace giving is no longer a viable fundraising mechanism for nonprofits. We know, and our experience shows, that the actual truth is the opposite of that.
“Workplace giving is a powerful, significant source of funding for nonprofits, and it has a huge impact on nonprofits’ ability to deliver vital services to their communities and to those in need.”
Workplace giving is growing. It's very powerful and it is a significant and impactful source of funding for nonprofits. It has a huge impact on nonprofits’ ability to deliver vital services to their communities and to those in need. We're going to spend some time talking a little bit more about that, but it's important to understand that workplace giving has evolved. It's moved away from a more traditional, fixed choice, in some cases a coercive, single nonprofit-branded model to one that is about choice, about convenience, about leveraging technology and providing more resources to more nonprofits across this country.
“Workplace giving has evolved from a more traditional, often coercive, fixed choice, single nonprofit-branded model to one that is about choice, convenience, leveraging technology and providing more resources to more nonprofits across this country.”
Workplace giving is not outdated or outmoded. It is simply evolved, and, in fact, it is growing. We're happy to have Junelle Kroontje with us from King County. She runs the King County Employee Giving Program for more than 14,000 employees. It's a program that is a model for other organizations—not just other public sector organizations, but any organization in terms of its growth, impact, participation, and engagement levels. Junelle, based on her experience, has some unique insights into this space as the manager of a very successful workplace giving program. Without further ado Junelle, let's jump right in:
1. What do you think would happen if employee giving programs weren't around anymore?
Unfortunately today it's not hard to imagine because we're seeing some real-life impacts right now. Some campaigns across the country are declining. Charities are closing their doors, and when charities close their doors, that means they're not meeting their missions, they’re not providing vital services. They're not saving lives, they are not changing lives. That's very disappointing. So, unfortunately, we don't have to imagine what would happen. We can see what's happening in these communities right now, and it's heartbreaking.
I want to tell you a quick story about how it looks when we show up through workplace giving. Our local Regional Animal Services had a 51% save rate in 2004 and by 2008 were considering shutting their doors. I have been with them for a long time. They came to me in 2009 and let me know that they were not going to close down, that the Executive Director wanted to do the opposite. Instead, they were going to change their model of doing business and become one of the best animal care and control agencies with the hopes of reaching “no-kill” status, which is huge for a municipality. One piece of their new model was to expand the way they accepted donations, including the steps they needed to take to be in our program as a governmental unit. This allowed not just donations from the general public, but other King County Employees who didn’t work directly in the program, to be a part of their transformation.
Their strategy worked. This last year, they had over 92% save rate and are a leader across the nation. While I am certain it wasn’t the primary thing that led to their success, it was a key piece in building community within our workplace to rally with them and our animals. They are consistently one of the top nonprofits in our program with hundreds of employees supporting their work. Volunteering and giving allow them to do extraordinary things such as provide extensive medical care beyond what’s budgeted and assisting animals in finding their forever families. Every time one of their dogs is brought to our events it ends up adopted.
“There is something magical that happens when you can rally your employees around a common cause. Workplace giving helps build community.”
I love sharing this story because I got to personally be a part of it and watch it the whole way. It incorporates how workplace giving can support everything you are doing. There is something magical that happens when you can rally your employees around a common cause. Workplace giving helps build community. It has been amazing and now they are setting national standards. So you can see what happens when these mechanisms to engage employees do exist.
“You need big tools, big solutions for big problems.”
I am a firm believer that workplace giving is one of the most powerful tools in solving our greatest problems. You need big tools, big solutions for big problems. And we're not alone, right? Fun fact: workplace giving started in the public sector and, you know, public employees are servants at heart. The private sector began to see what a powerful tool workplace giving was for giving back and began adopting it – and now its core to the private sector’s brand and value proposition. Companies have since learned that it's a key part of employee engagement and retention, especially for Millennials. For example, here at King County, employees who participate in our workplace giving program are 14% more engaged than employees who don't. And those employees that are in our champion segment are 20% more engaged.
“That’s workplace giving and volunteering: it amplifies everything we touch; giving, employee experience, and community partnerships.”
If anyone is listening is in HR or reads any employee engagement research, you know that workplace giving adds millions of productivity value for the organization. The best tool is a tool that can be used in several ways. That’s workplace giving and volunteering: it amplifies everything we touch; giving, employee experience, and community partnerships. I believe that without workplace giving, we—as individuals coming together—would not have the same ability to solve our world's greatest problems.
I agree. That is a great example and just one particular instance among so many. We know $5 billion is raised for nonprofits every single year through these employee giving programs—and it’s growing. It's not declining. In fact, here at America's Charities, we're seeing a 10% year-over-year increase in the dollars we're able to generate for our charity members and other nonprofits through employee giving programs we manage.
