Baroness Helena Kennedy hosted a recent lunch at the House of Commons for the Geared for Giving campaign. Several law firms have agreed to achieve a 10% uptake of workplace giving by the end of May. CMS Cameron McKenna is seeking to lead the way in the sector, having already achieved impressive levels of employee giving through their pay.

Charitable giving can be a very personal thing, and at a time when we all have our hands on the purse strings charities need extra support now more than ever. One of the best and easiest ways to encourage philanthropy in your firm is to get in touch with Workplace Giving UK, which does exactly what it says on the tin and is the most tax-efficient way to support a chosen charity.

CMS has been running a Workplace Giving scheme for 12 years. After a very solid start, with take-up at 12%, we now have over a quarter of employees giving to a charity of their choice direct from their monthly salary. This is the highest rate of workplace giving in the legal sector and 20% above the national average. Working with Workplace Giving UK, we understand the importance of consistent and effective promotion of the scheme from day one.

All new employees are informed about the scheme during their induction. In addition, we also run an annual promotion campaign every December where we invite Workplace Giving UK staff into our offices to promote the scheme by speaking to people at their desks.

Some would say this is a rather direct approach – which it is. But the Workplace Giving UK staff strike the perfect balance by being both helpful and informative. They are the ultimate professionals. Communication is also important – we always circulate advance notice of the promotion, so people know to expect it, which is key. It also helps that our senior partner Dick Tyler champions our overall corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity. Internal communications come directly from him, which helps to raise awareness and boost participation levels.

Philanthropy is certainly a big part of our culture. We are a very generous firm, but workplace giving is rather separate from our other core CSR activities, simply because it is not necessarily focused on a specific charity or cause. However, we have used our scheme to support the firm’s charity partners, including Macmillan Cancer Support (2011) and Special Olympics GB (2012), by encouraging employees who support them through workplace giving with a £50 contribution to their first monthly donation.

Awareness is paramount to participation. Our success in getting 26% of our UK employees on board has been about striking the right balance, making sure we are not too ‘heavy handed’ or indeed ‘light touch’ when it comes to promoting the scheme, and other CSR initiatives which the firm undertakes.

Getting started on the right foot is also important. Begin by inviting Workplace Giving UK staff into your office for an information session, and use the usual communication channels such as posters and email to let people know. It takes time to raise awareness and I certainly would not advocate using the ‘desk approach’ right away – be patient if you want long-term success. Getting a partner or business leader to shine the light and spearhead the scheme will make a huge difference to interest and engagement, as well as participation.

It says a lot about an organisation’s people when such a large proportion of them are donating money to fantastic causes. Our employees seem to like the fact that they are supporting a charity of their choice and, at the same time, are also members of an army of ‘CMS givers’ who collectively support a huge range of charities.

For more information about setting up a workplace giving scheme, go to the Geared for Giving site.

Robert Powell is corporate social responsibility manager at CMS Cameron McKenna