In September, Matt Schulz started a GoFundMe fundraiser for American Cancer Society as a way to honor his father who had passed away the year before. He told family, friends, and colleagues and on a lark, he contacted his employer's human resources department to see if the company would also contribute.
Turns out, it would match employee contributions up to $1,500 every year.
"I was really surprised how high that amount was," said Schulz, the chief credit analyst at Lending Tree. "$1,500 is a lot of money for anybody and it sparked my interest to see if other companies do this, too."
The perk is actually pretty common, though how much each employer is willing to match varies among companies. Nearly two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies offer matching gift programs, according to Double the Donation, which helps nonprofits increase their gift revenue, and 26 million individuals work for companies with these programs.
While $2 billion to $3 billion is donated through these matching programs every year, per Double the Donation, the problem that Schulz discovered is that many employees are unaware of these matching programs. That means as much as $7 billion in funds don't get donated to charitable organizations every year, according to statistics from Double the Donation.
"If we could change that, it could make an enormous difference for money-strapped charities and for people in need all over the country," Schulz told me in an email.
Here's what you can do.
Start with your HR department. Reach out to see if they have a donation-matching program. If they do, encourage your HR rep or your own manager to remind workers about this benefit, especially during the holidays when people often think about their giving plans.
If your company doesn't have a program, ask HR to consider starting one.
"With the job market as tight as it is, it can be another thing that can help differentiate your company to perspective employees," Schulz said. "It may not be the top benefit on someone’s list, but looking at perks that mean something to people, this can be one of those."
If your company has a matching program, make sure to get the specifics. Some employers work with companies like BrightFunds, which provide a portal to make cash donations to selected nonprofits that will be matched the employer. Otherwise, you may need to provide documentation of your donation.
Some companies, like Schulz's, also will match money for your volunteering. For instance, Lending Tree gives $25 for every hour you volunteered.
"We know financial times are tough for some folks," Schulz said. "If you have more time than money to donate, you still can take advantage of these programs."
Don't forget the tax benefit. The above-the-line charitable tax deduction introduced last year after the CARES Act was extended for this year. Individuals who take the standard deduction can deduct charitable gifts up to $300 on their 2021 federal taxes, while married couples who file jointly can deduct up to $600.
Donations must be in cash and must go to a public charity. Donations to donor advised funds or most private foundations don't qualify.