How to Give: How can my startup work charitable giving into the workplace? - Generocity Philly


Feb. 17, 2016 12:29 pm

How to Give: How can my startup work charitable giving into the workplace?

In How to Give, local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia answers readers' questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers.

Lansie Sylvia.

(Illustration by Hannah Agosta Illustration, based on a photo by Jessie Fox)

How to Give is a biweekly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers.

This column was originally titled “Ask a Millennial Philanthropist.” 

This week’s first question:

I started a nonprofit while I was in college. Now that I’ve graduated, I’d like to make it my full-time job, but I need funding. People keep telling me to “find philanthropists” who are interested in my cause. But where would I find these mythical creatures? I’m young, broke and not very well-connected.

Anyone can practice philanthropy because giving what you can, no matter how little or how much, is a noble American pastime, but I’m going to assume you mean the Big Time Philanthropists. The ones who look like this. You’re looking for people that can write you a $50,000 check and take care of your first-year operating costs in no time flat. Let’s find them!

Many philanthropists operate family foundations. If you’re in Philadelphia, the Regional Foundation Center is free to use and has access to searchable foundation databases. You can also use GuideStar to look at the 990s of nonprofits that serve a similar cause as yours and see what foundation funded them in the past two to four years. I like to think of this as “benevolent snooping.”

Many nonprofits will also list their funders and major donors on their website or within their annual report. (Here’s the PMA’s, where you’ve got the individual donors starting on p. 58.) This is where a little well-intentioned spying can go a long way.

From our Partners

If you see the same philanthropists supporting multiple organizations within your cause group, put some Google Alerts on those majestic land mermaids. These alerts will let you know when your soon-to-be supporters are in the news, hosting events and speaking on panels.

Attend those events and try to get an audience with your target. Most people will either turn you down flatly or ask you to follow up with their offices. Either way, you’re one step closer to finding your Philanthropic Pegasus.

This week’s second question:

My startup wants to incorporate charitable giving into the workplace, but as a small company, our bottom line is very important. What’s the most cost effective way to build giving into our culture?

I’m going to take a page from my Pretend Internet Boyfriend Simon Sinek’s book and start with why. Why do you want to make giving part of your culture? Why is it important to you as a leader, and to your employees as team members? IMHO, you’re asking the wrong question. Instead of thinking what is going to be the least expensive, think about what is going to make the most impact.

Before we dive into that, let’s break down workplace giving. Without getting into hybrid social enterprises and one-for-one models, there are generally five main tactics businesses use:

  1. Matching gift programs (a.k.a. Give the Money and Run): Employer matches an employee’s donation to a charity, usually to the tune of $500 to $2,500 per calendar year.
  2. Paid time off to volunteer (a.k.a. You Do You): Employer pays for a “day off of service” to be used at the employee’s discretion, usually between one to three days per year.
  3. Companywide service days (a.k.a. The Photo Opp): Employer pays for a mandated “day off of service” where all employees do the same activity at the same time.
  4. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) (a.k.a. Let’s Do Good Stuff to Offset Our Bad Stuff): A way of doing business that involves participating in initiatives that benefit society, usually with an environmental and social component.
  5. In-kind donations (a.k.a. What Are We Going to Do with All These Out-of-Date Promo Products?): Employer donates goods to any number of charities and receives a tax deduction in addition to warm fuzzies.

I’ve ordered them roughly from tactics that involve employees as decision makers the most to the least, and this is where you need to start. Any of these options can cost your company lots of money (every employee gets $2,500 to give!) or relatively little (you donate all of those specialty pens with the wrong company logo on them to a local school).

The most important thing is what is going to matter most to your company. Incorporating any, or all, of these tactics won’t magically create a “culture of giving” at your company, but engaging your employees in thoughtful conversations around what it means to be “a company that gives back” will start you down the right path.


  • Trish Downey

    Great suggestions, Lansie!

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