And the impact is not just about the nonprofits in our communities. As you said, Junelle, workplace giving is also important for employers and for employees in the public and private sectors. We know through our own research that 70% of employees say it is imperative or very important for them to work for an employer where their mission and values align with their own, which is critical if you’re an organization looking to have a company culture that's supportive of giving back to the community. We know that 80% of companies understand that there is an expectation amongst their employees to provide opportunities to engage with causes and issues that are important to them. So the impact cuts across a variety of different stakeholders—across employee bases and types of engagement. So, next up:
2. Let’s talk a little bit about real-world differences: What real-world difference does it make when employees give through workplace giving programs as opposed to other fundraising methods like Facebook, GoFundMe, or Text2Give? What's the value in the difference that employee giving programs bring to the table for nonprofits and other stakeholders?
I don't really see them as comparable. I feel like they're different tools in the toolbox. We all know that nonprofits and people have different tools to use for different situations. Many of those fundraising methods you mentioned are designed for impulse giving or ad hoc opportunities. There are a time and a place for them; for example, there are going to be things that happen throughout my life (and I do this for a living!) where I'm not necessarily going to be giving through work. But that's not that's not the role of payroll donation, it offers us something more.
I want to tell you why I love fell in love with workplace giving. When I first came to work here at King County 15 years ago, I had been doing a lot of work in the community. I had been volunteering. I was on boards. I was fundraising. There’s a little saying in the fundraising world that goes, “If you can't give it, you raise it.” I grew up relatively working poor and the idea of writing a $100 check to a charity was completely foreign to me. That's the kind of money that you saved for the light bill when the power guy was at the door to turn it off. That's what that kind of money meant to me. So I just had no concept of giving like that to charity. Not that my family wasn't charitable. It's just that $100 was a lot of money. And so when I got involved with nonprofits and fundraising, I raised it because I couldn't give it.
“Workplace giving helped me become the philanthropist I wanted to be. For $5 a paycheck, I was able to support my favorite nonprofits.”
But I always wanted to. I always wanted to be able to see myself on the annual report. I wanted my giving to match my passion and my energy and my advocacy. And then, I came here to work at King County, and my employer is telling me that for as low as $5 a paycheck, I can support my favorite nonprofits that are in the program. I thought, "I can do that; $5 a paycheck is completely accessible to me!" If I do that, at the end of the year that's a $120. That would put me on the annual report. Finally, I was able to be the kind of philanthropist that I wanted to be!
“Payroll donations make strategic long-term investing available to anyone.”
And, it turns out that I'm not alone. This is what payroll donation does for people. It makes strategic long-term investing available to anyone who wants to be a part of that. I can tell you in the 15 years I've worked at King County, there are four organizations I've given to every single year since I started working here. So now I'm not only a giver, I'm now a major investor. I've been with these organizations since the beginning. That's the power of this program. It literally makes this kind of investing available to anyone no matter who you are. You don't have to be Bill Gates to make a difference.
One of the things that we find in working with nonprofits is that, because of the convenience of recurring donations—$5 donation per paycheck or $10 a paycheck or whatever — employee giving programs result in an annual gift that is typically five times higher than what someone gives just through an annual fund program, with a check that's written at the end of the year. Workplace giving amplifies the power of the gift and the engagement.
“Workplace giving is about creating an ongoing donor relationship, whereas other fundraising mechanisms are more impulsive or episodic.”
The other interesting piece, and you mentioned this at the beginning Junelle, is that workplace giving is about creating an ongoing donor relationship, whereas these other platforms are more impulsive or episodic. For example, you can put $10 in this or that, or you get a text from a charity because of some type of event or special fundraiser. It's really just a one-off, episodic relationship in which the donor doesn't have much of a connection to the program or end result. Through employee giving programs, the fact that they're making a donation every paycheck and chose that particular charity or group of charities to support provides an opportunity for nonprofits to really nurture those relationships.
I like to say here that we move people from being able to buy a book to building a library; from being able to plant a tree to repairing entire ecosystems. We move the true needle. It’s meaningful work that most people desire. When you ask people what they're going do when they retire or if they didn't have to work, most people say “I would volunteer.” Or maybe travel. But at the core of us, who we want to be, that’s what payroll donation and workplace giving speak to. It allows us to align who it is that we want to be with our intent, with our actions. It helps us fulfill that promise. I know this sounds lofty, but it's true. I've seen it and I've done it and that's why this is my calling. I'm completely obsessed about workplace giving.
“Workplace giving allows us to align who it is we want to be with our intent, with our actions.”
