Long-time tech and startup veterans Tim Lovelock and Francois Bracq set out in 2010 to create a business with a double mission. The first, to enable companies to improve employee performance and engagement and the second, to help these same companies better deploy their corporate philanthropy budgets. The answer was Giving Corner, the first platform of its kind to reward everyday activities via incentive-driven philanthropy.
The idea was born from their short stint at Bain consulting where they realized they that there was a real need to not only increase employee participation in company philanthropic efforts, but also connect this participation back to everyday activities of the company. Since launching in 2010, they’ve grown at a healthy clip and now have several blue chip companies on-board. I recently caught up with Lovelock and Bracq who took me through the mission of Giving Corner, their future plans and how they have succeeded in bridging corporate philanthropy and employee performance and motivation.
Tell me about the premise behind Giving Corner.
The basic idea behind Giving Corner is that an indirect reward can often be worth more than a pure monetary reward. Namely that offering to make a donation to charity instead can be a powerful employee motivator. So, to give you an example, if you’re working for a company and I ask you to reduce how much printing you’re doing or submit your timesheet or expense report on time, if I give you .50€ to do that task that’s no going to motivate you to do it. But if I say fill-out your timesheet and I’ll give you the opportunity to vaccinate a kid or give a meal to the homeless, not only would that likely be a lot more motivating for you, but it also comes at the same cost to the company.
From the employees’ perspective this is also a big positive because they feel like they finally have a say and are more involved in decisions around corporate philanthropy. One of our frustrations when we were at Bain was that they actually had a number of corporate philanthropy programs that we were either completely unaware of or not at all involved in. So the question for us was really how can we involve a greater percentage of employees in this process and do something that’s engaging and fun. If you look just in France at the percentage of employee involvement in CSR, only 15% are actually involved, but almost 80% want to be involved. We believe that one of the big reasons for this disconnect is that, until now, there weren’t really tools for companies to engage their employees on this.
What are some other objectives you’ve sought to achieve?
We also wanted to make sure that companies had a reason to continue with their corporate philanthropy and CSR efforts. Companies are, by nature, not altruistic unless you have a founder or very senior person who is. And even then it’s essentially the individual who’s altruistic not the company itself. So the question is why are companies dedicating money towards these efforts (particularly in a tough economic climate)? One of the reasons we’ve found actually is an increasing interest from companies in employee engagement. This is particularly in the case of younger employees who are more concerned (than their predecessors) with finding a job that’s interesting and aligns with their values. In France alone €2 billion is spent on corporate philanthropy and €8 billion is spent on CSR more broadly. So while companies are devoting huge budgets for this, if one of the main objectives is engaging employees, it’s not working.
Our thinking was if we can connect these philanthropy budgets with the core activities of the company we can #1 connect more employees to the companies’ philanthropic efforts #2 directly link these efforts with the core business of the company and #3 assuming we achieve #1 and #2, give a solid business rationale for companies to keep their philanthropy budgets in place and, perhaps, even increase them. To give you a simple example, look at printing costs. The total cost per printed page to a company is 08-.12€ per page, which equates to an overall cost of 1% of sales. You have huge cost saving potential if you can reduce this amount of printing. We can help reduce some of that cost and companies can then take those savings and reinvest them back to into their corporate philanthropy budgets.
What are the specific services Giving Corner offers? How does it work?
Giving Corner is a cloud-based SaaS. We have a platform that not only manages the accounting aspects of these types of transactions, but also provides a gamified interface to get employees more engaged and involved. So they can fill out surveys, declare that they’ve done certain things (eg business KPIs – CRM updates, timesheets, reduction in printing, etc) and, in turn, earn points that they can use to allocate/donate part of their companies’ philanthropy funds to charity.
What about the non-profit side? What types of non-profits do you work with and how are they involved in the process?
We work with all types of non-profits from big ones such as the Red Cross to small, local ones. In the case of smaller ones, it’s usually our customers that have existing partnerships with smaller NGOs and, in turn, ask us to add them to the platform. It’s totally free for the non-profits. The only thing we ask of the non-profits is that they provide us information about the projects that have been funded. This is because it’s very important for those who have given their points to a cause to know what’s been done with the points and to follow the progression of the project.
How do you keep employees engaged with the platform?
In addition to updates on the progression of the projects, we also have newsletters that are sent out to employees twice a month to keep them informed as well as alerts letting them know when they have points to donate. This also helps to keep people involved and drive substantial employee engagement. If you look at our longer-term clients, we’re at 85-90% of employees signed up on the platform with usage rates of about 35-40% a month, so a significant level of involvement. Giving Corner has also evolved into something of an internal social network for the company, so we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about (and building in) the collaborative aspects of the platform.
Which markets and customers are you focusing on? What about the competitive landscape?
Currently we’re only in France, working primarily with big companies such as Alliance, Elior, GDF, and others. We don’t have any direct competitors, within or outside France. Of course there are several startups and other companies doing online donations with some, such as Just Giving, offering platforms where employees can get together and do a fundraising campaigns within the company.
Other indirect competitors include anyone who’s focusing on employee engagement or rewards. But again, while some of them do have a humanitarian dimension, it’s not the same notion of an indirect (giving only) reward combined with a comprehensive platform. This lack of competition is another reason we’re looking to expand rapidly, at least to the UK by the end of this year / beginning of next. Of course we’re very interested in the US too, but obviously it’s a more difficult market to attack directly. So, the focus for now is France and going international with our existing clients as most of them are multinationals.