It’s Easier than You Think to Get People Excited about Giving

October 16, 2020



I don’t think I’m shocking anyone to say employee participation in a corporate giving campaign often feels more obligatory than charitable. We’ve all been there... that bland, seemingly purposeless appeal is plopped into our inbox with zero call to action other than “Donate.”  

Although we may be uninspired, most of us still click the button and give what we can. This kind of apathetic giving may raise adequate funds, but it also misses so many other great opportunities:   

  • The charity loses the chance to endear more people to its mission.
  • The employee misses out on the unparalleled joy of giving.
  • The company gives up a terrific opportunity for employee engagement.

Luckily, there are simple things every employer can do to change this dynamic.  

In my experience, having led multiple giving campaigns over the last 15+ years (some more successful than others), it’s all about meeting employees where they are. Especially in large companies with a diverse workforce, offering options for participating is crucial to meeting engagement goals.  

I’m not just talking about setting up tiered giving levels. Although that’s a good strategy, too, I’m thinking more along the lines designing configurable and self-selected activities.  

For instance, in its recent United Way campaign, our bank devised several activities that would ultimately raise money, but would also continue to bond our team members, even as we were working apart. We hosted pay-to-play virtual bingo, a fund-raising virtual scavenger hunt and a special “We’re Going the Social Distance” 5K. The run was a self-guided activity, in which we invited team members to “Complete the 5K Your Way.” Participants had a full week to finish their 5Ks any time they wanted via one of several routes our team mapped out for them.  

We offered flexibility and choice in a few smaller ways, too. Team members could participate in our Virtual Kick-Off event at either 7:30 a.m. or 3:00 p.m., whichever worked best for their day. And, we offered four additional virtual events across the next two weeks to give everyone the chance to pop in and see what the effort was all about.  

Within seven days of launching our campaign, more than 75 percent of our team members had signed up to take part in one or more of the activities!  

Tying a campaign to a company’s culture is another critical piece to inspiring engagement in a giving effort. Doing so makes the campaign feel like a natural extension of the company’s ongoing purpose, rather than an unwelcome disruption. Let me explain... one of Bank Iowa’s core values is to be people-centered, and within that ambition is the promise to celebrate effort as often as outcomes. In other words, we have fun as we’re marching toward a goal. It keeps us motivated, connected and tenacious. Designing our campaign around our team members and the kinds of activities they already enjoy gave us a tremendous leg up as we invited them to take part in our giving campaign.  

Among several of the evolutions COVID-19 brought about was an acceleration of the value of empathy. The pandemic taught many of us how good we could get at meeting employees where they are. Just think of the different ways your company learned to listen, to accommodate and to reward team members as they navigated unique pandemic-related circumstances. It’s a blessing, albeit one shrouded in a lot of pain and hurt.  

The heavy lifting of alleviating that pain will fall mainly to the charitable organizations that keep Des Moines strong. Employers in our city have so much to give to these non-profits, and with a few tiny twists and a healthy dose of culture-centric fun, our city’s for-profits can contribute at greater levels than ever before.  

Mark K. Phillips is vice president of treasury management services for Bank Iowa and the former executive director of the Polk County Continuum of Care Board. He can be reached at To learn more, visit Member FDIC.