Opinion

Law firms have a long history of charitable giving. Think volunteering, fun runs, jeans for genes days, charity grants, giving charitable donations instead of Christmas cards, pro bono services…

These are all well-known ways in which law firms support good causes and invest in local communities. On the whole, the legal industry is a frontrunner when it comes to supporting good causes and encouraging responsible corporate citizenship; but despite this, one would be hard-pushed to find more than a handful of UK law firms that offer employees the opportunity to donate to charity through their payrolls.
So what's special about payroll giving? Let's start with the facts. Payroll giving is a simple, tax-effective way for an individual to give to the charity of their choice. Not only does the charity receive the amount donated, but it also receives the tax that would have been paid on the money, plus a bonus 10 per cent 'top-up' payment from the Government. In this way, a donation of £7.80 translates into £11 for the charity when it is received through payroll giving. Unlike many other fundraising activities, payroll giving incurs almost zero administrative costs, making it an extremely attractive option for charities.
Payroll giving is particularly good news for charities, as it means sustained, regular donations, allowing them to plan for the long term. It also signals a significant change in donor attitudes in the UK. A recent research paper on charitable giving entitled 'A Bit Rich?' (IPPR 2002) suggests that bringing about a widespread shift in behaviour from spontaneous, tactile giving to planned, sustained donations is one of the main challenges for charity fundraisers in the UK today.
For people in the UK, giving money to charity, like owning a stamp collection or singing in the shower, is something that a surprisingly large number of us do, but are loath to admit to. At the last count, nearly 70 per cent of the general public gave to charity on a regular basis, but it is one of those things, as they say, that we “don't like to talk about”. Perhaps it is our reticence to discuss our generosity publicly that means only 1 per cent of UK employers offer payroll giving, and only 2 per cent of staff who could use it do so.
There are clear and significant benefits for businesses that take on payroll giving. A recent survey commissioned by The Giving Campaign to investigate employer attitudes found that companies with programmes in place were very positive about donating money to charity through their payrolls. Nearly all (96 per cent) thought that it was something a good employer should offer, and they also wanted to see participation levels increase. The research found that respondents with programmes in place believed that they brought a host of business benefits, particularly an improved company image and an enhancement of existing community involvement and volunteering programmes.
Baker & McKenzie implemented payroll giving in April 2001. Currently, 40 members of staff from the London office support the scheme, giving more than £2,200 each month. Donors support 49 charities, ranging from the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and the British Heart Foundation to the Royal British Legion. In the 18 months the scheme has been active, more than £21,000 has been donated to the chosen charities.
The scheme was found to be flexible, with donors selecting their charities and supporting as many or as few of them as they chose. Donations range from between £5 and £500 each month, with the average donation being just over £55 per person per month. Payroll giving enables staff to support their charities in a long-term and strategic manner, with the minimum of hassle. The donation process is also straightforward to implement and administer on an employee's behalf. Payroll giving has proved to be popular at Baker & McKenzie and encourages others to consider using the scheme.
The Giving Campaign has created a payroll giving toolkit to help you start up payroll giving. For information, visit www.givingcampaign.org.uk, or call 020 8238 8662.