The tech industry set the bar early on for matching gifts in response to the pandemic. Apple offers employees a 2-to-1 match. Andrey Bayda/Shutterstock
The tech industry set the bar early on for matching gifts in response to the pandemic. Apple offers employees a 2-to-1 match. Andrey Bayda/Shutterstock

Now is no time to leave money on the table. And if past disaster giving is any indication of the future, we can expect around 62% of giving in response to COVID-19 to come from individuals, a group that’s responsible for a full 70% of overall charitable giving in the best of times.

Doubling—even tripling—those donations through employee matching gift programs has long been a best practice for donor stewardship, allowing nonprofits to maximize support from donors who have already shown up for them and spend less time chasing new ones.

As nonprofits combating COVID-19 see a significant rise in individual contributions, a substantial number of corporations are making matching gifts part of their own COVID-19 response, bumping up multipliers and creating COVID-specific matches for employees.

Here’s a look at how employee matching gift programs work, which companies are helping employees connect with coronavirus causes, and some strategies for taking full advantage of these programs.

How Matching Gift Programs Work

Corporate matching gift programs have been around since 1954, when the GE Foundation decided to stand behind its employees’ personal philanthropy with a dollar-for-dollar match. Today, chances are good that if a donor works for a major corporation, their employer will provide a match. Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP), a leading benchmarker of corporate social investments, estimates that 92% of companies included at least one matching gift program in their portfolios, with a median total match of $1.4 million in 2018.

Matching gift incentives often go hand in hand with “dollars for doers” programs that recognize employee volunteerism by awarding funding to the nonprofits they work with, based on the level of individual and team commitment.

Engaging employees in their communities is a common goal of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs for good reason. It differentiates the brand, creates team and leadership opportunities, and helps attract and retain talent. Three-quarters of millennials say they’d take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company, and 38% say they’d be more likely to stay more than five years with a company they see as socially responsible.

Programs come in all shapes and sizes. Most have the same limitations, which largely mirror grant eligibility guidelines. Recipients must be qualified 501(c)(3)s, for example. Religious, fraternal, social or political organizations are ineligible, as are pledged funds, gifts to individuals and in-kind gifts. As for those pricey tickets to fundraisers? Generally not eligible, though some allow a match for the tax-deductible portion.

Once past those hurdles, CECP reports that 57% of programs allow a match to any qualified nonprofit, while others limit gifts to specific cause areas like education, or preselected partners.

Most limit program participation to U.S.-based employees. Some match gifts from full- and part-timers. But standouts like the ExxonMobil Foundation match not only employees and retirees, but the gifts of surviving spouses—though only to education.

The great majority of companies, 85%, according to CECP, offer a one-to-one dollar match. And the median cap is $5,000. But there’s a wide range of minimums and maximums. JPMorgan Chase matches employee gifts starting at $25, to a cap of $1,000 annually, for all but top earners. Apple matches any dollar amount, up to $10,000, for all employees. And Merck’s program matches gifts to health and human services, arts and culture, education, environmental and animal welfare organizations starting at $24, up to $30,000 annually.

Gift Matching Responses to COVID-19

Annually, tech company matching gift programs lead as a percentage of overall total cash giving, at 26%. Utilities are at the opposite end of the spectrum, at just 5%. But a range of sectors, including tech, insurance and financial services, are featuring special matches in response to COVID-19.

Because of the geography of the early virus spread, the tech sector was among the first to respond, and set the bar on giving. Apple is matching employee contributions at a two-to-one ratio, double the usual dollar-for-dollar match. Cisco launched a global employee matching gift campaign totaling $5 million, and allocated an additional $4 million for a 72-hour campaign to support dedicated funds. Dell is matching employee donations to the CDC Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund up to $10,000 per employee. TikTok is matching employee donations to a range of local and global organizations, including the Red Cross and direct relief programs. And the roughly $677,000 that Microsoft employees donated by early February is eligible for one-to-one matches.

Insurers also stepped up. Allstate doubled its employee matching funds to $2.8 million. American Family Insurance issued a two-to-one match on employee and agency owner donations. And the Cigna Foundation leveraged its $250,000 commitment to Give2Asia by matching employee contributions to the organization dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000.

Guardian Life Insurance used $150,000 of its total $500,000 COVID-19 response to establish a two-to-one match on employee contributions to Feeding America. Liberty Mutual doubled its employee giving match through March, to 100 percent.

The New York Life Foundation boosted its investments in the CDC Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund, and First Book by matching employee and agent gifts to any of the three organizations. And Travelers created a special $500,000, two-for-one employee match for designated relief organizations, including Americares and Team Rubicon.

Financial services companies have also introduced special matches during the pandemic. Morgan Stanley created a half-million-dollar employee match back in February, during the initial outbreak in Wuhan, then announced the launch of the Morgan Stanley COVID-19 Hunger Relief Campaign, which is matching employee contributions to local food programs dollar-for-dollar, up to $5,000.

TD Bank Group funded an employee match for COVID-19 relief efforts with $2 million. The Charles Schwab Foundation’s $1.25 million response to the crisis included $250,000 to provide a two-to-one match on employee contributions. BNP Paribas USA and its affiliate Bank of the West are matching employee donations to selected COVID-19 relief efforts at a one-to-one ratio. And PNC’s coronavirus response includes an employee matching gift program supporting the American Red Cross and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania relief funding.

The philanthropic arm of UBS AG committed to matching 20% of both client and employee donations to Americares’ efforts to support frontline healthcare workers. U.S. Bank is doubling the match on their gifts. And USAA is matching employee donations of up to $500 to selected nonprofits in each of its physical offices.

But those aren’t the only industries showing support. The foundation of diversified energy company PSEG is offering employees a two-to-one match on contributions to select health and human service nonprofits providing COVID-19 response. In mid-March, Nike created an employee giving program that will provide a two-to-one match on COVID-19 relief efforts, as well as gifts to local community organizations. And the foundation of food giant General Mills is providing a $500 bump for employees using its matching gifts program.

Accessing Programs

The key to accessing employee giving programs is educating donors. In 2018, CECP found that just 24% of employees participated in their employers’ matching gift programs. Corporate foundations generally don’t expend much effort promoting their programs, and they’re not always on employees’ radars. Even when they are, donors often need direction and encouragement to complete what’s often a very simple process.

The most effective way of engaging them is at the time of the gift—or failing that, during acknowledgement, using embedded prompts in online and paper donation forms and receipts. Arm donors with all of the information they’ll be prompted to provide, like the organization’s legal name, especially when the support is for a local chapter.

Nonprofits also have to be mindful of the clock, which starts ticking the minute a gift is made. Depending on the program, match eligibility expires in as little as three months, but generally lasts the calendar year.

Companies typically use third-party vendors to process gifts, which can be a boon for online applications, easing familiarity with things like charitable status. But the situation can create lag times for those paying by check and submitting for matches by mail.

Develop a communications strategy to remind donors that they can quickly and easily double their support. Ask to be included in major local employers’ program communications or planning. And remember to take full advantage of all paths to support, like volunteer incentive matches.

Because now is no time to leave money on the table.

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