I must admit, I had not heard the term “fund-catching” until we were talking with a friend at a leading nonprofit about their challenges working with fundraising data from CSR and other online giving platforms. She said:

When it comes to CSR and workplace giving, we feel like we are no longer fundraising, just fund-catching.

And a light bulb went off for us! That simple expression of frustration sums up so well the problems that nonprofits have been experiencing since United Way retreated from its commitment to being the “one campaign at the workplace”, and CSR software providers stepped forward to fill a business need. You want to jump in and be productive … but you are just … waiting.

The CSR industry cannot completely reverse the fund-catching trend, but we believe that leaders in the space – both nonprofits and companies – can and should take actions to improve the situation. And CSR Matters can help.

By the way, if you want to quantify the problem, $4.5 billion is raised annually for charity through the workplace. So first, let’s unravel the problem a bit. Then let’s talk solutions. Describing a nonprofit’s role in workplace giving as “fund-catching” actually points to two fundraising problems, not one. The first is marketing, the other is data.

Let’s start with marketing

Way back when, when United Way was THE brand associated with workplace giving, our annual workplace giving campaigns were true fundraising events. They ran for two weeks to two months, depending on the size of the company, beginning sometime after Labor Day and usually wrapping up by Thanksgiving. And true to any successful fundraising campaign, there was a lot of marketing. For starters, United Way partnered with the NFL for the season’s most prominent messaging.

In many communities, news stations often kicked off the campaign with a half hour spot dedicated to their local United Way at its leading charities. And across corporate America, targeted messaging included campaign videos, newsletters, events and more to encourage employee participation. All that marketing was effective, too. Participation rates often ran 30-40%, sometimes as high as 80-90% depending on the company, the culture and the community.

In the midst of all of this fundraising were the nonprofits, telling the many stories of the good and necessary work they do every day in our communities. The nonprofits were active and participating. In other words, the annual workplace giving campaign created an environment in which our nonprofits were fundraising. Now, flip that idea around and ask yourself: if a nonprofit isn’t marketing, is it really fundraising? Furthermore, if nobody is effectively marketing, what happens to rates of participation?

And about the data

Fundraising today requires data. Lots of it. And not just donor names and addresses anymore. Emails. Giving histories and trends. Employer names for possible matching. Giving capacity analysis from – dare I say it? – donor profiles. Dollar buys (those marketing statements that tell a donor if you give X, we will help Y). Impact reporting. And more.

Giving increasingly occurs online. In fact, did you know that nearly ALL workplace giving donations are generated through software? There are a lot of online giving platforms developed and maintained by third party software companies referred to as “CSR vendors” within our industry. Side note: all of them work really hard, and they do not like be referred to as just “vendors” … but that’s another blog post.

In addition to workplace giving becoming digitized, there are many other software companies providing fundraising technology. Facebook, Paypal, and GoFundMe are just a few of the most well-known brands that have gotten into the act. Here’s a fun Mashable article that lists 12 of the most popular fundraising sites.

So what’s the data problem here? Simple. All of these online giving platforms drive the nonprofit industry crazy. Data formats are different, and sometimes incomplete. Data reports don’t always sync up to payments received. Sometimes charity chapters roll up under a single tax ID; sometimes they don’t. Too many online accounts to be opened and managed. Less well-known platforms are confused with scams. Said our nonprofit friend mentioned above:

It’s too much work to try to keep track of all of this. So we just accept the money and ignore the data.

Ignore the data??? Yikes! How can charities develop and nurture donor relationships when they do not even know who gave the money? Our industry is doing something very wrong here.

From fundraising to fund-catching

So you get the picture, right? Nonprofits that used to be fundraisers when it came to the workplace and CSR giving programs are giving up the fight and just accepting a monthly wire transfer from some third party fundraising vendor. Fund-catching.

How did we get to this point? More importantly, though, can we do anything about it?

I’m going to ignore the first question – but email me if you want to wander down memory lane – I have opinions on the matter. Instead, I’m going to focus on the second. Because there are steps we can take … as an industry, as companies and as nonprofits … and as a consulting and services firm that wants to solve problems.

3 steps we can take now

Problems don’t get solved if we don’t take action. If the “fund-catching” problem resonates with your company or nonprofit, the good news is that you can do something about it. And if enough of us take action, we can move an industry trend in a more positive direction.

So let’s talk about the three actions we can take now, by focusing on participation rates, marketing, and data.