And that's why you're with us today! Next question:
3. What are some of the changes for better or for worse that you're seeing in the employee giving and volunteering space in the past five years?
Some of the changes I'm seeing in the industry are in the way that organizations are showing up. It used to be that everybody was underneath the United Way. Now I talk to people and explain that United Way, it’s a great organization, is actually just one of the 1,100 organizations in my program, it’s not the program itself here. This is a trend we've seen across the industry, not everyone is under one organization anymore, there is more diversity, and more direct participation. It forces companies to have a stake in the running of their programs. I think that's what is driving the huge spectacular growth in the technology and administrative market. There are technology partners such as America’s Charities and others that have helped the industry evolve.
“Workplace giving isn’t a thing, a mechanism; it’s an experience.”
A lot of employers no longer have programs for the sake of having them at a certain time of the year. It's no longer just a nice thing that you do. It's now a whole program that you offer that aligns with strategic priorities. Giving employees a variety of options, not just in charities and causes, but also in the ways that you can show up – because we each show up in different ways with our time, talent, and money. We lead people through the experience. One thing I think we sometimes forget in this work is that we're not just a thing, we're not just a mechanism. We probably wouldn’t be able to compete if we just were a thing. We're an experience. And when we focus on the people experience side of things, that's when we get our most magnificent outcomes. That’s what I’m seeing. I’m seeing the industry move to this experience and start focusing on people.
Personally, I'm hoping that legislation gets passed for a pre-tax charity savings account. I've been watching that news very carefully and I think that's on the horizon. If that passes, it's going to be a game changer. Game-changing for workplace giving and for charities, because it will probably almost double charitable contributions overnight. There are a couple of things out there in the legislative space that if any one of them were enacted would have a very positive impact on employee giving programs as well as charitable giving overall. You mentioned a pre-tax payroll contribution, the Everyday Philanthropist Act, plus the Universal Charitable Deduction legislation out there as well. Hopefully, at least one of those can get enacted for the benefit of the charitable community overall.
One of the things that you mentioned earlier, and a theme of this conversation and this space, is choice. You mentioned that giving programs now are not so much centered on an organization or a group of charities like the United Way, but more about offering employees the ability to donate to whoever they want or to a much larger number of charities. You mentioned you have more than 1,100 charity choices in your campaign alone, and we at America’s Charities are also seeing more and more organizations default to open choice, even if that means focusing on particular cause areas. We're seeing companies being very strategic with their corporate philanthropy efforts while also trying to balance broader engagement through more open choice. It's not just a choice of who to give to, but in some respects, more choice around when to give: moving from traditional fixed time period campaigns in the fall to more of, what we call ‘evergreen’ or year-round campaigns. That allows employees to donate to causes throughout the course of the year, either through special campaigns that are cause-centered or in response to a disaster or another episodic event, as well as a year-round giving opportunity. And a lot of this is facilitated by technology, as opposed to driven by technology.
Exactly. I suspect that some of the campaigns that have had to close their doors are ones that put all of their eggs in the technology basket – that somehow technology is going to fix all problems. As we all know in technology, even though you build it doesn't mean they're going to come. Technology makes the experience better. It lifts it up so that it's convenient and it's easy. But if you don't have that total experience and drive people there, it doesn't matter. And that's what we offer in workplace giving: an incredible experience that technology just makes that much sweeter. I actually don't have an amazing technology platform here. It's on my bucket list. I understand that it will make things better, but it's not the core of what makes our program good.
Technology can’t really drive program success on its own, but it is a key ingredient. You touched on a couple of different things about the real value and difference employee giving really can have, so:
4. In your opinion, how can we as a sector, as an industry, better showcase and communicate about employee giving so that more people understand it and see its value, and more people want to participate?
“If we're not telling the story of workplace giving right, then we're not showcasing the power of what it is that we're doing.”
It’s going to sound totally and completely cliché, but it's the same thing that we tell our nonprofits, the same thing we tell businesses. We're going to have to do a better job of storytelling, explaining the impact of workplace giving and, in particular, our collective impact through our workplace giving. I have this quote that I find myself including in my trainings all the time by Dr. Brené Brown: "Maybe stories are just data with a soul." It's so true. If we're not telling the story of workplace giving right, then we're not showcasing the power of what it is that we're doing.
We do a really good job of saying "Company A showed up and raised $10,000” and “here's a picture with our check to the charity for $10,000.” That’s great! But that's actually the data, not the story. Tell me the story! Tell me about how the $10,000 empowered someone, something, a community. For example, I told you the story earlier about our local regional animal services charity, but now let me talk about something even bigger. You have mentioned that workplace giving brings in $5 billion every year—that is just a mind-boggling amount—but did you know that another estimated $10 billion (with a "b" not an "m") is left on the table every year by charities in matching gifts?
