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Name: Vanessa Cowan
Job Title: Rewards and
Benefits Advisor
Organisation: The University
of Manchester



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Universities naturally foster a culture of giving and philanthropy.

That’s true for many of our clients in higher education, who raise
extraordinary amounts for good causes. To explore how and why
universities are successful in charitable giving, we spoke to our client
The University of Manchester, to see how payroll giving has become
one of the key ways they engage with staff to carry out their philanthropic goals. Employees at the university have donated over £1m to charity through payroll giving, helping give back to a variety of causes they care about.

So why has the scheme been so successful there, and why has it struck a chord with employees? We sat down with Vanessa Cowan, Reward and Benefits Advisor at the university, to uncover what their secret ingredient has been.

Q&A with Vanessa 

University of Manchester staff have donated an amazing £1,017,460.34 to charity over the last 14 years. Can you tell us why CAF Give As You Earn is so important to employees?

I think a big part of our success is that we have a focus on social responsibility – this fits in with our wider core goals and features heavily in our Manchester 2020 strategy. So giving back is at the forefront of our minds, not an afterthought.

Payroll Giving is one of many opportunities for staff to show they care for the community and their favourite causes.  I think it’s easy for university staff to also see how the tax benefits of Payroll Giving boosts their donations at no extra cost to them, and that donating via their pay helps small charities in particular to receive the full benefit of a donation. 

How have you linked  CAF Give As You Earn into the reward and benefits initiatives you run, and the broader employee culture at Manchester University?

The scheme is part of our staff benefits portfolio. Again this fits in with the University’s core goal of Social Responsibility which is strongly embedded through the organisation. 

We also boost Payroll Giving in the context of wellbeing. One of our Six Ways to Wellbeing is “give”. We promote that seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding – and good for your individual (and collective) sense of wellbeing.

What tips and advice would you give to other universities looking to promote Payroll Giving to staff?

When initially launching (or reboosting) your scheme we made sure there was a strong initial marketing campaign via payslips, intranet, posters (particularly where staff don’t have PCs), digital news items, email, office TV screens etc. At the time we were also supported by a professional fundraising organisation that boosted the first donation. Promotions need to continue and at least once a month have stories to share to staff on take up and/or personal stories of those who are giving (and why).

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Vanessa also shared the following tips with us…

  • Get quotes from charities on how payroll giving helps support them
  • Find an opportunity to invite charities to talk about their work
  • Consider if you wish to match donations or cover the administration costs
  • Aim for a target such as the Payroll Giving Quality Mark to help incentivise take up
  • Signpost volunteering opportunities to show your staff other ways they can contribute.

An employee's personal viewpoint - Coping with the loss of a loved one

Choosing a charity can be a very personal experience. CALM LOGO

Some people know exactly who they want to support, and have a personal connection with a particular cause.

We spoke to Manchester University employee Helen Davies, to get her view on what regular charity giving means to her.

Helen, who works for the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health at the university, said she chose to donate to a mental health charity after losing someone close to her to suicide.

She said that by choosing the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), she hopes her contribution can help others in similar situations.

She said: “The charity aims to raise awareness of male suicide - the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. I know how devastating the impact is on those left behind. I couldn't change what had happened to my family, but I could help others. CAF Give As You Earn is one way to do that.”

“I think it is very important that my employer provides this service. It benefits charities and allows the people who donate to feel they are doing something worthwhile and helping causes they believe in. It also shows what a difference people can make as individuals and as part of a wider working community.”

Find out more about social responsibility at The University of Manchester.