Sidewalks strewn with autumn leaves. Pumpkins dotting doorsteps. Christmas decor making an early debut. It’s that wonderful time of year again.
Q4 budgeting season.
For Corporate America, 2012 has already faded in the rearview mirror. The focus now is all about figuring out how budgets will be allocated to increase market share and maintain (or gain) a competitive edge in 2013. Often lost in this bottom-line frenzy is financial consideration for how workplace giving  and corporate volunteering programs  will be implemented or improved next year. But if you’re mindful of how these programs are increasingly important to employees and consumers alike, it’s time to think about strengthening your corporate philanthropy muscle now, before your company’s 2013 dollars are all spoken for.
Need a refresher on why you should care? Let’s start with the magic trifecta of increased employee engagement , employee retention  and employee recruitment . Corporate volunteering and workplace giving programs are assuming an ever more important role in helping staff feel connected to their companies and broader communities and in helping organizations behave in socially responsible ways that resonate positively with the public.
As Kenn Allen notes in The Big Tent: Corporate Volunteering in the Global Age, a book based on the Global Corporate Volunteering Council research project by the International Association for Volunteer Effort, companies that invest in employee volunteering respond to workers’ concerns about the quality of life in their working and living environments; increase and reinforce workers’ skills, particularly in leadership and participatory decision-making; respond affirmatively to the public’s expectations of its involvement in community problem-solving; and demonstrate moral leadership, “doing the right thing,” which redounds to the ultimate benefit of the company.
The jury is in: everyone wins when workplace giving and volunteer programs are put in place and operate efficiently. So why, then, does Allen ultimately conclude that “despite the growing importance of employee volunteer programs, most are not given serious attention or the necessary resources for success”?
It’s not enough to pay lip service to your volunteer program. You don’t treat other parts of your company as an afterthought, so if you believe in the triple bottom line  power of giving and volunteering programs (as you should), why starve them of the modest budget they need to function well? If you want your giving and volunteer program to deliver maximum social and business returns – if you want it to operate with the same high-performing quality that you expect from the rest of your business – you need to invest in modern online tools to ensure its success.
It doesn’t take much to properly equip your volunteer program with a robust platform that makes it easy to generate compelling fundraising ideas  (like corporate competitive crowdfunding ), a snap for administrators to manage your company’s efforts, and inviting for employees to participate. A variety of providers offer online tools to manage giving and volunteer programs, so when looking around (or assessing your current solution) make sure that your platform includes at least the following few features and benefits:
- One-stop central platform that enables both donation processing and volunteer sign-ups
- Ability to handle in-kind donations
- Ability to handle dollars for doers  programs
- Ability to handle dollars for matching gift programs 
- Real-time, automatic tracking and reporting for volunteering and giving
- Ability to create your own campaigns or select from a constantly updated library of seasonal/ topical campaigns
- Ability to customize the platform to match your company’s brand
- High quality relationships with a wide range of nonprofits that your employees can connect with directly to find carefully vetted volunteer and giving opportunities
- Mobile application so that employees can access the system in the field
- Social media capabilities so that employees can easily recruit their networks to support your company campaigns
- International capabilities for global reach
- Single sign-on to create easy access that operates like a company intranet
Above all, do your homework. Stellar references, an impeccable record of customer service and an active development cycle with new features constantly in the pipeline are a must. Your new employee cause engagement platform should be as nimble as your company, always looking forward, not backwards toward the last century.
As you immerse yourself in 2013 planning, plan for a high return on the investment of time and human resources associated with your giving and volunteer program by allocating appropriate dollars to fuel these efforts. If you want these programs to serve a smart, strategic business function, you need to give them the tools to function at peak efficiency.
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