How Tech Employees Can Use Corporate Donation Matching
Being a tech worker means wielding a tremendous amount of privilege, and with that privilege comes a non-negotiable obligation to help those less privileged out.
Author’s Note: With the election of a racist, sexist, homophobic fascist in the US, non-profits need our help more than ever. Organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are digging in for a long fight, and they can’t do it without our help. Organizations like the Trans Law Center need funds now, before the inauguration so trans people can update identity documents under existing trans friendly policies before they’re repealed. Everyone needs your help, and maybe your employer can help you help them.
In March, the North Carolina Legislature passed House Bill 2 in an “emergency” session. Amongst other things, it effectively prohibited Trans people in North Carolina from using public restrooms. Like a lot of other people, I felt many things: confusion, outrage, fear, and more outrage. I wanted to do something, but the time to protest had come and gone in a single day, and “visibility” was part of what got us the bill in the first place. To me, the most practical course of action was to help the people who would fight back.
As an upper middle class white trans woman, I tend to favour donations to organisations that I know will back up not just me, but also trans women of colour, homeless trans kids, and other marginalised queer folk. I chose Lambda Legal because they seemed likely to be the ones to directly bring a lawsuit against North Carolina, and people there need relief right now. I also picked the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) because they lobby for the rights of trans people nationwide, and it was clear this bill was part of a terrifying trend.
As I prepared to make my donations, I noticed someone on Twitter offering to match pledges to these same groups in the wake of #HB2’s passage. As a tech employee, if I have anything it’s spare cash, so I decided to do something similar. Through a tweet, I offered to match donations to the NCTE and Lambda Legal. I was quickly inundated with support and donation receipts.
In the end, I matched $1,000 worth of receipts to both groups. And because my employer matches donations, that amounted to $6,000 raised, twice again what I gave. If all of those people got their donations matched by their own companies, it’d be $8000.
How Donation Matching Works
Donation matching is a underutilised benefit. Double the Donation, which focuses on nonprofits and corporate matching, estimates that between $6 – $10 billion of matching gift funds goes unclaimed every year. Despite underuse, these programs are very common among larger tech companies (Microsoft, Google, Apple, Intel and IBM all have some kind of matching program), as well as other big corporations. Typically, they’re available to all full-time employees, but may not be an option for contractors or part-time employees.
The basic format is that if you donate to an eligible charity, your company will make a donation of the same amount. The amount corporations will match varies, but is typically between about $5,000 and $20,000 a year. On top of that, many charitable donations are themselves tax-deductible (but see a tax professional for more information on applicable rules).
There’s two common ways donation matching works, and any given company may have one or both available. The first involves donating to a charity on your own, and obtaining a receipt. Then, much like an expense report, you submit the receipt and amount to your company and they write the organisation a cheque. The other mechanism is a payroll deduction. You submit a form to your company with the amount you intend to donate and they deduct it from your paycheque. This deduction is usually still post-tax, however: you still need to file it on your taxes.
Limitations to Donation Matching Programs
Most 501(c)3s, educational organisations, and foreign equivalents are typically available for donation matching, but this leaves some large gaps. Getting tax exempt status is complicated and expensive, putting it out of the reach of smaller community and grassroots organisations. I frequently make donations through Patreon or PayPal to individuals who are in financial straits or are doing work I think is important, and these can’t typically be deducted. Political donations have special rules and requirements and thus can’t be matched either.
Some large companies (like my own) have their own mechanisms for receiving and disbursing grants, but many make use of an outside contractor to manage it for them. These companies can have their own rules about what organizations are an acceptable donation target, and either they or some charities may not wish to work with each other. You can usually check if a charity is approved before you make a donation, but of course it shouldn’t dissuade you from supporting a worthy cause.
Other Ways Corporate Tech Employees Can Help
If you can’t donate financially, you may have other ways to make an impact with your employer. Many corporations have employee volunteer programs; for example, many companies will organise volunteering outings, where you and a group of your peers will either travel to a local organisation or have them come to you. While this can be very helpful, it’s important to note that not all organisations need a large group of untrained volunteers to do a single task for a few hours on a weekday (when corporate employees are generally available).
Fortunately, many companies also offer a variety of incentives for individuals to volunteer on their own. Salesforce.com (my current employer) offers “Volunteering Time Off” for employees up to 1% of their time, which works out to seven full days a year. In addition, if you work the maximum number of hours, you get $1000 to donate to the (approved) charity of your choice. Other companies give employees a fixed amount per hour of volunteer time to donate to their preferred organisation, or a fixed grant after certain amounts of hours have been worked. Some companies let you do this during work hours, or you might have to volunteer on your own time.
Even outside of these formal donation and volunteer programs, many employees are finding other ways to extend company resources to good causes. Some companies make their offices available after hours for events: Etsy has dedicated spaces for hosting meetups in their building, and I’ve been to multiple diversity-oriented events there. Facebook even has a program to match employees with organisations that require their specific skillset.
In-kind donations can also be helpful to charities trying to get as much out of their limited resources as possible. Salesforce.com offers donated and discounted licenses of their software for charities that need it for day to day operations. Cisco donates equipment to organisations that need infrastructure. Not every company has something for every cause, but if you sell something a charity needs, you might be able to make a large impact just by giving it to them.
Photo CC-BY Ken Teegardin (www.SeniorLiving.Org).
Your company may have some or all of these programs, or other programs that I haven’t touched on here. To learn more about what your employer offers, get connected with others who are already involved and have helpful advice; most large companies have some variety of charitable giving arm attached to them (e.g. Salesforce. org, Google.org, Microsoft Philanthropies) and this can be a great resource for learning what options are available. If you can’t find such a department, your manager or HR department may be able to steer you in the right direction. And, if you work at a smaller company, or your company doesn’t have any of these formal programs set up, maybe you can advocate to develop some.
Being a tech worker means wielding a tremendous amount of privilege, and with that privilege comes a non-negotiable obligation to help those less privileged out. As a white person, I still benefit from centuries of racism and oppression. My middle class upbringing gave me resources like higher education, free time to tinker, and even just ready access to my home computer. Those resources helped me net my current job (and associated salary), resources that not everyone has access to.
I’m very privileged to earn a lot of money working for a company that supports me as a trans woman and as a lesbian. I live in a state and a country that believe in supporting trans rights as human rights. HB2 shows just how good I have it, and our work isn’t done until everyone in the country and the world feels as safe as I do.
Using our privilege as tech workers means giving some of our inflated salaries to others who need it. And if you can wield the power of your for-profit company to make an even greater impact than you could on your own, you would be foolish not to. To me, that means taking advantage of charitable programs my employer offers, as well as helping trans women find jobs at safe, supportive companies.
We collectively have the resources to make a real difference to those who need it most… and the social responsibility to do so.
This article was originally published in Model View Culture 2016 Quarterly Two.