Charitable benefits are a good motivator

Charitable perks can do wonders for employee engagement and will enhance an employer’s image as a caring organisation, says Jennifer Paterson

Apart from their main functions of attracting, engaging and retaining staff, benefits can also be used to support an organisation’s wider strategies, such as corporate social responsibility (CSR). Here, staff are invited to take part in initiatives such as payroll giving schemes, corporate volunteering plans and paid leave to perform charity work.

John Sylvester, executive director at P&MM Motivation, says: “Many organisations are looking to build their CSR programmes.

“They are appealing to employees’ better nature to give a feelgood factor about the work they are doing and the contribution they are making,” he says.

Payroll giving schemes enable staff to donate to charity tax-efficiently from their gross salary. Through an HM Revenue and Customs-approved scheme, employees can donate any amount they want, which their employer may choose to match.

However, many organisations are still unaware of the tax-efficiency of payroll giving. Peter O’Hara, managing director of provider Workplace Giving UK, says: “Our role is to make it easy for employees to engage with the scheme, understand the tax benefits, and make it easy for them to start giving. Staff give, on average, about £6.50 a month, but that really adds up over the years.”

About 9,000 UK employers operate payroll giving schemes. Of these, 1,500 offer a programme through Workplace Giving UK and 4,000 use the give-as-you-earn scheme provided by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF). Peter Cafferkey, senior company relations manager at CAF, says: “It enables employers to deliver on promises around community investment and company perception.”

Maximise staff interest and donations

Once a payroll giving scheme has been implemented, the employer should ensure it remains fresh in order to maximise staff interest and donations. Online fashion retailer Asos relaunched its scheme, provided by Workplace Giving UK, with the aim of making charitable donations more personal. After the relaunch, take-up jumped from 4% to 14.5% and staff pledged a total of £8,030 more. Louise McCabe, head of CSR at Asos, says: “We wanted to give the scheme a clear identity. Payroll giving gives staff the chance to be a bit more personal.”

Another option is to invite staff to donate a portion of their salary through charities such as Pennies from Heaven. This scheme rounds down an employee’s net salary to the nearest pound and takes the pennies left over to donate to charity. Anthony Law, managing director of Pennies from Heaven, says: “The organisation agrees on one charity or a basket of charities. There is all the flexibility you can hope, but as an individual might have only one pence left on their pay packet, they might end up giving only 12p in a year.”

Some employers also offer staff the chance to donate their time through a corporate volunteering scheme. Arrangements range from employees taking four days of paid time off each year, to a more informal, ad-hoc approach. Gennie Franklin, acting director of employee volunteering at Business in the Community (BITC) says:

“The most common policy is to provide one day a year paid time off volunteering in support of the company’s community investment activities.

“Not only does volunteering give companies a chance to engage employees and to develop a wide range of skills, it can provide a channel to demonstrate corporate values, contributing to improved employee perception, motivation and retention.”

Giving time instead of money

According to the Department of Communities and Local Government’s 2008/2009 DCLG Citizenship Survey, more than two million people in England volunteered through employer-supported schemes between 2008 and 2009. Law says: “Staff like to have lots of different ways to participate. Giving is not just money; there is an awful lot that can be given in time, in terms of volunteering.”

Employers such as Virgin Atlantic Airways, Informa and Pfizer have offered staff time off to volunteer for local or international projects. For example, 60 Virgin staff climbed Mount Kenya to raise £35,000 for the airline’s adopted Kenyan village.

According to the Team-based employee volunteering survey published by BITC last year, 97% of staff feel it is important that their employer supports volunteering in working hours. Franklin says: “Staff volunteering is a key tool to raise awareness internally of how a company is making a positive impact on society. It also enables companies to raise the awareness and improve their perception within their local community.”

So, offering charitable perks can have clear advantages for employers, but some may benefit from a greater awareness around the tax-efficiency of these schemes, as well as the engagement and motivation that volunteering can instil in staff.

Read more on motivation.


Case study: Healthy interest in Bupa projects

Bupa offers its staff a range of volunteering opportunities, including team-building challenges that highlight causes close to employees’ hearts, teaching local schoolchildren about healthy eating, and an international biannual charity project.

Bupa’s first project in 2007 saw 60 employees travel to northern Thailand to work in an orphanage. Almost all (98%) of the employees said they were proud of Bupa for taking part in charitable work.

That was followed by the Ecuador Challenge, which saw 120 staff build a health and community centre in Ecuador in 2009. Another trip is being planned for 2011, with the destination yet to be decided.Claire Atkinson, community affairs manager, says: “Employees learned skills that are transferable to the workplace. That message was spread across the workforce. It seems to be a very engaging project and more people are applying each year.”

Project details are communicated to staff via the firm’s Community Connections website and through its internal Bupa World magazine.


Case study: Barclays invests in communities

Barclays Bank offers its employees a range of charitable benefits.

The bank has offered a payroll giving scheme since June 1987, and introduced matching contributions in 2002. In 2009, more than 9,500 employees and pensioners donated through the scheme, provided by Workplace Giving UK.
The bank was also the first employer to run the Pennies from Heaven programme, starting in 2001. Since then, it has raised more than £605,000 from excess pennies.

Barclays also offers a comprehensive range of employee community engagement programmes, called Charity Begins At Work. This involves a global volunteering programme and matched fundraising three times a year. Last year, more than 58,000 Barclays employees in 31 countries used the company’s support to become involved in their local communities.

Hannah Willis, associate director, global community investment at Barclays Group Corporate Affairs, says: “We believe our business will benefit from contributing to the development and sustainability of the communities in which we operate.

“At the same time, our own research has shown that encouraging our colleagues to get involved has a positive impact by increasing employee satisfaction, personal development and pride in working for Barclays.”