Sage gives staff freedom to choose own charities

John Plummer reports on the Sage Foundation, which lets each member of staff choose which charities they'd like to raise money for or volunteer with; plus a round-up of the latest partnership news

One of the main decisions companies that set up philanthropic programmes have to make is which charity to support.

Many ask staff to vote for a single partner, or a few partners, but the tech company Sage lets each member of staff choose whatever charity they like.

Each employee is entitled to five days of paid leave each year to fundraise or volunteer. Considering Sage has 13,000 staff in 23 countries, this sounds difficult to manage. But staff raised $1m for 1,000 charities worldwide and delivered 24,084 days of volunteering valued at £2.8m in the financial year 2018/19.

Sage’s 23 international offices ran separate philanthropy initiatives until it set up the philanthropic division the Sage Foundation four years ago. Debbie Wall, vice-president of the foundation, oversees 15 staff and a network of 350 ambassadors who work with staff to identify opportunities.

The foundation, which aims to raise $2m and donate 30,000 days this year, focuses on young people, women and military veterans. It encourages staff to support education, workplace readiness and entrepreneurialism projects, but employees can choose to help any registered charity they like, except political organisations.

"If they want to volunteer with a local cat sanctuary that’s fine," says Wall, who sits on Sage’s global executive team. "Allowing colleagues to choose the charity they want and the ways in which they offer support allows more colleagues to get involved so we can have a bigger impact.

"It soon became obvious this approach was the most efficient and practical way that we could make a broad impact across all the communities we work in."

Most staff support charities local to Sage. Besides its Newcastle headquarters, the company has offices in London, Manchester, Dublin and Reading in the British Isles. Sage match funds up to £200 a year raised by each employee.

Wall says staff surveys show the opportunity to donate five days a year is a key reason people join.

"If big businesses haven’t got structured philanthropic programmes where they are really giving back, they will struggle to attract the best candidates," she adds.

"We never say ‘you’ve got to do it’. We encourage. We give opportunities. But it’s always bottom-up."

Staff currently donate on average two of their five days. "I’d love to be sitting here in three years’ time and saying 85 per cent of staff are doing five days a year," says Wall.

Corporate partnerships round-up

P&O Ferries raised more than £13,523 for the lifeboat charity the RNLI in 2018 as part of its long-standing partnership with the charity. Passengers donated the money, which is £500 more than was raised last year, through collection boxes on the company’s ferries.

The children’s choir company Young Voices raised £133,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust in the first two months of 2019 through 24 concerts at venues in London, Birmingham and the north. Between 5,000 and 8,000 school children performed at each of the concerts, where £88,847 was raised through bucket collections and text donations and £44,560 came from the sale of branded wristbands.

The South Wales-based charity Tenovus Cancer Care has become the first charity to benefit from a pledge by the housebuilders Barratt and David Wilson Homes to donate £1,000 each month to charities or organisations that improve the quality of life for local people. The donation in this case will be used to support the mobile cancer support units that treat patients closer to home.

The chemist chain Well Pharmacy raised more than £200,000 for the Stroke Association over its two-year partnership with the charity, through staff fundraising challenges. As well as raising money, the partnership aimed to raise awareness of the link between high blood pressure and stroke. By the end of the partnership in December 2018, the company’s pharmacies had held 2,726 Know Your Blood Pressure events and completed more than 86,000 blood pressure checks. Rebecca Cooney

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