Does Your Matching Gift Program Lack Equity And Inclusion?

Jake Wood is the CEO of Groundswell, a platform that provides Personal Giving Accounts to employees and decentralizes corporate giving.

Most corporate giving programs are falling short on their own stated DE&I values. Employee gift-matching—a charitable donation made by an employee that’s matched by the employer—has been a pillar of large companies for decades. It has unlocked billions of dollars in community funding, enabling donors to double their impact. However, as matching programs currently operate, they are inequitable and lack inclusion.

Fortunately, there are solutions available that can make corporate donation-matching programs more equitable and inclusive. But first, let’s look back at corporate giving from inception to the present.

General Electric, among America’s most iconic companies and a founding member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (where it remained for over 110 years), has been awarded countless patents for innovation across aviation, healthcare and energy. One innovation GE doesn’t get enough credit for is its influence in corporate philanthropy. In 1954, GE rolled out the first workplace giving program. In the nearly seven decades since, GE has reported matching over $1.5 billion in employee gifts. That’s an astounding number.

Yet GE’s program has not evolved much since inception. They do use a software platform to facilitate gifts and have increased the amount they’ll match, which is currently a generous $5,000 per employee. But the basic construct remains the same.

How Today’s Standard Matching Gift Program Works

First, an employee gives money to a charity. Then they submit that donation receipt to the company—often to someone in HR or Finance or to a dedicated corporate social responsibility (CSR) representative. Next, that staff member must vet the charity to ensure it’s a registered 501(c)(3) with the IRS and that it meets the company’s program requirements (for example, many companies won’t match gifts to places of worship, like a church, despite a tax-exemption status). After all that, assuming no issues arise, a form is submitted to the accounts payable department, and a check is issued from the company to the nonprofit. The whole process often takes weeks to months.

Many people would rightfully point out that this process seems like an administrative nightmare, and it is—for both the employee and the employer. But what’s often skipped in discussion is how, by nature, the current gift-matching program is exclusionary and therefore inequitable.

How so? Here’s an example.

The existing process—even if enabled by software platforms that ease without eliminating some administrative burden—requires the employee to disclose the charity they’re supporting. On the surface, this may not seem like a problem. How else would the employer know where to send the match?

But spend a moment considering why someone may not want their employer or colleagues to know the specific charities they are supporting. For many people, their philanthropy is personal and inspired by lived experiences. An employee who grew up in an abusive household may choose to support a local women’s shelter. A member of the LGTBQ community who is not ready to be open about their sexuality might want to avoid coworkers asking why they support an organization like Trevor’s Project, for example. A recovering alcoholic may not want to submit the receipt for their monthly donation to Alcoholics Anonymous.

So what happens? They feel excluded and may decide they’re not comfortable participating.

The inequity is further exacerbated when companies determine that some causes or issues are worth matching, but others are not. A company determining that they will not match contributions to houses of worship—churches, synagogues, mosques and others—is akin to telling those employees that what matters to them is not worth matching.

Now, we should be fair to companies in this situtation. Because of the standard matching program design, any matches sent to charities are coming from that company. Companies must be very careful about creating a perception that they are affiliated with and endorsing a specific organization or, in this case, a specific faith. That’s certainly reasonable, but it’s demotivating to the practicing Catholic who dutifully contributes 10% of her paycheck each week to her church.

How To Make Gift-Matching Programs More Equitable

How could your company move toward a gift-matching program that addresses the issues detailed above? Here are some suggestions based on currently available software and benefits management solutions.

1. Decouple giving from your company name.

If one of your concerns is associating your company’s name and reputation with matching donations, consider establishing a separate foundation to disburse the matching funds or creating a donor-advised fund with an existing local foundation. This will put a few degrees of separation between your company and the causes supported by your employees.

2. Outsource the administration of your matching gift program.

Some companies choose to outsource the management of their employee benefits programs, including the administration of gift-matching and other charitable giving programs. There are a number of different models and platforms that allow you to set rules for qualifying donations but choose a third party that specializes in managing charitable funds. This helps preserve some anonymity for your employees by minimizing the number of people in your company who can make connections between donors and donations.

3. Put a wall between your HR department and benefits program.

If your giving program is being administered by a third party, you may be able to create “rules” that limit the data you receive about the donations your employees make. That way, you can reassure your staff that the causes they support will remain private, even from you.

4. Put some of the decision-making power in the hands of your employees.

Giving your employees more of a voice in writing the rules for your matching gift program will not only help show your commitment to respecting their autonomy and choice, it will also expand the experiences and knowledge base you can draw from for creating an effective program.

Regardless of which or how many of these options you choose, taking action will make it clear to your employees that you and your company truly are committed to DE&I initiatives and value their ability to be their authentic, charitable selves.


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