4 Keys to Engaging Employees in Your Company’s Matching Gifts Program

When you work in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR) like I do, there’s a lot to be happy about.  The portfolio of programs my colleagues from other companies and I craft and offer fellow employees are meant to teach, to provide opportunities to engage with others and to be stepping stones on individualized paths toward good.

We’re about activating our people as citizens, or agents of good as I like to call them.

There are a lot of innovative initiatives out there, for sure, aimed at taking personal passion and amplifying it for the good of the social economy.  But one of my favorite programs is what I’d call a building block of any give-back program – matching gifts.

Put simply, I am a huge fan.  The company invests financially but puts the decision about where the funds go in the hands of employees.  Your people give, the company’s money follows, and everyone involved wins (person, nonprofit, company).  I like to think of this as the democratization of giving.  And it’s what I’ve seen unfold at Blackbaud after we launched our matching gift program.

Honestly, we didn’t quite know what to expect when we went live in the summer of 2015.  How many people would actually use their matches in the five months we had left in the year?  Would Millennials care or was this benefit a more “traditional” offering that appealed to Gen Xers like me?  The results were ok that first year, ending with 9% participation.  Later, I learned that the national median for participation that year was 7%, meaning we were starting ahead of the game!

Despite being “above average,” that still seemed low to me, so we decided to invest in communication, reminding people that the program was there to make their gifts go further.  2016 took us into the teens, and 2017 ended with participation just shy of 23% (made even more significant that national median participation rates have not changed much over the past few years).  And guess what?  Millennials WERE engaging.  When we announced at a company meeting that the amount we match was going up in 2018, my colleagues cheered, from young employees to more tenured ones I’ve worked with for years.

Colleagues in CSR have asked me what I think the secret is to getting people to engage?  I have four thoughts.

  1. Culture – Matching gifts on their own without a culture that cares about giving back are just another program. I often say that people today bring their “whole selves” to work.  I know my colleagues do, that when they walk in the door they want to truly believe they are in a place doing good.
  2. Choice – We match gifts made to almost any kind of organization – if there is one thing that I think matters the most in the success recipe, it’s this. Limiting matching gifts to specific areas or pillars the company might support forces individuals to take it or leave it.  And participation rates (along with conversations I have had with CSR colleagues at other companies) tell us that many are opting for the latter.  In an era where people want to be heard, giving is one way their express not just choice, but voice.
  3. Communication – Making sure your people know that the program is there for them, telling them and then telling them again, is a must. An easy example comes from the horrific disaster season we all lived through this past fall.  When we communicated with our people about how the company was supporting disaster relief, we always reminded them about their matching gift benefit.  And you know what?  The biggest spikes we saw in use in 2017 – beyond #GivingTuesday and year-end – were all around giving to organizations that were providing relief in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Napa, Southern California, and beyond.
  4. Ease of Adoption – Making the benefit easy to use is also a must. This begins with having a technology tool that helps your CSR team manage the requests and also includes making access to it very visible through your intranet, posting guidelines in a quick and consumable format, and having someone on hand to answer questions.

While it’s disappointing that more employees at companies around the world aren’t tapping into their matching gift benefits, the good news is that it’s not all that hard to tweak your program to drive an increase!