Greater Twin Cities United Way is launching a new workplace giving tool online to shake up the nonprofit’s workplace campaigns and appeal to a new generation of donors.

The “Salesforce.org Philanthropy Cloud” is United Way’s first dramatic move since it announced a new strategic plan to counter declining contributions through its annual workplace campaigns. The online platform is intended to match technology offered by for-profit firms that have muscled into office giving in recent years.

“This really puts us in the game from a digital standpoint,” said Bob Poferl, Twin Cities United Way senior vice president of corporate relations.

Instead of a once-a-year pledge to give a portion of their paycheck to charity through United Way, Philanthropy Cloud users will be able to research charities, target donations via payroll deduction and sign up for volunteer opportunities year-round. The platform will have a personal dashboard for each donor, and anticipate their interests and make suggestions based on past activity. The giving will still be office-based, but employees will have more control and United Way hopes it will create long-term relationships with donors.

The technology will be available via desktop, laptop or smartphone, and it’s something companies have been asking about for years, Poferl said. Businesses interested in using Philanthropy Cloud will purchase it from United Way, tailor it to their needs and make it available to employees.

Increased competition

For-profit competitors, including Benevity and YourCause, have seen success in the past decade with online giving platforms for the workplace.

YourCause, based in Plano, Texas, lists Best Buy as a client. Benevity, headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, works with 450 large corporations, including Cargill and Ameriprise Financial. Since its founding in 2008, Benevity has facilitated about a $1 billion in charitable donations, said Chief Operating Officer Andy Howell, in an interview earlier this year.

In some cases, Poferl said, corporate clients have then dropped their United Way campaigns.

Greater Twin Cities United Way revenue has dropped from a record $101.9 million in fiscal year 2014 to $77 million last year as its workplace giving campaigns declined. About 900 Twin Cities companies hold United Way giving campaigns each year, and United Way leaders believe this new technology will revive interest and energy.

The Philanthropy Cloud was developed in partnership with United Way Worldwide, nearly two dozen of United Way’s largest local chapters, and Salesforce.org, a San Francisco technology firm connected with Salesforce.com. The cloud is being marketed by 22 United Way chapters, including in the Twin Cities, Denver, Atlanta and Seattle.

“Where we really differentiate ourselves is United Way is on the ground in 1,800 communities around the world,” Poferl said. “We are providing funding and driving impact in local communities. That is what companies want.”

The new platform will also offer something akin to crowdsource funding, Poferl said. It also has some social media capabilities allowing co-workers to coordinate group volunteering and fundraising.

“You can promote things going on inside a company,” he said. “If something happens that the company or its employees care about, we can sat up a promotional campaign overnight.”

Stephen Delfin, a Virginia-based philanthropy consultant and former CEO of America’s Charities, said the new technology could help United Way maintain existing corporate relationships and may be appealing to midsize companies not already using other giving platforms.

“It’s an interesting defense strategy,” Delfin said.

He credits United Way for its efforts but said he’s not sure technology alone will change the fact that donors and companies prefer to give directly to the charities of their choosing, instead of funneling it through United Way.

Prospective clients

Bremer Bank is already looking into using United Way’s Philanthropy Cloud, said President and CEO Jeanne Crain.

“We really want to be part of the first set of companies that looks at this tool and helps United Way evaluate how it launches,” said Crain, who is on the Greater Twin Cities United Way board of directors.

Bremer Bank, like many companies, understands strong corporate social responsibility efforts are important to attracting and retaining talent, Crain said. This platform means employees can volunteer and donate all year long.

Crain said it’s also a critical first step in United Way’s transformation.

“The United Way Board leadership spent a lot of time working on a long-range strategic plan,” she said. “This absolutely delivers and executes that plan in a way that will lead to its success and will really help the Twin Cities prosper.”