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In January this year, I took over running Tyve, a start-up that promotes workplace giving. Through Tyve, employees set up recurring monthly donations to charity. The donations are simple to administer. And they come straight from their pre-tax earnings. So they save the average employee hundreds of pounds a year. 

Ben Clifford (@Clifford), Ben Olsen and Sam Geals in 2019 founded Tyve in 2019. After strong initial growth, Tyve they put Tyve into ‘maintenance mode’ in late 2021. Ben Clifford talks about these initial years in Lessons learned from Tyve, an effective giving startup.

In this post, I’m going to cover:

  • why I got involved in Tyve;
  • why I believe Tyve could raise large sums for effective charities;
  • what we’re doing differently this time around; and
  • how you could help (if you were so inclined).

TL;DR

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s a short summary.

  • Only a fraction of adults in the UK who give to charity do it through the workplace (many more do in the US). Workplace giving seems a relatively undertapped channel.
  • When Tyve launches at companies it gets high participation rates and is very sticky (high retention rates).
  • Most donations are “new money” that would not otherwise have been donated to charity. This is especially true for the ~40% of donations that go to Tyve’s recommended (effective) charities.
  • We’re making changes to make Tyve more attractive to companies to adopt. These include: making it free to use, adding impact reporting and testing donation matching for recommended (effective) charities.
  • There are several (known) reasons why we may fail to get more companies using Tyve. These include charitable giving been seen as a ‘nice to have’ and there being a high hurdle for companies to do anything new.
  • There’s an easy (and high EV) way you could help: introduce us to the company you work at!

How I got involved

I’ve spent most of the last decade leading product and design teams at tech scale ups. Late last year, the most recent of these scale-ups went 💥 (the bad ‘boom’, not the good one, like at the end of a fist bump). I took it as a opportunity to look beyond the commercial tech world. I'd spent years with the next startup funding round as a key factor behind almost every decision. I was ready for something a bit different.

I started to speak to some people in the EA community, talking through options, understanding where they saw the most potential impact.

In parallel, I was wondering why smaller companies weren't offering ‘payroll giving’ to their employees. (This is the mechanism that enables employees to give to charity from pre-tax earnings.)

At this point, I’d been giving a % of income to effective charities for several years. It felt meaningful and important. But it also required a fair bit of admin. I had a spreadsheet for tracking what I'd earned and logging donations (across multiple charities). And then trying to work out what this meant from a tax perspective (after accounting for GiftAid).

I’d had access to payroll giving a decade ago when I’d worked at a massive company and it had made giving so simple. No need to track earnings and donations—and the tax benefits were automatic.

With modern tech we must be able to make this available to all companies, even those without huge HR teams?

Meeting Ben Clifford was serendipitous. Ben had already founded Tyve. Working with Ben O and Sam, he'd built pretty much the exact the product that I’d started sketching out in my mind (and in my terrible handwritten notes).

I sat down with Ben in a bakery in what looked like an abandoned parking lot (his idea). After about 15 minutes, he asked me if I wanted to take over Tyve. Even better, him and Ben O were able to continue to help on Tyve, alongside their day jobs. Legends.

Sometimes you end up sharing a pastry with the right person at the right time. 🥐

Okay, so blah blah blah. Don’t worry, it’s time to get back to numbers and charts and bullet points.

Reasons to believe

There were a bunch of reasons to believe Tyve could grow substantially. Some of these I knew at the time I decided to start working on Tyve. Some of these came later, after I started looking deeper into the data and talking to users.

Most UK adults give to charity each year, but only a fraction do from payroll

So we’re not trying to convince people who don’t give to give. We’re trying to make it easier for them to do something they already do.

(You could, of course, see this as: people are giving to charity but they are choosing not to do it from payroll. I don’t think that’s the case. I haven’t found any good data on this. Anecdotally, most people I talk to don’t know that giving pre-tax, straight from payroll, is possible.)

Payroll giving is much more common in the US, which is an analogous market

It’s often stated that the US has more of a “giving culture”. And in some ways that’s true.

But the proportion of US adults that donate to charity is similar to the UK.

Not all models travel from the US to the UK, but many do. There is huge potential in workplace giving in the UK just by nudging it up towards US levels.

