By Lynn Sygiel, editor, Charitable Advisors

We live in an era where technology seemingly changes by the minute. What’s new today is old tomorrow. The trend is not lost on nonprofits, which continually seek how to best incorporate technology into their fundraising efforts.

With figures showing recent declines in charitable giving, the quest remains: Is there a digital platform that could reframe how nonprofits connect with donors and really transform philanthropy?

Chris Herndon, chief marketing and engagement officer at United Way of Central Indiana, believes that its partnership with, the foundation arm of the national cloud-based software company, has the opportunity to do just that.  

“It’s kind of a big deal,” said Herndon about the product that is now available to Indiana companies from United Way.

It is certainly a platform for nonprofits to keep tabs on.

Three years ago, United Way chapters in major markets pooled their resources to invest in digital strategies. At the time, Salesforce was one of their selected companies and the 10 United Way chapters began using the company’s marketing cloud software, receiving Salesforce’s expertise and guidance in the process.

The relationship transformed about a year ago, when the United Way chapters became colleagues with Salesforce to create an app called the Philanthropy Cloud, Herndon said. Launched in late 2018, the platform was designed by Salesforce’s foundation in partnership with United Way.

Initially, the goal was to better engage current donors and potential donors. Nationally, the trend was fewer people giving after the recession, particularly middle-class Americans who had less discretionary income.

That trend is support by the Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which reported that the share of households contributing to charity has dropped from 67 percent in 2004 to 55.5 percent in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available.

But according to Herndon, the United Way-Salesforce working group also knew that the next generation of employees wants to work for an employer that will enable them to engage with their communities. And they knew that incorporating technology was key to delivering a personal, customizable way that could be scaled.

The concept for the platform first introduced at Salesforce’s 2017 Dreamforce, and then rolled out at last fall’s Dreamforce conference.

Herndon said the term philanthropy implies a more strategic approach, and that there’s been a shift to think increasingly about corporate social responsibility and the goals each company wants to achieve.

Herndon likens the Philanthropy Cloud to a financial account where you can log in, see your investments, your volunteer activity and get a tax statement.

“This gives them a better tool to roll up all that employee giving, volunteering, and achieved community impact outcomes. It allows them to manage their matches, communicate their company’s philosophy and specific goals,” said Herndon.

On a local level, United Way began its marketing the product to its current business partners, which included an invitation-only event a couple of weeks ago. The plan is to do more of those. Currently there are about 50 United Way chapters nationally that are involved.

Ashley Furois, United Way of Central Indiana’s senior director of fundraising, said there is an annual standard per-employee fee based on the employee size per company.

“Standard would be $2 per user per month. A user is an employee, so anybody who has access to the site, if they use it or not,” she said. First Financial Bank based in Cincinnati with 170 employees in Indianapolis is the first area user.

“I think, it complements how we were already changing how we work with our current corporate partners. We’ve been changing our fundraising focus to be from that annual campaign perspective to really a year-round supportive perspective. And this is just another tool that allows us to help do that,” she said.

Nonprofits that populate employees’ profile pages pull from two different databases – Guidestar and United Way. In the short term, United Way is banking on companies and nonprofits that have relationships with companies to help populate the volunteer opportunities.

“Long term, we hope to have a portal or a way for a database to be set up so that some of these opportunities are easily accessible to the companies even if there isn’t already a relationship established,” said Furois.

For area nonprofits, it is important to make sure that their Guidestar profiles are up to date, said Herndon. When an employee accesses a nonprofit’s information, not only can they learn about the mission, but its federal tax ID and nonprofit rating appears. The platform provides the ability to make a donation or easily volunteer.

Serve Indiana’s Executive Director Marc McAleavey sees lots of possibilities. On a state level, he and his team are developing ways to engage employers to strengthen or develop volunteer programming for Indiana companies. He is excited by the opportunities for a user to create his or her philanthropic profile.

“When I saw the demonstration, I saw so many possibilities. It will help not only the company see the impact their employees are making, but also each employee can understand their circle of influence and how they’re making an impact in their communities. It’s a win-win.”  McAleavey pointed out that the Independent Sector publishes a volunteer wage value and updates it regularly. Last year, the volunteer hour was $24.60, up 2.2 percent from the previous year.

McAleavey sees future applications, too.

“Right now, it is about engaging employers. But I think that the power of the Philanthropy Cloud is you can tell an individual’s philanthropic story for a long period of time. I would love to help think through how they can open it up a little bit bigger, so that young adults or even kids start accessing the Philanthropy Cloud so it follows the person no matter where they work,” he said.

