This blog was featured in Forbes.com.
Companies like financial services firm Ernst & Youngunderstand that matching gifts programs aren’t just a perk for your staff. Indeed, Ernst & Young doesn’t see these programs as a perk at all: rather than a side project, their matching gifts program is an integral part of Ernst & Young’s overall strategy.
The matching gifts program at Ernst & Young has tight parameters, rewarding employees for donating only to an accredited nonprofit college or university in the United States. Small donations need not apply – the company only tracks donations over $25 (or $100 for more senior personnel), and the donations to a single college or university must be over $2,500 for a calendar year to be matched. Despite the restrictions, or perhaps because of them, the program has flourished, allowing Ernst & Young to maintain close connections with the accounting and business programs at top American universities.
Companies looking to create a matching program of their own are often at a loss for where to start. Even companies with long-standing matching gifts programs would do well to examine potential improvements. Ellen Glazerman, Executive Director of the Ernst & Young Foundation, the nonprofit that oversees matching donations for Ernst & Young employees, was happy to sit down with us and describe how her company’s matching gifts program has thrived.
Here’s Glazerman’s list of the five ways you can maximize the benefits of your own matching program:
1. Pick a Focus
“Long ago, we decided that we wanted to focus on creating a talent pipeline,” says Glazerman. Ernst & Young wanted to support higher education, and it also wanted to create a crop of accountants with top-notch training. From this strategic focus, the current matching gifts program was born. “We are driving specific goals that relate to our strategy,” Glazerman notes. “While people will always come to you looking for other ways to give, you simply can’t do everything, so it’s important to put a lot of thought into where your company decides to help out.”
2. Know Your Interests
What philanthropic ventures does your company have a vested interest in? That’s the question you must ask yourself as you begin a matching gifts program. For Ernst & Young, “If there’s not a pipeline of bright, interested people coming out of accounting and business programs, we don’t have a business,” Glazerman notes. While Ernst & Young employees are not bound to donate to accounting programs, much of the money is directed that way simply because people tend to give to the places that they came from. Thus, while not every donation will result in a swarm of new, hungry recruits, the lion’s share of donations will wind up serving this strategic goal.
Automation makes things easier on your employees and encourages more of them to participate in your volunteer and corporate giving programs. At Ernst & Young, employees need only sign onto a website, enter in their donation and wait for the end of the year. They don’t have to spend time trying to figure out how much of their donation is tax deductible and how much qualifies for matching gifts; their giving platform does all of that for them. The easier your matching gifts program is to use, the more employees will want to participate.
4. Include Employee Voices
When asked about the best way to overcome any challenges a matching gifts program presents, Glazerman suggests involving employees. “Everyone needs to feel encouraged to share their point of view,” she says. This not only heads off potential employee resentment about how decisions are made; it also allows you to mine all the energy of your engaged employees to find the best solutions.
5. Evaluate Your Goals
Before and after the matching gifts program is up and running, you need to evaluate your goals and progress. “You have to look at what your interests are, but also what you’re interested in,” Glazerman says. “Maybe your goals have changed,” she continues. “Always ask yourself, ‘Is this what we want to do today?’” There’s one added benefit to evaluating your company’s goals with regards to your matching gifts program: “it provides a good excuse to start making changes.”
A matching gifts program tends to attract the types of highly engaged employees that every 21st century business is looking for. It also (hopefully) aligns with your company’s strategy, allowing you to grow your brand while leveraging strategic resources and making a social impact. The success of your company’s philanthropic programs will largely rest on how carefully you consider strategic questions ahead of time. “There are a lot of good causes, but you have to select the best ones for your business in order for them to really pay off.”
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