When Tyve launches at a company, 20%+ of employees start donating monthly

When employees have the chance to donate pre-tax with Tyve, many of them jump at it.

We usually see between 10 and 35% of employees using Tyve when we launch in a new company.

Participation rates varies based on tangible factors. For example, how hard the company promotes it and whether they offer matching. And it varies based on intangible factors (the enigmatic “company culture”).

When Tyve has launched at new companies, we’ve seem ~39% of funds go to Tyve’s 6 recommended charities.

This number can be higher at some companies, especially those where employees are influenced by effective giving. (Founders Pledge is the “100%” data point in the below chart). And it can be lower at other companies, especially those where employees have focused more on local charities.

Monthly donations are sticky

Ben, Ben and Sam put Tyve into maintenance mode when they were struggling to sign up new companies post-COVID. At that point companies were focusing on business survival and the shift to remote working.

So there were no new companies launching with Tyve in 2022. But in that period, donations actually went up!

  • Donations in December 2022 were +17% vs December 2021
  • February 2023 became the third highest month ever for donations - behind only March 2022 (when a lot of companies matched employee donations to Ukraine war appeals) and March 2021 (when one company using Tyve offered to 10x match all employee donations for a month)

This stickiness is driven by:

  • High company retention: 15 of the 20 companies that were using Tyve at the end of 2020 are still live today
  • High user (employee) retention: ~75% of users continue to use Tyve 12 months after they activate their account

Users get monthly emails about their donations every month, so they aren’t just retained because they turned their donations on and forgot about them (their donations also show as deductions on their pay slips!).

Instead, we see that once users have activated Tyve, they generally keep making donations until they leave their company for a new role. (It’s a bit manual to quantify how many users turn Tyve off without leaving their company, but we’re going to try to track this in future).

Much of the money donated is “new money”

We’ve surveyed Tyve users (employees who are donating) to understand their giving behaviour.

  • 60% of users are giving to charity more frequently now that they are using Tyve
  • 90% are giving more £ now that they are using Tyve

This increase in giving extends to donations to Tyve’s recommended (effective) charities.

  • 86% of users who are giving to recommended charities started giving to those charities for the first time through Tyve

Users love Tyve

The product is good. It does what people want it to. Kudos to Ben, Ben and Sam for this.

It gets 4.7 star user satisfaction ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.

Users say things like:

Love it, setup was really easy.

Is easy to use and pretty awesome.

Super easy to set up

Seamless

User satisfaction isn’t enough to get company adoption, but it certainly helps with the pitch!

And it means that we can focus on growing Tyve (on sales and marketing) knowing the core product is delivering on its promise.

Lessons learned

Okay, so the product works well and there looks like there’s a market for it. Why, then, did Tyve struggle to grow beyond it’s initial base of 20 odd companies?

Ben’s post goes into detail here.

I could simplify some of it down to: in the first iteration of Tyve, most of the benefits went to employees. But most of the cost (time and effort) was on the company and specifically, on the people/HR and finance teams.

So if we’re going to grow the way we want to, we’re going to need to:

🔺 increase the benefits of using Tyve and/or extend more benefits to the company

🔻 reduce the costs of using Tyve

What we’re doing differently

Here are some key changes we’ve made or are making with Tyve.

Tyve is now completely free to use

The monthly fee per user was a major barrier for companies adopting Tyve in 2019 and 2020. Many companies believed Tyve would be valuable for their employees. But they would also stack rank Tyve against every other thing they could spend money on--including things with more obvious commercial benefits.

The fee was necessary for Tyve in its first iteration. Tyve was set up (and took funding as) a commercial operation.

We’ve now moved to running Tyve as a non-profit. We’ve removed monthly fees. We're are marketing it as completely free to use for companies and employees: “£0 per month, 100% of donations go to charity.”

We’ve launched impact reporting

Companies take pride in the collective impact of their employees’ donations. They see it as a positive reflection of their company culture.

In the past, companies have asked ask to see the impact of their employees donations. We created impact reports manually and provided them to companies ad hoc.

We’ve now automated this process, with impact reports generated quarterly. Companies can use these internally (posting to Slack, in internal all-hands meetings). And they can use them externally (for example, for employer branding).

We’ve limited impact reporting to Tyve’s recommended charities. Those are the ones for which we can confidently estimate the impact per £ donated.