Another example, he sees for future use is vetting potential nonprofit board members. An executive committee could request it to use as a resume to learn more about an individual’s philanthropic history. 

The new platform has generated interest from companies that don’t have existing relationships with United Way of Central Indiana.

“It’s been interesting that some assumptions that some companies may have with United Way and just seeing us in a different light in terms of being progressive and innovation,” said Herndon.

According to Furois, nationally there are 40 companies who have purchased the product.

It also helps keep employees engaged by providing customized content based on the individual’s interests with content changing in real time.

“(An individual) can go in and set his or her interests, but also using Artificial Intelligence, it will see what articles you’re clicking on and looking at, and it starts to serve content that is most relevant to you. So hopefully, you get that personal experience, that customized experience, and you are going to get more deeply involved.”

Herndon said there is a multiyear plan to continue to develop the platform. The ability to volunteer for nonprofits will roll out this spring. Additionally employees that want to make an impact on a cause but do not know local nonprofits working in that specific arena can learn about organizations doing the type of work they want to support.

“If I were to oversimplify, it solves how we better connect people who want to help with people who are in need. And then as I think as we learn more about the people who want to help, we can be a bridge between what people care about and what the community needs.

“It is also creating a better experience for people. When you think about how technology has transformed every other area of our life and made it more convenient and allowed us to better engage with things we care about, it should happen in this space as well. So it’s been pretty cool at bringing this to life,” said Herndon.

Furois who has worked for United Way of Central Indiana for 10 years, is excited for many reasons.

“For me, I think the fact that we’re taking an organization that is over 100 years old and introducing something that’s new, unique and different it is exciting to me. It has possibilities for our donors and volunteers, but also for us as an organization,” she said.

Features of the Philanthropy Cloud

A company may purchase the platform from United Way of Central Indiana and then make it available to its employees.

To see a demo of the platform, click here.

  • An employee may create an individual profile, after which the platform will hone content and include what is most relevant to an employee based on interactions with the site. At anytime, an employee can edit his or her causes. For example, an employee is at lunch and hears that a colleague just had a great volunteer opportunity at an organization that deals with food and hunger. An employee can change his or her causes and save that information.
  • An individual’s profile page gives his or her giving history, if it’s recurring or a one-time gift.  Similar to Amazon, the individual can easily donate again and make the same donation. He or she can also get a tax receipt. It provides a snapshot of how the individual is giving. Based on an individual’s giving, it populates pages with articles about the causes he or she supports.
  • Locally, United Way staff will create content to add to the site.
  • On the volunteer portal, which will launch in the spring, employees have the chance to share their talents. Employees can locate and sign up to volunteer for local nonprofits and employee can also post volunteer opportunities for others in the company. Through a peer-to-peer connection, it can increase the visibility of lesser-known organizations.
  • Employees can see specific details about volunteer opportunities – their location, when they start and how to sign up. After signing up, an automatic confirmation and thank-you email is sent directly to the employee.
  • Businesses can see how their employees are giving, either by cause or in a geographic region.
  • If a company has a corporate social responsibility cause, it can highlight opportunities. Companies are asking employees what philanthropic causes they want their employers to invest in. The platform can help employers see if the causes they’ve chosen are actually where employees are investing their time and talent.
  • Future iterations will have portable profiles, so if an employee leaves a company, his or her profile can too.

United Way’s beginnings are rooted in problem solving.

In 1887, Denver had a burgeoning population that put a strain on human services. A large migration to Colorado was caused by the outbreak of tuberculosis. In order to reduce their risk of illness, individuals sought higher elevation and cleaner air.

In Denver, faith leaders partnered and created a united campaign that benefitted health and welfare agencies. They founded the Charity Organization Society to collect the funds for local charities, to coordinate relief services, to counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and to make emergency assistance grants for cases that could not be referred.

Indianapolis entered the picture in 1918 during the war and was more like a war chest.

Herndon said, “There’s some iconic photos literal war chest of cash on Monument Circle and again it was the leaders of the community wanting to rally everybody together.”

The name Community Chest was widely used for United Way organizations until the 1950s.

Since 1946, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and United Way Worldwide have enjoyed a cooperative relationship. Workplace giving was introduced about 40 or 50 years ago, and that was through the labor unions working with United Way to co-create the concept of workplace giving and payroll deduction.

It sees the Philanthropy Cloud and its technology as its next innovation.

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