Now, imagine that we have solved climate change. We've reversed it and we're on our way. Seriously, I want you to imagine it. I want you to know how it feels.
But it’s actually hard to imagine because it is so huge. I think some of us can't even comprehend the scale of a problem of that size, let alone that it has been solved. Here's another really big problem - worldwide extreme poverty. But did you know that over the last 30 years, it has been cut in half? I was reading the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation letter a couple of years ago that shared stories about communities, whole communities and villages and people, with livelihoods now that we’ve cut worldwide poverty in half. A worldwide issue cut in half. I would say that is pretty spectacular.
“Solving big problems is totally possible.”
I'm not saying workplace giving is the entire the reason for cutting poverty in half, but it was a part of the solution. Over a lifetime we’ve been working to end poverty. As a global, connected world, individuals, governments, and foundations have been coming together to solve this problem, and in 30 years – we’ve halved it. So solving big problems is totally possible.
“Imagine what we could do if we leveraged all of our employees and all of our matching gifts.”
I want to take you back to the climate change example. I was reading a story that the largest philanthropic investment ever made into combating climate change was $4 billion over five years. That's amazing, but that's the largest gift that has ever been made to combat one of our biggest problems. Imagine if we leveraged all of our employees, all of our matching gifts, what we could do to actually solve that problem.
Remember, when I said we need big solutions for big problems? I think the sheer numbers tell us we could do it. That's the story. That's the commitment. That's the shared goal. These problems are the things that we need to be telling everyone because every person I know wants to be a part of this. They want to be a part of solving these problems in their communities or across the planet. Here in Seattle, we have a huge homelessness crisis. People experience homelessness every day. I absolutely believe that if we leveraged ourselves at work, we could solve that problem in our lifetime.
And because of programs like King County’s, and people like you, it’s possible. Workplace giving is a real connection point between companies, employees, and nonprofits. These programs bring those three stakeholders together all at once to help solve some of these huge issues, across the community, across the country, across the planet. One final question, Junelle:
5. We've got these three critical stakeholders – employers, employee donors, and charities – all with a stake in successful workplace giving. How do we get more engagement out of the employee donors and what is your advice and counsel to those nonprofit partners to enable them to get increasing value out of these programs?
“If we’re really serious about solving problems, we have to invest in the people side of business, like workplace giving programs, knowing that it's going have huge outcomes.”
On the employer side, we need to understand that it's a people business. If we’re really serious that we want to solve these problems, then we have to invest in the people side of business, knowing that it's going to have huge outcomes. Not just on the problem you're trying to solve, but also for you as a business.
“If we want to attract the best and brightest, we have to provide an experience for our employees that match their intent.”
I've already talked about the engagement stats that I've seen but there's a lot of data out there to support what I'm experiencing. Workplace giving will get you there. Here in Seattle, we are competing with some of the top employers for top talent. We just can't sit back and rely on our good government benefits. We have Starbucks, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, REI, all of these amazing organizations, with good benefits and many of them purpose-filled. If we want to attract the best and brightest—and as a sector we should want to attract the best and brightest—we have to make sure we're providing an experience for our employees that match that intent. And workplace giving is such a good way to do it because it helps you hit so many of your priorities including solving community problems. You have to put some money where your mouth is and really invest in these programs because they work.
One of the things that America’s Charities does well is talk with charities about how to leverage workplace giving, how to act within the workplace hemisphere, how to thank donors, how to incorporate it as part of your total fundraising package. We need more of that. Workplace giving is not part of the fundraising certification here, yet it's a bigger and more important part of fundraising all the time. I'm constantly having to provide education around it. So, one, I would say charities need to think about how to strategically include workplace giving in their fundraising portfolios. Two, state the reason to could include it in their fundraising portfolios.
“If a charity converted just a small percentage of its donors to workplace giving, then all of a sudden, without even building any capacity in its people, they can double those donations.”
Let me give a little bit more data: the average retention of donors for a nonprofit is 45%, meaning 45% of donors return year over year. Earlier I told you my personal story for becoming involved with workplace giving, and in fact, my personal story is repeatable over and over in the data. At King County, we retain 75%-80% of our donors year over year and we do not offer automatic rollover. If we looked at industry-wide data for workplace giving, I bet it would be similar or higher. Imagine if a charity converted just a small percentage of its donors to workplace giving. All of a sudden, without even building any capacity in its people, they can double those donations. Then, after the five-year period, that's an exponential return for a charity’s fundraising portfolio. Plus, you're automatically building capacity because you're engaging employers for your charity and in your fundraising. I am excited for the day when this becomes more strategic for nonprofits and public sector employers.
