Have You Met Your Match?
Employee matching-gift and volunteer-grant programs are two underutilized sources of fundraising for many nonprofit organizations. Due to the complexity of various programs, organizations typically take a passive approach to fundraising through these sources by leaving it up to individual donors or volunteers to initiate the matching-gift or volunteer-grant process.
Yet for organizations willing to take the time to crack the code, these fundraising sources can contribute significantly to their annual budgets. For instance, in just three years, the American Cancer Society was able to quadruple employee matching gifts to more than $10 million annually. In 2011, the University of Texas at Austin received a matching-gift check for $1.19 million from ExxonMobil.
Employee-giving programs have been around since 1954, when the GE Foundation created the Corporate Alumni Program, the first employer gift-matching program. Today, the GE Foundation matches more than $35 million annually to 501(c)(3) organizations and accredited educational institutions (including K-12). Since then, thousands of companies have created similar employee-giving programs where they either match donations made by their employees to eligible nonprofit organizations or provide volunteer grants to nonprofits where employees volunteer.
Although the specific program details vary by company, employee-giving programs are widely offered among corporations. In fact, more than 65 percent of Fortune 500 companies and countless smaller employers offer matching-gift or volunteer-grant programs. Some even match funds raised for fundraising walks and go as far as providing each employee with a yearly unrestricted grant to allocate to a nonprofit of the employee's choice:
- Verizon provides $750 grants for 50 volunteer hours and matches up to $5,000 annually to nearly all nonprofits or schools.
- IBM provides $1,000 grants for 40 volunteer hours and matches up to $5,000 annually from current employees or retirees to schools and up to $1,000 annually to all other nonprofits.
- BP, in addition to similarly generous matching-gift and volunteer-grant programs, allows every employee to allocate a $300 grant annually to any organization, as well as matches funds raised for nonprofit walks, runs, etc.
But what are they?
Thousands of companies, representing more than 15 million people, have matching-gift or volunteer-grant programs. Corporate matching-gift programs are charitable-giving programs created by corporations in which the company matches donations made by employees to eligible nonprofits. Employees can double the impact of their donations by utilizing the existing matching-gift programs that are in place at thousands of employers. The standard match is dollar-for-dollar up to a set limit that normally ranges between $2,000-$10,000 per employee each year.
Volunteer-grant programs, also known as "dollars for doers" programs, are charitable-giving programs set up by corporations in which the company provides a monetary donation to eligible nonprofits as a way to recognize employees who volunteer. Grants normally are valued at $10-$15 per hour volunteered with a minimum volunteer requirement of about 20 hours per calendar year for each employee. Volunteer-grant programs provide an easy way to raise money from volunteers without asking them to take out their checkbooks. Since they're already actively giving their time to nonprofits, it is reasonable to expect that they'll take a few extra minutes to request grants from their employers — grants that could equal hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars for a nonprofit.
How do they work?
Unfortunately, matching-gift and volunteer-grant programs are hardly uniform across organizations. In general though, the corporate guidelines do specify the following:
- Which organizations are eligible? Examples include schools, arts and cultural organizations, community groups, etc.
- What is the matching-gift ratio? How much are volunteer hours worth?
- What is the maximum annual contribution per employee?
- Which employees are eligible to participate? Examples include part-time, board members, retirees, spouses, etc.
- How do employees submit grant requests? Microsoft developed an internal website. Pepsi and Aetna contract out the program administration to third-party companies. American Express and Harley-Davidson use paper applications.
Although many specifics vary, the process can be summed up in five steps:
- Individuals donate or volunteer at a nonprofit.
- Nonprofits notify eligible donors or volunteers of the availability of matching-gift or volunteer-grant funds.
- Donors or volunteers submit grant requests.
- Nonprofits validate the grant requests.
- Corporations cut checks.
How can organizations increase fundraising from these sources? Increasing matching gifts and volunteer grants can be boiled down to two steps: raising awareness and making it easy for donors.
Unfortunately, most individuals outside of the nonprofit sector aren't familiar with corporate matching gifts or volunteer grants, and even less frequently have any idea whether their employers offer these employee-giving programs. Program descriptions often are buried inside employee benefit books, and employees can't submit grant requests if they aren't aware of their company's program. Nonprofits can raise awareness by:
- Providing a brief explanation of corporate employee-giving programs;
- Explaining how the extra funds can benefit the organization;
- Providing donors and volunteers with a listing of employers that offer these programs.
Raising awareness is all about getting donors and volunteers to ask themselves, "I wonder if my donation or ongoing volunteerism is eligible to be matched with a monetary donation by my employer?"
Making it easy
Nonprofits can always ask donors and volunteers to check with HR, but investing time to research employers yields a higher percentage of eligible individuals who actually follow through and submit grant requests. Nonprofits should prevent donors and volunteers from getting hung up looking for information. Provide them with as much of the following as possible:
- Up-to-date company policies;
- Printed forms or links to the online submission process;
- Contact information including the tax ID number, address and a fundraising contact.
Making it easy is all about getting donors and volunteers to take five minutes to submit the grant request, which can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Reducing the burden on donors is one of the most effective ways to increase donations from these sources.
With thousands of corporations out there all with ever-evolving corporate-giving programs, it can be a challenge to keep up with individual company policies. More importantly, gathering and communicating that information in a cost-effective manner is essential.
Many organizations begin by explaining the general concept of matching gifts and volunteer grants, and then ask donors and volunteers to check with HR. This isn't a bad place to start, but if organizations really want to tap in to these sources of fundraising, they need to take a more proactive approach. Nonprofits should consider doing some or all of the following:
- Reaching out to local employers to request information on their corporate employee-giving programs.
- Promoting corporate giving using social media, newsletter articles, e-mails, dedicated Web pages, and in-person at fundraising or volunteer events.
- Ensuring staff is familiar with the top employers that offer matching-gift and volunteer-grant funding.
- Subscribing to a service that enables donors and volunteers to immediately assess their eligibility and provides access to detailed corporate-giving information about their employers.
- Mailing the appropriate forms directly to donors and volunteers.
Get started today by promoting corporate matching gifts and volunteer grants to past donors and volunteers. Most companies allow employees to submit grant requests up to three months to 12 months after making a donation or volunteering, so start taking advantage of the untapped funds.
Donors and volunteers want to help! If organizations raise awareness and make it easy for them, they'll see an increase in employee-giving grants.