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Living and Giving:

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Participation in CSR is Born From Choice—NOT Mandates

By Leo Ramirez Posted on February 7, 2017

Imagine this: you go to work one day only to find that a percentage of every employee’s paycheck will now be automatically deducted and donated to the CEO’s favorite charity. No opportunity to opt out or to divert the money to a charity of your choosing.

It doesn’t take much of an imagination to guess how you and your co-workers would respond. After all, it’s your money. You should be the one to determine how it get spent.

While this scenario is a bit far-fetched, many corporations don’t realize that Corporate Social Responsibility mandates don’t feel much different for many employees.

Sure, your corporation doesn’t force employees to donate time or money. But you might engage in tactics that are designed to encourage voluntary participation in your Corporate Social Responsibility programs, but actually feel a lot like coercion to employees.

When teams of co-workers compete against each other to raise more money or donate more hours, employees who don’t participate may be seen as dead weight. And while CSR programs have been shown to correlate with employee happiness, positive workplace relationships also play a large role in employee satisfaction.

If your CSR strategies involve glorifying some employee’s charitable giving or pit employees against each other, you’re creating potential tension in their workplace relationships.


Don’t get us wrong, a little healthy competition in many aspects of the workplace can increase camaraderie. But successful corporate social responsibility programs make giving an integral part of the corporate culture, not an occasional event or fundraising drive.

Not sure if you're corporate social responsibility strategies are on the right track? We've compiled a few tips to help you get there.

Don’t Make it Mandatory

A gift that is not freely given is not much of a gift at all.

Working in corporate giving solutions, we have heard many tales of misguided and wrongheaded corporate social responsibility strategies.

One particularly bad example involved an executive who would walk around and drop off an envelope at every employee’s desk. “Here ya go,” he’d say. “Put whatever you want in there and tomorrow morning, I’ll come by and pick up everyone’s envelopes. It’s going to [inert large charity] whom we partner with every year.”

And if you didn’t have an envelope to hand back the next morning? Awkward doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Employee charitable giving should never be an expectation. The heart of corporate social responsibility programs should be the opportunity to make a difference.

Most employees are motivated to give, when they are given the opportunity to give to cause that matters to them.

Pressure May Make Employees Uncomfortable


Misguided attempts at incentivizing charitable giving can be pretty problematic, especially if the prizes earned for giving will be visible to the whole workforce.

For example, one massive corporation would pressure employees to give to the United Way as part of regular fundraising drives. Based on the amount employees gave, they could earn rewards.

Donate $100? Earn a casual dress day.

Donate $500? You can pie the CEO in the face at a special company event.

Sounds like it's all in good fun, right? Where’s the problem?

Well, what about the employees who would rather give $100 to the local animal shelter where they adopted their pets? Are they less deserving of recognition because they make charitable donations to a different cause? Of course not. Yet, they won’t get to participate in the extra casual dress day.

And what about the employees who gives in smaller amounts? A $15 donation from one employee may be a bigger sacrifice than a $100 donation from someone else.

When rewards and recognition are given only for high dollar amounts, those who could give a smaller gift may choose not to give at all.

Then, when casual day comes around, everyone can see who is wearing jeans and who is in heels. At the company event, everyone gets to see who smashes a pie in the CEO’s face.

With these kinds of incentives, you unwittingly create a division between employees: those who gave enough to the right cause vs. those who didn’t give enough or gave to the wrong cause.

Leaving the latter group to wonder and worry if their co-workers are judging them for not participating.

Employees May Want to Keep Their Donations Private


Most people give to charitable organizations that resonate with them on a personal level. As a result, sharing which causes you donate to may reveal sensitive or private information.

There are charitable organizations to support single moms, suicide prevention, as well as domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. Employees may prefer to keep their donations to these potentially emotional or "touchy" organizations to themselves.

LGBTQ employees, especially those who may not be “out” in the workplace, that donate to organizations benefitting LGBTQ youth or rights may also want to keep their donations it private.

Here’s What to Do Instead

We’ve covered a lot of things you shouldn’t do with corporate social responsibility programs. So what exactly should you do?

Here are a few ideas:

Instill corporate social responsibility into the company culture

  • Executive Participation: Participation from executives helps to demonstrate that corporate giving is truly a core company value. If your CEO donates or volunteers, share that information with employees. Show that your company walks the walk all the way to the top.
  • Provide the opportunity: Like we mentioned before, many employees are already motivated to give to causes they care about, they just need the tools to do so. Let employees choose which charity they want to support and how much they want to give. Then show them the impact of their donation. Employees should be able to choose whether they want to share their preferred causes with co-workers, or if they want to keep it private. Help employees discover charities and organizations that support causes that matter to them.
  • Ask for Employee Feedback: Successful corporate social responsibility is an ongoing process. Make it easy for employees to provide feedback on your current corporate giving strategy and offer suggestions for improvements. As your corporate social responsibility programs grow and evolve, it will be your employees who guide you to success. Ensure they have the opportunity to do so.


Employees and job seekers alike value corporate social responsibility. People want the opportunity to make a difference in the world around them. Attempting to mandate giving or pressuring employees to donate to specific charities is likely to backfire on you.

Rather than trying to mandate generosity among your employees, give them the right tools and they’ll be generous all on their own.


Benefits, CSR

Author: Leo Ramirez

Leo is the co-founder and CEO of Encast, an organization dedicated to improving the way CSR professions create, manage, and measure CSR programs. Leo is passionate about the role that culture plays in business success. Leo has launched and managed social ventures, lead multi-disciplinary teams, and built solid relationships with civic and corporate leaders. His 25-year career has spanned executive management, business development, consulting, nonprofit management, technical support and engineering positions with Southwest Key Programs, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Coremetrics, Trilogy and Apple.

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