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People are ‘giving 17% less than they did last year’: Benevity Chief Impact Officer

Benevity Chief Impact Officer Sona Khosla speaks with Yahoo Finance Live about Giving Tuesday, donation trends throughout the pandemic, and causes like vaccine equity.

Video Transcript


ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome back to "A Time for Change." Today, as we've been talking about, is Giving Tuesday, the annual day earmarked for donating to charity. And it comes, of course, on the heels of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. So I guess you can look at it as a chance to balance some of that consumerism by giving back.

And last year on Giving Tuesday, a record $2 billion was donated in the US alone. That's billion with a B. And if history repeats, the giving will keep going until the end of the year. In fact, according to the group nonprofit Tech for Good, nearly 1/3 of all donations actually come in the month of December-- 12% in the last three days alone, Anjalee.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: That's right, Alexis. And here to talk about all of that and more is who's-- about who's giving and who's getting is Sona Khosla, chief impact officer of Benevity. Sona, thank you so much for joining us today. I want to get right into it.

Benevity is a unicorn software company. Giving us a quick snapshot on what that company does and tell us why there's even a need for this.

SONA KHOSLA: Yeah, I mean, we need to be giving because the world is more in need now than it almost ever has been. So, you know, last year we saw a record amount of giving but this year haven't quite seen that sustained. So Giving Tuesday is going to be a really important day to get those giving levels back up.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So Sona, for those--

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: And I want to talk--

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Go ahead. I'm sorry. Go ahead, Anjalee.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Thanks, Alexis. No, I just wanted to follow up on that, you know, talking about being able to monitor that and as well as accountability. I think, you know, specifically when we talk about accountability of donations, one of the particular categories you've noted is vaccine equity. It's been a top donation category because of the pandemic. So who are these recipients of these donations? Tell me about what you're able to track and monitor about how those donations are going and how it's being utilized.

SONA KHOSLA: Yeah, absolutely. So vaccine equity became quite a big cause earlier in the spring when vaccines were rolling out primarily in higher-income countries. At that time, we saw about a 10-time spike in donations to organizations like Go Give One, UNICEF, Gavi, COVAX, so a number of organizations who are working on distributing vaccines to lower-income countries.

And that's really important because, you know, while 56% of the people worldwide have received a dose, less than 1% of vaccines have been administered in low-income countries. And so we're starting to just monitor the levels, and it's been fairly steady since April, not as high as it was then. But we're starting to see corporations step up and run matching campaigns and initiatives to support vaccine equity and support these causes.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So I want to talk a little bit about what Benevity is seeing right now because you have a unique window onto charitable giving because your platform works with some of the largest companies in the world. You've got Apple, Nike, Microsoft among your clients.

And you're a platform for corporate giving, and I know that last year was a banner year for corporate philanthropy. This year not so much. Tell us what you're seeing in terms of maybe themes throughout the companies that you work with when it comes to corporate giving.

SONA KHOSLA: Yeah, absolutely. So it kind of requires us to put 2020 into context. It was an extraordinary year on many fronts, and giving was no exception, and most of that response was in response to the pandemic and the racial-justice movement. So last year, companies, really stepped up and got more people involved by running special matching campaigns for COVID relief or social and racial justice, and that drove a significant amount of giving in the last year.

This year's been a bit different. We have seen less special matching campaigns run by companies, and we know that that drives the number of people who get involved but also the amount that they give. So overall, we're seeing people and companies giving about 17% less than they did last year in this way.

So we're also seeing fewer people giving to causes that mattered just a year ago such as racial justice. So for example, in June 2020, social- and racial-justice causes made up about 50% of the donation volume on our platform. That dropped to about 5% six months later and has stayed at that level since.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: I want to go back to vaccine equity for just a second because I'm so glad that it's something that you have a window into. I think there's so much discussion, especially around how the US government has been handling it and how other larger organizations around the world handle it. So tell me, from your vantage point, do you see where there might be gaps that can be bridged in terms of where donations are going versus where they may need to go in order to help sort of, you know, see an equitable distribution?

SONA KHOSLA: Yeah, I mean, I think that people tend to give to the causes that matter to them specifically. That's what we see, right? You're more likely to put your dollars to the local communities that you're in or the causes that you care about or have touched you personally.

I think what we're seeing is that we need people to be thinking much more collectively, much more globally about issues that may not affect them personally but affect our global community. And that's why, you know, campaigns around vaccine equity are incredibly important, and it's important for us to remember that, you know, we're still in this together. Even as we end up in these, you know, varying degrees of return to normal, it really does require a collective mindset and collective action. So I would really encourage people to think about the fact that $5 can get someone in a lower-income country access to a vaccine. Whether you do that through Go Give One, through UNICEF, or through any other of the global organizations working on this matters less than actually starting to shift your behavior from the things that you tend to do to the things where your support is needed.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Sona, what can companies do to get more engagement with the employees when they want sort of collective giving? You know, what's important to employees? What are they looking for? What incentivizes them, you know, to dig a little deeper into their pockets?

SONA KHOSLA: Yeah, absolutely. I think, first of all, we know that employees are looking to have more of a meaning, more purpose, more impact through their companies. So first of all, companies need to make sure that they have goodness programs or purpose programs where they are doing, you know, donation matching or volunteering, enabling their people to support the causes that matter to them most-- also, you know, enabling people to take action through their jobs. So that's the most important thing, you know, as a corporation. Do you have a program?

The second thing we hear most is that most people aren't even aware that their company offers those rewards or programs. So companies really need to step up their communications and let people know that they have those opportunities to have a positive impact through their workplace. Those two things alone make a huge difference.

And then, you know, continuing to promote it all year long. We see various causes get support throughout the year, and companies can run specific events and opportunities throughout the year. But the most powerful way can also be empowering their people to be able to run, you know, special giving opportunities or fundraising campaigns to start movements within the company. So we're seeing lots of great tactics from companies who leverage these programs to engage their workers in that deeper sense of meaning and connectedness to each other and the global community.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Sona, I want to ask you about the idea that Benevity is a unicorn company. You think normally of that in context of disrupting certain sectors or industries. Tell me a little bit about this, about the growth trajectory, and whether or not you see any competition.

SONA KHOSLA: Yeah, absolutely. So we reached unicorn status last December, and we really started with this mindset of, you know, traditional philanthropy, if it were going to work, would have worked by now. And so it had been very much a top-down or high-net-worth activity with CEOs, you know, rallying employees or even their customers around causes that they mostly care about or that are important to the business itself.

But what we've seen in the last 13 years that Benevity has been in business is that if we can harness the power of, you know, every individual and activate that goodness in every individual by enabling them to support the causes they care about through their companies-- so much more of a democratized process-- we can actually affect a lot more change, a lot more social change if we get more people involved that way.

So that's been the big disruption that we've seen, and absolutely we're seeing more players in the market coming in and supporting companies to run these programs, and that's good. That's good for business. We know that companies who run, you know, giving and volunteering programs tend to see about 57% less churn in their employees. So that's a powerful reason for businesses to engage and a powerful reason for them to leverage technology to scale these programs.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, Sona Khosla, Benevity's chief impact officer, thanks so much for being with us today and for those insights. We appreciate it.