Participation rates

We need to focus on participation rates to lift the fundraising tide. Remember those old 30-40% workplace giving participation rates that I mentioned before? Well today they are half that – a past blog post was dedicated to participation, check it out if you have not seen it. I know there is an industry of fundraising consultants telling every nonprofit that will listen that finding high net worth donors – or in workplace speak, ‘leadership giving’ – is the answer to a nonprofit’s fundraising problems, but I could not disagree more. It’s the lazy path to a short term solution for money.

Nonprofits need to expand their base of support, more donors, new generations of donors, etc. And it is hard work, I know. But the larger the base of donors, the greater the fundraising growth you will experience. You will also lower your business risk. And finally, you will increase the odds of cultivating even those high net worth donors whom you will find from time to time.

Companies running workplace giving campaigns need to adopt the same attitude. We need to engage more employees to get involved and to give. Do not measure your CSR program success by dollars raised; measure success it by employees participating. Why? Because then you get the double benefit of having a happier, more engaged workforce AND you will deliver better results for our nonprofits and communities. Guaranteed.


In spite of the fact that companies do not run traditional United Way campaigns like they used to, there is still plenty we can do when it comes to marketing charities within a corporate CSR setting. Four suggestions:

  • Ask your employees to share stories about the people they have helped, or, even better, the times they have been helped by others. Use your CSR website or company intranet to share. Stories are inspiring. When I worked for United Way of the National Capital Area, I talked with so many employee groups during campaign season. I usually started with a list of the local United Way supported charities that had touched my life. The list included: Boy Scouts (for me and one of my sons), Red Cross (I had received first aid training and given blood), Allergy and Asthma Network (during an emergency for a daughter), YMCA (recreation), Cerebral Palsy Ability Center (a local org for kids with motor disabilities, for one of my sons). You get the idea.
  • More fully engage nonprofit partners through Signature Programs. Many companies today sponsor “Signature Programs” that are designed to represent the brand of the company while promoting one or more nonprofits. More often than not, these nonprofits have professional fundraisers on staff. We recommend that companies talk with their Signature Program partners about their broader CSR strategies. Ask for input and advice on how to raise participation among employees for more charities across the company. Take the “rising tide lifts all boats” attitude. Cooperate. Collaborate.
  • Ask your Marketing Department to weigh in on your CSR program marketing plans. Bring your internal, cross-disciplinary experts onto the team. And remember, this is for two good causes: your communities and your employees.
  • And to our nonprofit friends, incorporate workplace giving into your annual fundraising plans. The workplace is largely being left alone, probably out of frustration. Okay, so no longer does the United Way walk into a company plant or government office and encourage everyone to give by payroll deduction. Those employees still represent donors, and those workplaces still use software to manage giving and engagement programs. But the marketing has changed. Talk to your digital marketing experts about a plan to target workers in non-traditional ways. And ask CSR Matters if you need help.

The problems of accessing, interpreting, and managing data from so many online giving platforms have become so prevalent that we have launched a CSR Data Service for nonprofits. Nonprofits can do this work themselves, but when so many are just giving up on the data, we decided to jump in and help. Here’s the approach we take:

  1. We build a file of every online fundraising system that a nonprofit needs to access.
  2. Once a month we check each system, and if there is new data, we download the data files.
  3. For each client, we maintain a separate database where we store and normalize the data according to the data fields they need for their donor management system. So, for example, file layouts for Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge look a little different than for Bloomerang or NeonCRM. But the core data is the same.
  4. Once a month we deliver a file to the nonprofit client, ready to be uploaded to their donor management system. And we answer questions that may arise.
  5. Where we encounter problems with source systems, we alert the client so they can talk to the software vendor about their account.

I know this data section is a bit of a self-serving advertisement for CSR Matters, but I hope that is okay. We know the problem is real. So ask yourself:

Is your fundraising plan working in the workplace?

If not, CSR Matters can help. Most importantly, to the title of this blog post, without understanding the workplace and the donor data that goes with it, every nonprofit really is just fund-catching.

Bringing it home

Fund-catching. I don’t think I will ever forget this term. In fact, I even added it to our CSR Glossary. The term cuts to the heart of a real fundraising problem. And when you think about it, the fund-catching problem did not appear over night so much as it crept up bit by bit until suddenly it was overwhelming our nonprofit friends. That is not good.

Our recommendations are actually pretty straightforward. End the fund-catching waiting game and start taking action. Companies and charities, re-dedicate yourselves to employee engagement and participation. Use Signature Programs as a framework in which to talk about how you can work together to lift the fundraising tide for your two organizations. And to our nonprofit friends, do not abandon workplace giving – both private and public sector campaigns are worth the effort.

We are standing by to help.  Just give us a call!