As the holidays approach, mailboxes around the country begin to overflow with letters from financially-strapped organizations requesting year-end donations for worthy causes. The heart-wrenching letters cover everything from domestic violence prevention and medical research to rainforest protection and drug rehabilitation programs. We wish that we could support them all, but financial resources are tight. So we do our research and respond to only a few of the organizations, wishing that we could add a few extra zeros as we write the checks.
But wait! Before you seal and stamp the envelope, take a few minutes to find out whether your employer has a matching gifts program. For many people, this is a simple way to double or even triple the amount of their donations, without breaking the family budget.
Many employers sponsor a corporate matching gifts program, through which they offer to "match" their employees' eligible charitable contributions. If your employer offers a 1:1 match, for every dollar that you donate, your company will also donate one dollar, thereby doubling the size of your donation. Although less common, some companies even offer a 2:1 match, which can triple the size of your donation.
The easiest way to determine whether your employer sponsors a matching gifts program is to ask someone in the human resources department.
Most companies have established minimum and maximum donation amounts for their matching gifts programs. The range usually starts at $25 and is capped around $4,000 or $5,000, but this can vary widely depending on the size of the company.
Matching gift programs also carry restrictions on the types of donations that are eligible for a match. Most corporations are leery of being affiliated with controversial causes (such as organizations that promote homosexual rights or abortion rights) and consequently may limit their matches to academic institutions, social services, or environmental causes. In addition, corporate matches are almost always limited to donations that are made to registered 501(c)(3) organizations. Your employer's human resources department should be able to give you a copy of the company's written matching gifts policy, detailing these and other restrictions.
The procedures for obtaining a match vary among companies. Some employers have a form that you must fill out and present with your check to the non-profit organization. Other companies ask the employee to make the donation and then provide a copy of their receipt, so that the company can then mail the match directly to the non-profit organization. Again, this should be specified in your employer's written matching gifts policy.
Why do corporations have matching gifts programs? Some corporate executives simply believe that funding worthy causes is the right thing to do. Others cite the importance of supporting their employees' interests and volunteer work. Given the public's increasing interest in corporate social responsibility, many companies benefit from the publicity that they receive when the non-profit organizations publicly recognize their donors (including complimentary tickets to donor-recognition events). And some companies have a financial motive, as the matching donations are tax-deductible charitable gifts.
Non-profit organizations generally recognize their donors in annual reports, on donor plaques, on websites, and at donor-recognition events. When a non-profit organization receives a corporate-matched gift, it usually recognizes the employee for the amount of the original gift, and the corporation for the amount of the match.
The holidays are a season of giving, and they say that it is better to give than to receive. But it is even better to give and then receive a match from your employer, knowing that together you have been able to give so much more.
Jessica Brown is a freelance writer who maintains a frugal lifestyle and enjoys sharing her tips for frugal living and voluntary simplicity with others.
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