When companies match the donations that employees make to nonprofits, the result is a powerful employee engagement tool that supports nonprofits and employees alike.
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For employees and nonprofits alike, matching gifts is the gift that keeps giving.

When companies match the donations that employees make to nonprofits, the result is a powerful employee engagement tool that supports nonprofits and employees alike. For nonprofits, studies have shown that matching gifts serve as an incentive in fundraising appeals and lead to increased donations. For employees, matching gifts programs are meaningful benefits that help attract them to companies and then keep them wanting to stay.

According to Double the Donation, a firm that advises nonprofits and companies regarding matching gifts programs, about 65 percent of Fortune 500 companies (and many others) match employee donations. But some companies are far more active at contributing matching gifts than most, and that's because their employee participation rates in matching programs are higher.

Double the Donation analyzed the data from a report titled "How America's Biggest Companies Give," compiled from the Corporate Giving Survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and highlighted some interesting takeaways about the discrepancy in employee participation rates.

For example, Microsoft employees are far outpacing other employees in the technology sector in the matching gifts game. Sixty-five percent of Microsoft employees request company matches, compared to 15 percent from Xerox, Dell and Verizon. Today, more than 39,000 employees participate in Microsoft's company's corporate giving program, with employee donations between $25 and $15,000 matched at a 1:1 ratio. Full-time and part-time employees, spouses and board members may all submit donation requests. Double the Donation attributes Microsoft's leadership at matching gifts to its superior communication around its matching gifts program. American Express leads the pack in the financial services sector, with 70 percent of employees participating, and Pfizer tops the pharmaceutical industry, with 30 percent of employees requesting company matches. In the consumer goods category, 25 percent of employees at Johnson & Johnson request matching donations, more than any other company in that sector.

Mentioning matching gifts in fundraising appeals results in a 71 percent increase in the response rate and a 51 percent increase in the average donation amount prior to receiving matching gift funds, but according to CECP's latest "Giving in Numbers" report, the median employee participation rate for matching gift programs is 9 percent. That leaves $6-$10 billion in matching gift funds unclaimed every year, according to an estimate by Double the Donation. Clearly, when looking at the wide variability in participation rates even amongst the top matching companies, it is clear there is little consistency amongst the performance of these programs from company to company.

So what can companies do to spike participation rates in their matching gifts program?

Double the Donation suggests that, above all, companies need to do a better job of promoting their programs. "More so than location or number of employees, internal promotion dictates the success of any individual matching gift program," they note. "For example, The Home Depot has about 8,000 more employees in the Atlanta area than Coca-Cola, but Atlanta-based nonprofits claim that they receive far more matching gifts from Coke."

Double the Donation also encourages companies to include a matching gift offer in year-end giving appeals, which increases response rates. They cite a test in which results showed the control that received a solicitation featuring a matching gift garnered a 37 percent higher response rate, 54 percent more revenue and a 63 percent higher average gift.

Double the Donation is careful to note that because of the wide fluctuation in programs, it's tough to say which company is "best" at matching gifts. "Some companies only match donations to specific causes, such as to education," they note, "while others donate internationally, but who is to say that one way of giving is any better than another?"

But whatever the programmatic structure, success only comes from high engagement. So companies should make sure that employees are well aware of the generous benefit of matching gifts that doubles down on giving back.

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