Companies have long offered corporate matches of employee donations to charity as a means of encouraging their workers to support organizations of interest to them. These days, such programs have taken on additional weight, as their value as employee engagement tools has become better understood. Yet, research shows that up to $10 billion in corporate matching gift funds goes unused each year, in large part because employees either don’t know about the matching programs or won’t brave the often onerous process for claiming the match.
Corporate Philanthropy Report recently spoke with Bryan de Lottinville, founder and CEO of Benevity Inc., a leading employee giving and volunteering software firm, about the root causes of this issue and what nonprofits and their corporate partners can do to resolve it.
Q: According to your research, a sizeable portion of employee donations take place outside of company giving programs, which effectively leaves corporate matches unused. Why?
A: There are several reasons for the relatively low level of employee take-up of corporate giving and matching programs, depending upon the context. The primary reasons are lack of awareness and the administrative burden of traditional programs. In the time-constrained and media-rich world in which modern employees find themselves, convenience, ease of access and timeliness are important, and many employee matching programs involve onerous formalities and manual processes. This challenge applies to companies’ program administrators as well, who typically have to manage clunky manual procedures or dated software and don’t have the time, support or tools to properly promote or easily execute their company’s giving or volunteering programs.
The typical approach taken by most programs that are not using modern software looks like this: the employee donates to a charity of his or her choice, either by way of a check in the mail to the charity or perhaps on the charity’s website. Assuming they are aware of the matching program, they separately submit a “match request” in accordance with the company’s program requirements; it is submitted by the employee and goes into some kind of approval queue that is administered by the company or perhaps an external party; in order to approve the match request, there is typically an outreach to the charity to confirm program eligibility and that the donation has been made, which results in administrative expense and perhaps delay on the charity side as well.
Clearly, there is a lot of opportunity to remove friction and cost from this process. An automated system provides convenient tools, workflow, enhanced visibility and support to help donors, program administrators and charities execute the process more easily and efficiently.
Q: What are the negative impacts of the traditional, manual system?
A: The clunkiness of this process has negative impacts on all stakeholders in the ecosystem. In some cases, charities have entire teams whose job it is to chase down matching gifts, at significant cost. Others may not even bother, as the vetting, eligibility or approval processes for many corporate programs are perceived as too onerous relative to the funds provided.
One of the most noteworthy developments in the corporate giving or “Goodness Program” space is that the “why” behind these programs is no longer merely about fundraising, but rather represents an opportunity—if not an imperative—for companies to engage their people around social and other causes that may be emotive to them and therefore contribute to their sense of value, meaning and purpose as part of the employer brand. This is particularly true when it comes to recruiting and retaining millennials. The value to a company’s culture of having a robust and highly participative employee giving and volunteering program is increasingly seen to be delivering business impact as well as social value, which means everything that detracts from broad take-up has opportunity and other cost.
Finally, there are problems at the donor level beyond missing the opportunity to engage them around the company’s matching gift budget. By keeping matching gifts a purely transactional interaction (whether manual or not), we are reducing the likelihood that companies and charities can steward donors along the path of deeper engagement with the causes and charities that may matter to them and society.
Q: What can companies do to encourage greater use of their corporate match programs?
A: Increased visibility and donor education regarding the programs is a good start, but this issue has been prevalent for many years, and if education alone was going to solve it, it would likely have been solved by now. Better enabling technology being embraced by corporations to power their employee and customer-facing programs is a major opportunity to effect real change to both program participation and outcomes, including the level of promotion and donor education required to drive success. A user-centric platform can facilitate and streamline communication of workplace giving programs and opportunities, while taking friction out of the process for all participants. It enables companies to easily present match-eligible organizations, make donations and matching doable in real time without approval workflow, and, most importantly, help build awareness and engagement with their giving programs during the entire employee life cycle, providing tools for sharing impact stories, and tips on getting company leaders to demonstrate the value of their program.
What we’ve seen in our clients is that an efficient, easy-to-use system achieves higher levels of participation—and that means greater employee and donor engagement. And studies show that greater engagement leads to greater loyalty, lower absenteeism and, ultimately, higher productivity.
For more information, visit http://www.benevity.com.