From holding doors open to leading mobility-impaired persons across streets, people reach out and help strangers every day. What do these good-doers receive in return? Perhaps the intimate feeling of having done the right thing or a simple thank you or nothing. And these people are okay with their lack of a reward because they’re good people.
But what if being a good person helped to raise money for charitable causes? Would more people do good?
The idea behind volunteer grants, also known as dollars for doers programs, is to encourage a culture of philanthropy that gives as opposed to aiding fundraising that takes. Corporations reward volunteerism through monetary donations to encourage their employees to be better people and to improve their communities.
What is a volunteer grant?
Anybody with a heart wants the world to beat a little stronger and a little healthier, at least in some way. Employees are passionate about many causes, and they volunteer with the nonprofits that speak to their passions. Not only does volunteering entail potential nonmonetary benefits for volunteers, but many companies reward volunteerism with monetary donations to the employees’ chosen nonprofits.
Essentially, an employee works for a nonprofit for a certain amount of time and, according to how much time the employee works, the employer donates a certain amount of money. It’s volunteerism that pays off for employees, employers, and especially for nonprofits. It’s money that can alter lives that so badly need a little more love.
How do dollars for doers programs work?
People volunteer, which causes fifty dollar bills, featuring the strapping Ulysses S. Grant, to rain down from money green clouds until the volunteers leave for the day. But in reality…
40% of Fortune 500 companies offer dollars for doers programs, as do many smaller employers. Through these programs companies donate to nonprofits according to how many hours employees volunteer with the good nonprofits they find. Some companies donate a set amount for every hour, while other companies require that employees reach certain benchmarks to provoke donations.
A few examples of dollars for doers programs:
- CarMax donates $10 for every hour an employee volunteers and will give up to $10,000 annually per employee.
- 3M gives a $250 grant once an employee has volunteered for at least 20 hours in a year.
- Outerwall (Coinstar/Redbox) donates $150 for every ten hours volunteered up to a maximum of 40 hours, so an employee earns a $150 grant for ten hours and a $600 grant for 40 hours.
Double the Donation maintains a list and database of the top companies with volunteer grant programs or you can ask your volunteers to check with their HR department to learn the parameters of an employer’s grant program.
Are there different types of volunteer grants?
By encouraging volunteerism, employers help employees to discover a sense of purpose that can build employee loyalty and increase the pride they take in their work.
The two most common types of volunteer grants:
- Individual Volunteer Grant – An individual volunteers and earns money for a nonprofit.
- Team Volunteer Grant – A group of employees volunteer together or participate as a team in a charity walk, run, or similar event, and earn money for a nonprofit.
Grant amounts don’t differ greatly between individual and team grants, but some companies only offer one or the other. For companies that offer both, some people like to volunteer alone, while others enjoy the group aspects of volunteering, and many companies like to encourage team-building through volunteering.
An added perk for individual volunteer grants is that many companies offer annual awards to their top volunteers. An employee might volunteer for the most hours or deliver an incredible impact upon an organization or do something else worthy of special recognition. These employees are awarded larger grants for the nonprofit of their choosing, as these awards aim to highlight exceptional volunteerism.
What restricts dollars for doers programs?
Few restrictions limit who can receive volunteer grants. Most companies will give to any 501(c)(3) nonprofit or similarly registered organization. Companies want their dollars to aid the broader community, which is why political and religious organizations tend to be ineligible unless they provide some community service, such as a homeless shelter or food bank.
Most companies won’t award money from volunteer hour number one on. Companies want to reward consistent, dedicated volunteers, which is why a minimum of 10 volunteer hours is commonly required before any sort of grant is awarded. There may also be a maximum number of hours or amount of money that can be attained.
Why do companies offer dollars for doers programs?
Volunteer grants, much like matching gifts, allow companies to give back to their communities while encouraging employees to be good citizens. These monetary donations incentivize volunteerism and direct corporate funds to reputable charitable organizations. Thus, employers do more good when their employees do more good, all of which enables nonprofits to do more, so employees want to do more good, which makes employers give more, which further benefits nonprofits, and you can see how dollars for doers programs create a mutually beneficial circle of giving.
While it would be nice to believe that dollars for doers programs exist solely to improve communities and to encourage volunteerism, companies use philanthropy for marketing purposes. It looks good to consumers when a company’s employees are out doing good for the world. Companies love to publicize these stories, which helps to build both brand awareness and brand affinity among consumers.
When people do good things, such as holding open doors, they don’t need the world to know. Those good things simply need to be done to make the world a better place. Publicizing volunteerism reveals that, while companies surely want to support their communities, volunteer grants also serve the alternate purpose of being good publicity.
Another alternate purpose for dollars for doers programs is a good old fashioned tax break. While U.S. citizens cannot deduct the value of volunteer time from their taxes, corporations can reap tax benefits. The tax benefits vary between countries.
Do enough people take advantage of dollars for doers programs?
The main reasons why volunteer grants don’t help nonprofits as much as they should is because of a lack of awareness among volunteers. Employees simply don’t know that their employers offer volunteer grants or that dollars for doers programs exist in the first place. Many companies do a poor job of promoting dollars for doers programs to their employees, which largely leaves the burden of promotion upon nonprofits. The more your nonprofit can engage with volunteers, the more you foster that relationship and ultimately boost the likelihood the volunteer will continue supporting your nonprofit over the long-term.
A way for nonprofits to best target their grant promotional efforts occurs with an assist from prospect research. If your nonprofit is actively performing prospect research and keeping tabs on where your donors work, use the knowledge to shape your communications by identifying who is eligible for volunteer grants and then reaching out with reminders about volunteer grants. This can provide a needed boost to fundraising.
Once people are aware of dollars for doers, submitting volunteer grant requests is simple. Most companies employ an online submission process, so grants can be requested in minutes. Nonprofits should provide as many company-specific instructions as possible to remove additional potential headaches surrounding the submission process.
The key to increasing funds from dollars for doers programs is to inform volunteers that they might qualify for grants. Volunteers are far more likely to submit grant requests when they know that such programs exist and that the submission process is quick and painless.
Volunteers are not required to request volunteer grants, and many people don’t work for companies that offer dollars for doers programs, but if you could make your volunteer work go further – improve more lives through the simple act of submitting an online form – why would you ever allow your good deeds to be mere internal instances of pride.
If you’re a volunteer then give as much as you can. If you’re a nonprofit then take as much as the world can give you, because you’re on a mission to fulfill a mission, and every little bit counts.
About the Author: Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, a company focused on helping nonprofits increase the amount of money they raise from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Follow Double the Donation on Twitter or LinkedIn.