Technology versus Charities: Bridge the Gap

By | 2018-01-05T23:04:20+00:00 January 5th, 2018|

Today’s CSR match: technology versus charities. With a corporate giving program manager as the referee.  Does this feel familiar? Too often, it is reality. But it shouldn’t be.

Instead of technology versus charities, all stakeholders in our workplace giving and CSR programs should be celebrating success. We should never be talking about anybody versus anybody else. We are in this together: companies, CSR professionals, technology providers, charities and even CSR consultants. Our goals are the same – better communities where we live and work, together. CSR professionals depend upon both technology vendors and charity partners in order to meet those goals. But let’s recognize that there can be a gap between the needs of the charities we support and the needs of the vendors on whose technology we depend. So let’s explore the gap and talk about ways to bridge that gap … for the benefit of everyone.

No time like the present

The investment that companies make in supporting workplace giving and employee engagement programs is incredible. And it is only going to grow in 2018. If you haven’t followed our recent posts about the impact of tax reform on 2018 CSR initiatives, read more here. The annual workplace giving season has just ended, and the start of a new fiscal year is always a good time for accountability and reflection.

It is a time to:

  • Thank your employees for their generosity;
  • Prepare final reports for your leadership;
  • Notify the recipient charities of donations they can expect to receive;
  • Prepare for the collection and distribution of those funds; and finally
  • Circle back with your technology vendors to provide feedback, see what is on the tech roadmap, and revisit how your vendor can better contribute to your CSR program success.

But there is also a problem. Your charity partners and technology providers appear to be at odds. They seem to have competing interests when it comes to reporting, feature needs, donor data access, even transparency. And that leaves you, the CSR professional, feeling stuck in the middle. Technology versus charities. Ugh. What’s going on?

The industry is changing

We continue to observe a couple of important trends in the marketplace of CSR technology providers. First, more companies continue to outsource the administration of giving, volunteering and other CSR programs to a third-party providers with standardized, SaaS technology. No more custom development sponsored by the biggest corporate names in CSR, in order to get platforms to work exactly they way they want. Standardization is the rule today. And with standardization, we get platform stability, system familiarity, and cost reduction. Those are good things.

Second, we have been experiencing vendor consolidation. Over the past 18 months, we have seen Cybergrants acquire JK Group, Good Done Great acquire AmeriGives, YourCause acquire Good Done Great. Just a few years ago, these were all leaders in the space … and direct competitors. And competition means more ears listening to the needs of the marketplace. So less competition means … (I think you get the point).

For example, too often we hear: “They aren’t listening to me.” We hear this from companies about their technology vendors and their charity partners. And we hear this from charities about companies and the vendors, as the charities sometimes feel left out of the CSR program equation. We even hear this from technology vendors about charities and their customers, as the vendors can become frustrated trying to provide the best solutions for the lowest price.

Well, the industry IS changing. And stakeholders in the industry can feel left out, overlooked, or even ignored. So it is understandable that some stakeholders feel like the issue is “technology versus charities”. Clearly, there is a gap that we need to close … a bridge that needs to be built. So let’s build it!

Closing the gap, building the bridge

Over the years, I have worked with both large and small nonprofit organizations that benefit from workplace funds and volunteers. Some of these orgs include the American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital, United Ways. All express strong appreciation for and value the financial contributions from workplace engagement programs. Many of these orgs, however, ask me from time to time to share with corporations a few of their challenges, as well as ideas for strengthening the bonds between corporation, technology vendor and the recipient charity.

“Help build the bridge,” they say. And that is a great starting point for closing our technology versus charities gap … to end the dilemma. In a future post, I will talk more about the technology vendors’ side of things, but for now, I will start with the charities. So on behalf of my nonprofit friends, let’s consider some things that corporate CSR program managers can do to strengthen the partnership with the charities, and help address some of their greatest challenges in working with your technology vendor(s).

By the way, to help me build this part of the bridge, I reached out to my colleague and friend, Ben Bisbee. Together, we brainstormed challenges nonprofits face in working with a third-party technology CSR providers. Ben is uniquely qualfied to address this topic. He is a former engagement officer for the American Red Cross and now president and founder of Rhinocorn Consulting, a firm that specializes in helping community and national nonprofit organizations with their engagement and organizational architecture. We have developed this list of five things corporations can do proactively to help their workplace engagement charity partners.

5 things to help end the technology versus charities dilemma
  1. Make the connection early between your vendor and the charity. Ask your vendor how they would like to be presented to the nonprofit organizations you support. What information about the technology, data or reports can you share with the nonprofits that will help strengthen the connections between corporation, vendor, and nonprofit? Let them know how important your charity partners are to you and your employees.
  2. Corporations need to drive the conversation. If you want charities to have a better experience, then you need to show leadership. It is the responsibility of the corporation to set the expectations with the vendor, and to be an advocate for your charity partners. Don’t leave your charities to fend for themselves.
  3. Proactively communicate with your charity partners. The charities want to know what is going on. The larger charities deal with so many online portals from which they are trying to retrieve giving data. Help them know who your vendor is, what are their processes for obtaining reports, responding to questions, and paying out funds. Even better, the corporation might create a landing page or a link where the nonprofit learn about the vendor. Ben points out that “Nonprofits are reluctant to go back to their corporate partners with questions or complaints for fear of jeopardizing the relationship.”
  4. Request a point of contact at your vendor for your charities.  Share that POC with the charities receiving money and volunteers through your engagement programs. Communication always helps. And most vendors have a liaison to work with charities. Ben says when he was at the Red Cross he contacted each workplace giving vendor to secure a point of contact exclusive for the Red Cross. Smaller orgs won’t and don’t have the resources to do this. But you can help.
  5. Make it easy for the charity to get information.  As CSR Matters has discussed before, data is critical. And information is king. According to Ben, “One of the greatest challenges for the nonprofit is easily getting information that allows them to properly record the donation, steward the donor and do accurate forecasting and planning.”

And Ben is absolutely on the mark here. Most vendors set up accounts for the charities and provide them with a login to retrieve the information for each of the corporations. The problem is that nonprofits are receiving data from multiple vendors and each has their own requirements, login information and passwords. Many vendors rely on isolated databases, per client. It can be a full-time job to manage logins, get data, and then upload data to their own donor systems. One large nonprofit once told me that they have more than 2,000 logins to access workplace giving information through multiple vendors and multiple corporate partners. Ugh!

Wrapping it up

We share a common goal. Let’s not let changes in the industry, the evolution of technology platforms, and demands from our higher ups put us at odds with each other. And for those of us who are not practicing CSR professionals, we can help them avoid the technology versus charities tug-of-war. We are in this together.

Much good is accomplished when the corporation, its technology vendor, and charity partners work together to help meet each others’ needs and expectations. Corporations, however, fund the CSR world, and so corporations must lead and drive the conversation to ensure that communication between all parties takes place.

If you have questions about this post, opinions to share, or CSR programs that need assistance, please contact CSR Matters. We are ready to help.

About the Author:

Steve has nearly 30 years of CSR experience in a variety of capacities. He has worked closely with numerous companies to assess programs, conduct research projects, and development partnerships with target charities. Furthermore, Steve is the rare consultant who has worked with both Fortune 500 companies and Philanthropy 400 charities in the domain of Corporate Social Responsibility. From United Way of America to private practice to executive leadership at several CSR SaaS software providers, Steve understands your CSR program needs.