Illustrative extract from an impact report

Throughout March and April (perhaps beyond), we’re offering matching funds for new companies launching on Tyve. We have individual donors who will match all donations to any of Tyve’s recommended (effective) charities in the first month after launch.

We'll also test matching funds at some existing companies that are already using Tyve.

These matching funds provide an incentive for:

  • New companies to sign up for Tyve
  • Employees from new companies and existing companies to use Tyve
  • Employees to donate to Tyve’s recommended charities

We’ve made the pitch more direct

The first iteration of Tyve promised to “help HR teams attract and retain talent”. If Tyve could increase employee retention by x% or make the company y% more attractive to candidates, then Tyve’s monthly fee was more that worth it.

But calculating that x% and that y% were close to impossible. Tyve was used—and loved—by employees. But too many factors were at play in attracting and retaining talent to isolate the role that Tyve played.

We’re now focusing on three main benefits of using Tyve, which we can support with evidence and data:

  • Your employees will value it (it saves them £)
  • You can do a lot of good through Tyve
  • You can align that good to your business mission

Why Tyve might never take off

I’m optimistic about Tyve’s potential to get more people giving to charity more frequently. But I can see obstacles to getting companies to adopt Tyve. This is a non-exhaustive list of them.

For many companies, charitable giving is a ‘nice to have’

Many founders/execs think broadly about the purpose of their business. They embrace things like offsetting their company’s carbon emissions. Or giving employees a day off to volunteer in the company’s local community. These things don’t help drive more revenue. But they do relate directly to the company’s environmental and social footprint.

It’s less immediately obvious how charitable giving fits into this.

(There’s good arguments against this, of course. For example, matching employee donations to the Clean Air Task Force is likely more beneficial than carbon offsetting. But that’s not helpful if the companies don't see charitable giving as something to engage with in the first place.)

There’s a high hurdle for companies to do anything new

People are always busy at work. “Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion” (Parkinson’s law). Whatever the size of the company, every person and team is busy. So asking them to take on something new will face some resistance.

We try to reduce the burden on the HR and payroll teams of setting up Tyve and administering it on an ongoing basis. The companies using Tyve today consider it relatively low effort.

But there is still some effort. It’s another thing to think about and keep track of. And that might be enough for HR/payroll teams who already feel overstretched to say “we just can’t add anything new right now”.

It’s easier and safer for companies to adopt things that are widespread and well known

Most companies bucket payroll giving into ‘employee benefits’. It sits alongside a broad range of other perks, such as private health insurance, paid parental leave and subsidised gym membership.

As they grow, many companies benchmark their employee benefits against companies of a similar size. So you often see the same short list of benefits re-appearing across companies.

Like cycle-to-work schemes. Many, many companies, large or small, offer this to their employees. One person I talked to cited this as one of two “core benefits” alongside private health insurance. This is despite participation rates in cycle-to-work usually being in the single digits %-wise. (At least for employees in London where the traffic is not cycle-friendly; this might be different in, say, Amsterdam or Oxford).

Finding decision makers with high personal conviction could be difficult

I mentioned above that one of our core benefits is: “You can do a lot of good through Tyve”.

For many people, this has limited appeal. But for some people, doing good is incredibly important.

Many of the companies that adopted Tyve early on had founders who had signed the Founders Pledge and were interested in effective giving. (This was not a co-incidence. Ben used to lead sales at Founders Pledge so this was his starting network.)

There are likely many times more founders/execs/HR decision makers who care deeply about doing good. But if they are only 1 in 10 or 20 or 50, it could be difficult to reach them efficiently.

How you could help

You’ve showed incredible stamina to make it this far! (Or maybe you’ve just scrolled up from the comments)

Either way, if you think Tyve has promise and you have the time/inclination, here’s a few ways that you could help:

Introduce us to the company you work at! Ask your founder/CEO/MD or HR/people lead if Tyve could be interesting. For a 100 person company, an intro to a decision maker who is genuinely interested has an expected value of ~£1,500 in new donations to effective charities each year[1]. 💥

(EDIT: if you have someone to intro, you can email me at raoul@tyve.org).

Help us get some PR. We want to build awareness of Tyve so that when we approach companies they have some sense (even vague) that we are worth talking to. This (probably) means getting in press that founders/execs/HR decision makers pay some attention to. Who do we target? How? What’s our hook? 🤷🏽 Maybe you can help!

