Opinion: Medals or muddles for payroll giving?

Nick Cater, a consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

No sooner had this column mentioned the failure of charities to turn payroll giving into the cash cow of fundraising (Third Sector, 11 January), than information arrives about a leap in donations ahead of next Monday's launch of a new idea to promote it.

Unfortunately, the idea of a new quality mark and awards seems a fairly pointless initiative that might even distract companies and employees from what their chosen causes can do with the money.

No one doubts that employee giving needs a boost. If UK employee involvement matched US payroll giving numbers, it would be worth billions to British charities. But the Charities Aid Foundation's latest annual Charity Trends report showed that, after several years of slowing growth, total payroll giving fell to about £80m in 2004/05, just as a government scheme offering a 10 per cent bonus on donations came to an end.

This coming Monday's 'quality mark and awards' launch is part of another government-funded incentive. Managed by the Institute of Fundraising, this gives smaller companies up to £500 to start payroll giving and then offers up to £60 in matching funds for each donating employee.

The institute claims this is one reason for a 22 per cent increase in payroll giving in the first half of this financial year. Whether a blip or something more significant, it seems to suggest that payroll givers respond better to short-term cash incentives than they do to the mechanism itself.

Payroll giving has struggled to connect with firms and their staff, who seem to feel it is boring, complex and lacking in choice. Always ahead of the pack, my chums at Justgiving.com have found significant growth in a different idea that does get firms and employees excited - providing the technology for dedicated company websites so staff can work together to give, volunteer and promote charities.

The idea of the quality mark and awards neglects the fact that, amid the struggle of charities to identify a 'bottom line' or the problems companies face in demonstrating the value of social responsibility, measuring progress in payroll giving is a doddle.

Yet companies will get the quality mark not for showing 'quality' but for simply signing up. And the awards offer firms the all-too-usual bronze, silver or gold certificates to inspire greater efforts by their workforces. If the vision is Olympian, not pedestrian, surely the true challenge is to reinforce workforce giving with the real victory of their own philanthropy?

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