Question from the audience:
6. Why is there such a big misunderstanding or misconception that workplace giving or employee giving is outmoded or outdated?
“Organizations that are reliant on the old workplace giving program methodology are seeing diminishing returns, and they are frustrated.”
That's a great question. Luckily that misunderstanding or misconception is not shared by all, but there is a lot of noise out there. Some people equate workplace giving with the old methodology of filling out a paper pledge form and having a limited ability to pick a number of charities, or the one you want isn’t even there. And in fact, programs that operate like that are going away, or kind of dying. Organizations that are reliant on that type of a program are seeing diminishing returns and are frustrated by that. We've seen articles in local and national press that say our results are going down so workplace giving must be dying – but that's not the case at all.
You know, another case in point is the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), one of the country's largest workplace giving programs. The CFC has been declining – but not because employee giving is going away. It's just that the Federal Campaign implemented a great deal of change last year, and on top of that, imagine working in an environment where you're constantly beleaguered. You're not getting very many raises, you're having benefits reduced, you're told to go home and not come back to work – and you won’t receive a paycheck for 35 days. Your desire to want to give up some of your paychecks regardless of how noble the cause is probably diminished.
So there are other factors that are driving diminished or declining results in some campaigns, but the ones that are leveraging technology to facilitate engagement, have well-defined programs and focus, have leadership and engagement across all levels, are offering employees the ability to shape the program, allow employees to choose the charities they care about, to go out and volunteer for the causes that matter to them, that have corporate support or company support—those programs are truly thriving. As I mentioned earlier, our own clients are seeing year over year increasing results because they implemented these best practices. Junelle, what are you seeing in King County?
“The workplace giving programs that are failing are the ones that are failing to evolve and failing to invest in the program properly.”
I agree with you, Jim. As you said, the programs that are failing are the ones that are failing to evolve and failing to invest in the program properly. Just like anything we do in our workplaces, if you don’t invest, if you don’t make it your priority, if you don’t have skin in the game, it's probably not going to be as successful as you would like it to be.
“I can tell you what’s going on in your organization’s culture just based on your workplace giving data.”
I always tell people I can tell you what's going on in your culture just based on your data. You don't even need to spend much money on a fancy employee survey. We can tell from the CFC data what's going on there. But people are extrapolating those results and saying, “Oh then this must be what happening across the industry.” No, not every workplace literally isn’t paying their employees. The greater data set doesn't support the idea that it is declining. I recently read this article and they asked employees if they could no longer give at work, would they or do they give outside the workplace replacing their workplace giving donations. The employees said yes, they were replacing their donations – but I almost laughed out loud because that completely denies the fundamental premise of behavioral economics.
“People are not giving outside of work to the same extent that they are giving at work. In fact, people give more at work.”
Behavioral economics tells us they're not replacing donations. People are not actually giving outside of work to the same extent that they were giving at work. But people want to believe that they are, so they say yes to that question. When you follow the data, however, it’s clear: people give more at work. Plus the retention of that giving is higher. That is one of the powerful tools of workplace giving.
“There is a big disconnect between long-term intent and short-term behavior. Workplace giving bridges that gap.”
If you ask people, “Are you saving enough money for retirement?” you’ll hear “Sure, I think I'm saving for retirement, I'll be fine.” This is where the field of behavioral economics started. But researchers found out that no, people are not saving for retirement, and it wasn't until workplaces started helping people save for retirement that our retirement savings actually started getting better. Even still, we don't know that we're saving enough for retirement because there's this very big disconnect psychologically and behaviorally between long-term intent and short-term behavior. Workplace giving bridges that gap.
“As going to work for a company is the major mechanism of our economy, workplace giving is the major tool for massive social impact and change.”
When I think about my existence, just who I am in this world, I spend most of my waking hours—whether I want to or not—either at work or coming to and from work. Anytime my employer can support me to do stuff like this when I'm in that space, I am much more likely to be successful. Because outside of work, I'm a foster parent. I'm a parent. I'm involved in my community and the PTA. I'm doing all of these things and my life is so busy. Even though I intend to give more and volunteer, workplace giving actually helps me fulfill my core intention. And we see it again and again: as long as going to work for a company is the major mechanism of our economy, workplace giving, if done right, can be the right tool, and the major tool, for massive social impact and change.
Register for the next webinar in our "Saving the World One Paycheck at a Time” campaign, March 26 at 1 pm ET: www.charities.org/changestartsatwork #ChangeStartsAtWork