Sure, an odd headline coming from the CEO of a SAAS (software as a service) company that’s focused on corporate philanthropy. But let me explain why I’ve come to recognize the limits of my first love, technology.
In the beginning, it was a teenage crush. I was a pimply nerd building mainframes and technology was my one true soulmate.
The love affair continued when I founded my first tech start-up, NetCreations, the originator of opt-in email marketing. After I sold NetCreations, I set out to be a philanthropist.
What did that mean, exactly? Mostly writing checks.
Somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that one person bequeathing charities with checks is helpful... but limited. No matter who you are, there’s only so much impact that a single individual can generate.
I started to think about how I could leverage technology to better support nonprofits and give them what they need to address the world’s problems. And I realized that corporations are in the best position to help charities realize their vision; not just because of the awesome collective financial power of companies (although there is that), but because they all have their own armies.
Armies of employees, that is. Many of whom want to make a difference, lend their talents, add meaning to their jobs, and generally give back. The efficient use of technology can marshall these massive untapped and/or under-utilized forces and funnel their passion for good.
Thus was born Causecast, a platform and service that helps companies engage their employees in corporate volunteering and giving programs. Along the way, I’ve seen the sea change sweeping across Corporate America, as more and more companies understand that it’s really not optional to offer employees the opportunity to get involved in giving back. And I’ve seen so very many companies scramble to wrap technology around their programs in whatever way they can, recognizing that the no-tech approach is not the way to go when it comes to managing an employee volunteer program with high ambitions for employee engagement.
But now it’s time to note the limits of technology. It has its uses; tremendously so. But technology is best used in the service of supporting a vision, not defining it.
A robust giving and volunteering platform will add years to the lives of program managers, many of whom tear their hair out in clumps as they struggle with the most basic functions of their programs - volunteer sign-ins, tracking, reporting, you name it. But poor technology will cause as many clumps of hair as no technology at all.
Beyond that, technology won’t identify the causes that are most resonant for your employees. It won’t have the same personal touch as, well, a person, when it comes to kicking off a giving campaign. It won’t tell stories.
Technology will provide a platform for all of these things, but it’s up to you and your employees to chart a roadmap. That’s why we at Causecast believe that the services aspect of what we do is so critical, because it’s where we help clients define their destination and transform their corporate culture along the way.
As America’s Charities CEO Steve Delfin points out, “Can technology help enable awareness building, create better understanding, and facilitate support? Absolutely. But using technology with a passive approach to workplace giving, passive meaning no actual campaign or pulse points throughout the year, will not generate the same or greater amounts of donations. The opposite will happen.”
Employee engagement is a terrific offshoot that can happen when companies focus on giving back. But ultimately, as Delfin points out, this shouldn’t be the paramount goal of your giving and volunteering program, at the expense of doing what is going to benefit the charities you’re trying to help.
“Fundraising requires a point in time where people actually ask people to give,” notes Delfin. “No amount of engagement, technology, pro-bono engagement, time off for employee volunteering, skills-based volunteering, or social media will raise more funds unless those activities and tools are intentionally and thoughtfully connected to the need for charities to raise money.”
The smart use of good technology to improve the world is still something that makes me swoon. It’s the reason I get up every day. But technology is only as helpful as the people who are using it to guide them. Without a clear vision, technology will disappoint as a change-maker, and it’s unlikely to make much of a difference within your organization or community. With a roadmap in hand, however, technology can help drive you to places undreamed of, where groundbreaking impact inside and outside of your company is within reach.