Many employees indicate that they want to be a part of a workplace that is socially meaningful in some way. America’s Charities’ 2017 Snapshot study found that “71% of surveyed employees say it is imperative or very important to work where culture is supportive of giving and volunteering.” More recently, many employees are seeking to work at companies that are advancing equity, diversity, and community.
At the same time, COVID-19 has accelerated remote work trends for some workers, resulting in a sense of disconnection. While the acceleration of flexible work arrangements has afforded certain benefits for some, it has also created new challenges. For example, in today’s remote and hybrid work arrangements, many workers are feeling more isolated than ever before.
What if there were a way to help employees feel more connected to their colleagues at work, while also enabling them to support social causes they care about by directly donating a portion of their salary?
Since 2015, our team has been researching donor behavior and designing and testing behavioral solutions that bridge the gap between good intentions and impactful actions in giving. We’re sharing some of the designs from our most recent phase of work and the insights we learned from testing them in real workplaces. Up next: Work for Good, which gives employees the opportunity to support social causes they care about while connecting with their colleagues.
Transforming hours at work into dollars for impact
Work for Good is a workplace volunteer campaign that combines the emotional rewards and shared experience of an in-person, company-wide volunteer experience with the impact and ease of automatic donations. On a designated campaign day, participating employees work as usual, and choose to donate their salary-equivalent earnings to an organization or cause they care about. Their employer automatically donates earnings from their next paycheck for the number of hours they choose to “work” for the cause of their choice. The campaign is designed to support social connection among colleagues through shared social experiences like Slack channels, email groups, and in-person gatherings, and a warm glow feeling from doing their “Work for Good.”
Work for Good is uniquely designed to help people follow through on their intentions to give by leveraging three key behavioral design components:
- Frame giving in terms of time
Donating time activates an emotional mindset that helps people feel more connected and generous compared to donating cash. For example, when giving ‘effort’ (that translates into earnings), individuals have been found to give two to five times more dollars on average than when giving monetary amounts. Additionally, in our initial online tests with donors, we found that framing the ask to donate in terms of time (e.g., hour-equivalent of your salary) led to significantly greater donation amounts than when asked to donate dollar amounts. We further explored this insight in partnership with 1% for the Planet on an email campaign A/B test and found that presenting a donation in terms of volunteering time significantly increased click-through rates compared to the option to make a flat monetary donation. This insight is central to the Work for Good campaign, which aims to shift people’s default mindsets away from money, which can trigger loss aversion (i.e., people feeling monetary losses more acutely than gains), and instead to unlock the warm glow of dedicating time to a cause they care about.
- Alleviate hassles from the giving process
Once an individual has decided to give, their good intentions can be easily derailed. They may have uncertainty about where or when to donate, or run into too many steps in the process and procrastinate the task for another day. Automating the donation from a paycheck makes the process easy and hassle-free, without relying on sustained attention. In addition, companies that already provide donation matching could effectively double the employee’s impact, making the option even more compelling. Another benefit is that donating future income via payroll deduction reduces the perceived “loss” felt when people donate out-of-pocket.
- Create a shared social experience
A major benefit of volunteering compared to donating cash is the shared experience and feelings of connection fostered among fellow volunteers. Donating money is often an invisible action, and people may feel uncomfortable sharing the amount they gave. However, participation in the Work for Good campaign is visible and celebrated, and framing it as a volunteer experience makes people more comfortable sharing their engagement with others. This can create new social norms around generosity. Ideally, the opportunities for social engagements would build on existing organizational culture and social channels. Social components such as dedicated chat channels, emails from the organization’s leadership about the event, or even a physical artifact on one’s desk can build connections between colleagues who are participating in a Work for Good day at the same time.
Shifting the metric of donation amounts from dollars to hours also puts individuals at more equal terms without the social taboos of discussing monetary amounts. For example, instead of saying “I donated $50 to this cause,” employees can tell their peers, “I dedicated two hours of my day to this cause.”
In January 2020, we ran a small internal pilot with Benevity, a workplace giving platform. Over a third of all employees participated, and 88% of those who signed up for Work for Good followed through on donating at least one hour to a charity of their choice. The majority of participants surveyed after the event (93%) said that the recipient of their Work for Good donation aligned with their values and interests, and 73% of those surveyed said they would participate again. Overall, the initial pilot was successful in demonstrating promising participation numbers.
What’s next for Work for Good?
The Benevity pilot also elevated valuable lessons about the implementation of Work for Good for the future.
- Provide employees with ease and agency to select organizations and causes to donate to: When given the option of selecting a “mission” (cause area) or designating a specific organization to donate to, the plurality of participants (44%) selected the “choose your own” option, signed up for more hours, and donated an average of 48.7% more than those who selected a cause area fund of several nonprofits, curated by their employer. Offering pre-validated causes or organizations can still be helpful for employees who want to participate and care about a cause, but don’t have an organization in mind to donate to.
- Find ways to make Work for Good events feel “different” from a normal workday and strengthen team connections: For our pilot, we generated excitement through Slack and email marketing. Additionally, leaders at the company were encouraged to boost messaging about the event by sharing about the organizations they would be donating to and why. These steps created buzz—71% of participants who responded to our survey spoke with a friend about the event, and 29% updated their Slack status to indicate their participation. For future implementations, we’d like to explore even more ways to encourage making Work for Good events feel social, special, and different from a normal workday, such as a virtual chat room accessible for the hours an employee is “working for good” or tangible keepsakes like a desk sign or pin.
- Develop a clear explanation of how employees’ salary equivalent donations are calculated: We heard from some participants in interviews and surveys that a clearer explanation of how their salary-equivalent donations would be calculated would have been helpful. Fortunately, employees were not deterred from following through on their donations—87% of individuals who signed up for the program for at least one hour ended up making their donation, even though they were given the option to modify or cancel.
- Work for Good year-round: We initially envisioned and implemented Work for Good as a workplace campaign, so it could generate a discrete and communal point of engagement and interest. We also believe the solution could be scaled and sustained more regularly. For example, employers could implement “Work for Good Wednesdays,” or individual employees could initiate a fundraising drive for a personally identified cause through a “Work for Good Week” at any point throughout the year. Future iterations of Work for Good can explore and test other variations of the core design to tease out more behavioral insights about which features most impact employees’ giving behavior and experiences.
Giving tends to be more top-of-mind at the end of the year for many people. On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect social connection and how some employees do their jobs. Work for Good can help workers stay connected and infuse additional purpose into their days—whether working from home, an office, or a mix of both. Work for Good lets us re-imagine what it means to “dedicate our time” to a cause we care about, allowing us to both enjoy the personal connections, meaning, and thoughtfulness of volunteering while also taking advantage of the convenience, direct impact, and efficiency of monetary donations. We plan to use our insights from the Work for Good pilot for future testing of this design, and in future engagements with workplace giving platforms, in order to continue to unlock additional donor satisfaction and generosity for everyday givers.
Learn about other behaviorally informed giving designs from this series: The Personal Giving Review and Charity of the Month.