Creating content. We want to create interesting content for social media (primarily LinkedIn) and for things like guest posts on blogs. We have a backlog of ideas but we know it takes time and effort (designing, copywriting, editing) to execute well.

Graphic design. We need some more creative graphic design for a couple of projects in particular, where there’s a mix of print and online content.

We’re operating on a shoestring budget, so all we can offer in return is our gratitude 🙇🏽


Thanks to  Ben Clifford (@Clifford), Ben Olsen  and Sam Geals for creating Tyve and continuing to help with it, alongside their day jobs. And to people who I’ve talked to, who have been helpful and supportive and warned me this is going to be hard (usually at the same time!): Lynn Tan, Luke Freeman (@Luke Freeman), Sarah Pomeranz (@SarahPomeranz), Craig Drayton (@Craig Drayton), Sharang Phadke (@Sharang Phadke), Yonatan Cale (@Yonatan Cale), Rohit Krishnan (@Rohit is a Strange Loop), Jack Lewars (@Jack Lewars).

  1. ^

    ((£75 per month per employee donating * 12 months) * (100 employees * 20% employee participation) * 39% donations to effective charities * 86% of effective donations new to those charities) * 25% conversion rate

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:28 AM

The donations ... come straight from their pre-tax earnings. So they save the average employee hundreds of pounds a year.

Can you say more about how this works with UK tax law? In the US there's no tax benefit to paycheck donation (it's equivalent to they give you the money and then you make your donation).

(I'll do my best to explain. Let me know if anything is unclear.)

In the UK, the donation amount is subtracted from gross salary to get to taxable income. The employer will then use this taxable income to calculate how much tax the employee needs to pay.

For example, an employee earning £5,000 a month and donating £500 a month to charity through Tyve would have their tax calculated on a taxable income of £4,500 (assuming they have no other similar deductions).

Since the employee has captured the tax benefit on their donation immediately (they've avoided paying tax on the £500 that they gave), they can't also list the donation as a deduction on their end of year tax return.

In theory the tex benefit is merely moved forward, but in practice many/most people in the UK don't deduct the full value of their employee donations on their tax returns, for a few reasons:

  1. because they don't have to file a tax return. Only ~5 million of the 32 million people in employment in the UK have to file a tax return each year. Most people who are employed and earn under £100,000 don't need to file.
  2. because of the additional complication of Gift Aid, which lets people transfer some (but not all) of the tax benefits of their donation to the charity that they are giving to. (A lot of people don't know exactly how Gift Aid works or how it impacts what they can deduct on their tax return).
  3. because they forget/lose track of the donations.

People love that payroll giving just removes the complication of tax entirely.

Differences in tax treatments for donations in different countries is, of course, a big challenge to going international with payroll giving (which a few of the companies who use Tyve have asked us about) is . I'd thought (obviously mistakenly) that the US worked somewhat similarly to the UK. Great to be corrected. It makes it even more interesting to me that the % of people giving through the workplace is so much higher in the US than the UK, given the substantial tax benefits to be had donating this way in the UK.
 

In the UK, the donation amount is subtracted from gross salary to get to taxable income

That's very interesting! A lot of people assume that this is how it works in the US, though it isn't.

Do you have multiple kinds of taxes that you need to pay out of your paycheck? The US does (federal, state, local, social security, medicare, unemployment) and it's only federal taxes (and a few states, with low limits) where you can deduct donations.

There are two kinds of taxes - income tax and national insurance - and donating to charity only reduces your income tax[1]

I talk a bit about donating through your payroll vs via Gift Aid with some examples in my post here.

To add to Raoul's point, the government provides a benefit whether you donate via your payroll, or through your post-tax earnings, but donating via payroll:

  • Is easier for you, especially if you are a high earner, since you don't have to apply for your tax rebate
  • Is easier for the charity, they don't have to worry about Gift Aid
  1. ^

    If you have a student loan, this is also deducted from your paycheck, and also not affected by charitable donations

I'm super excited by this! The figures around stickiness and new money are very promising

P.S. Love the handwritten notes!

Not to be confused with https://tythe.org/ which is another EA-ish effective giving charity :)