By Robert Evans
Many U.S. corporations – both publicly traded and privately held – challenge their personnel to be philanthropic and they, therefore, establish matching gift programs to encourage employee generosity.
In my interactions with nonprofits engaged in multimillion dollar fundraising campaigns, I am often asked about this aspect of philanthropic activity. My answer typically is: explore the possibility of corporate synergies, since corporations often allocate their charitable dollars to supporting specific areas of interest that their employees highlight. But counting on corporate support is a decreasing recipe for a budget shortfall.
In 2014, corporations donated nearly $18 billion to nonprofit organizations, according to Giving USA, the annual survey of American giving. Corporate gifts only account for about 5 percent of all giving and, at .07 percent, their combined philanthropy amounted to the lowest percentage of pre-tax profits in 40 years. Yes, corporations give a lot of money to charity. But changes in the tax structure and investor pressure to watch the bottom line limit the role that corporate America will necessarily play in the nonprofit sector going forward.
All nonprofit leaders should keep employee gift matching programs as an arrow in their quiver. While the parameters vary widely, these are programs where companies will equal or augment the charitable gifts made by their employees, and in some instances quadruple (or better) employee giving. One example of a generous program is Exxon Mobil, which gives three dollars for every dollar an employee donates to educational institutions and makes a one to one match for other eligible organizations. And for every 20 hours an employee volunteers, the company will provide a $500 grant to the nonprofit.
From the company’s perspective, these programs boost employee engagement and satisfaction in the company. An employee who is content with life and engaged in his or her community is more likely to be both productive and – in an era of rapid job switching – more loyal. Having these programs also creates good public relations and rarely takes a dent out of corporate profits. In the larger sense, they certainly won’t move the needle on the percentage of total charitable dollars given by the corporate sector and if trends continue, we are seeing a slight increase in the number of companies matching employee giving, confusing the decline in corporate generosity.
The percentage of total corporate giving coming from matching gift programs is currently included in the Giving USA study but it is not isolated to show financial impact. But according to Double the Donation, an Atlanta-based firm that manages matching gift programs for more than 1,000 nonprofits across the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain, matching gift programs account for an estimated $2 to $3 billion in annual contributions. If we go with the lower number, that still accounts for roughly 12 percent of all corporate philanthropic dollars.
There is also insufficient research to determine whether, as a whole, corporate matching gift programs are increasing or decreasing. Anecdotal evidence suggests that less money, not more, is being given in this way. The number of firms, like Double the Donation, that facilitate gift programs is certainly growing. It is more than fair to call matching gifts programs a bright spot in the otherwise languishing world of corporate philanthropy.
According to Adam Weinger, founder and president of Double the Donation, nonprofits should keep in mind that the key to the corporate dollars they seek may rest in the hands of their most loyal supporters. Therefore, it is incumbent on nonprofits to screen the lists of employers of their constituents and help encourage employees to request matching dollars to their own philanthropy.
And donors should be more pro-active with their employers in asking them to step up and be better and more visible citizens by creating or expanding formal corporate matching gift efforts. Often, employers monitor what their employees are supporting and use this as a barometer to identify organizations and/or movements that they should support … or abandon.
According to Weinger, who created Double the Donation five years ago, his company maintains a central data base of corporate matching companies and “we do try to track some of the best matching gift programs, starting with Microsoft, the best and most dynamic effort currently. More than 70% of Microsoft’s personnel make matching gifts,” he said.
Roughly 65% of the 500 largest U.S. companies do have matching gift efforts. Some companies either contract with outside entities or have a designated employee who oversees the logistics and paperwork.
Personally, my wife and I have called on my spouse’s previous employer who does match selected types of our own giving and we have been pleased that our college alma mater, NPR, and some other well-known cultural organizations have benefited from our asking for corporate matches.
Generally, no corporate matches today are available if an employee directs dollars to a donor advised fund (DAF) or personal family foundation or if personal giving comes directly from either a DAF or foundation because corporate programs are intended to promote giving from one’s personal funds.
Consider this a wake-up call to all donors to reconsider this all-too-often overlooked or forgotten technique to secure additional funding and a call to nonprofits to encourage corporate matching. Usually, houses of worship are not listed as qualifying nonprofits so most synagogues can’t participate the way that colleges, universities, day schools, community centers, arts and cultural organizations, social service entities, and environmental causes can. And usually the corporate match is not made until the employee pays his or her gift. (In other words, pledges don’t count … only real dollars).
Robert Evans, founder and president of the Evans Consulting Group, a full-service firm that helps nonprofits meet and exceed their strategic and fundraising goals, appears regularly at major conferences and his commentary and blogs attract significant attention and command discussions. Now in its 25th year, Evans Consulting creates and leads fundraising campaigns, facilitates strategic planning processes, engages in donor research and cultivation, coaches nonprofit leaders and performs a number of other development-related services. A regular contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy.com, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.