The Case for Corporations to Leverage Donor-Advised Funds

Year over year, companies are increasing their focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the impact they have on communities. Corporate charitable giving is perhaps the most visible effort that companies undertake, and the amount being donated has increased steadily, topping $21 billion in 2020. 

Alongside this rise in corporate giving has been an increase in the number of companies offering to match employee donations to charity – up from 53% in 2014 to 71% in 2020.

These employee donation programs are often archaic and burdensome, and it’s estimated that $5 to $7 billion in eligible donations go unmatched by employers each year. 

Donor-advised funds (DAFs), tax-advantaged giving vehicles that have been around for decades, offer a compelling solution for both companies and their employees. As will be outlined below, DAFs have historically only been available to high-net-worth individuals, but Groundswell has built a platform that turns donor-advised funds into an affordable and easy-to-administer solution for corporate and employee giving. 

Groundswell believes that in the near future, companies providing donor-advised funds as a component of their total compensation approach will be as commonplace as 401(k)s, which were introduced in the United States in 1978.

Initially only utilized by the highest earners within companies who understood the intricacies of the tax benefits, 401(k)s have now become the ubiquitous tax-savings vehicle in the United States, with over 100 million accounts. 

In much the same way, Groundswell drives the adoption and utilization of donor-advised funds as America’s preferred charitable giving vehicle.

What is a donor-advised fund?

Donor-advised funds are charitable giving vehicles that allow individuals, families, and businesses to make a tax-deductible contribution to a fund, which can then be distributed to qualified charities over time. DAFs were first introduced in the United States in the 1930s, but their popularity has grown significantly in recent years.

Historically, DAFs have been primarily used by wealthy individuals and families. This is because DAFs often require a significant minimum donation to establish and maintain the fund, which can be a barrier to entry for many individuals with less disposable income.

For example, according to a report by the National Philanthropic Trust, the average size of a donor-advised fund in 2019 was $413,000, and the average initial contribution was $166,000.

Overall, the growth of donor-advised funds over the past decade reflects a shift in how affluent individuals and families approach charitable giving. DAFs offer a flexible, efficient, and tax-effective way to support a variety of causes over time, and their popularity is likely to continue to grow in the coming years.

Groundswell was created to ensure that average-income Americans are not left behind in this trend.

What is the difference between a DAF and a private foundation?

There are several key differences between a donor-advised fund (DAF) and a foundation:

  • Legal structure: A foundation is a separate legal entity, typically established as a nonprofit organization under state law, while a DAF is a fund held and managed by a sponsoring organization, such as a community foundation or financial institution.
  • Establishment: Establishing a foundation requires significant time, effort, and expense, including legal and accounting fees, filing paperwork with the IRS, and ongoing compliance and reporting requirements. In contrast, establishing a DAF is typically quicker and easier, with lower establishment costs.
  • Tax benefits: Both foundations and DAFs offer tax benefits for donors, including income tax deductions for contributions to the fund or foundation, as well as tax-free growth of assets held within the fund or foundation. 
  • Costs: Foundations generally have higher establishment and ongoing administrative costs, including legal and accounting fees, staff salaries, and overhead expenses, compared to DAFs, which are typically less expensive to establish and manage.

Overall, both DAFs and foundations offer donors the ability to support charitable causes and receive tax benefits for their contributions.

Historically, establishing a foundation has only made sense for the most wealthy individuals, families, and corporations due to the increased cost and compliance associated with their operation. Comparatively, donor-advised funds have offered high-income individuals and families, as well as profitable corporations, with a moderately cost-effective solution with nearly all of the same advantages as a foundation.

Groundswell ensures DAFs are no longer the enclave of the wealthy

According to a survey by U.S. Trust, 72% of high-net-worth individuals use DAFs as a key component of their overall charitable giving strategy. (Source: U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth 2018)

Over the past decade, DAFs have exploded in popularity. According to the National Philanthropic Trust’s 2020 Donor-Advised Fund Report, the total number of donor-advised funds in the United States grew by 55% between 2010 and 2019, from 204,704 to 318,000. The total amount in donor-advised funds increased by 237% over the same period, from $38.8 billion to $131.1 billion.

But here’s the rub: DAFs are primarily used by wealthy individuals and families. According to the National Philanthropic Trust’s 2020 Donor-Advised Fund Report, 60% of DAF assets are held in funds with balances of $1 million or more. Historically, the average donor in the United States is as likely to have a DAF as they are a member of their town’s exclusive country club.

Donor-advised funds have been reserved for the ultra-rich primarily because they’ve only been offered by the gated community of wealth advisors and financial institutions – average people need not apply.

Groundswell’s mission to democratize philanthropy has led it to create the world’s most modern and accessible donor-advised fund.  Whereas a donor today needs $20,000 to open a DAF at Morgan Stanley, the minimum contribution on Groundswell is $1.

Groundswell makes DAFs an employee benefit

To further Groundswell’s mission to democratize philanthropy, the company has built a Software-as-a-Service platform that enables companies to provide their employees with individual donor-advised funds. 

Groundswell’s easy-to-administer platform invites eligible employees to download the Groundswell app from the iOS or Android store.  Subsequent account creation takes less than sixty seconds.  At that point, the employee is the owner of their own tax-advantaged donor-advised fund. 

Additionally, the Groundswell administrator platform allows companies to effortlessly create custom corporate gifting and matching programs.  These programs deposit charitable dollars into employee accounts according to the program rules established by administrators.  The funds are not taxable income to the employee, and once put into the employee’s account, the employee can send the funds to charity however they wish.

Advantages of providing employees with donor-advised funds

Financial wellbeing

As inflation and wage stagnation have eaten away at household incomes, many companies and HR teams have focused on the concept of financial well-being. 

Financial well-being is a trend in HR that focuses on promoting the financial health and security of employees. This trend recognizes that financial stress can have a negative impact on employees’ job performance, physical health, and mental well-being and that employers have a role to play in helping employees manage their finances and reduce financial stress.

Financial wellbeing programs typically include a range of resources and tools to help employees improve their financial literacy, such as educational seminars, online resources, and one-on-one financial counseling. Some employers may also offer financial incentives, such as matching contributions to retirement accounts or bonuses for achieving certain financial goals.

The trend toward financial well-being in HR has been driven in part by the growing recognition that financial stress is a major source of employee anxiety and distraction. Studies have shown that financial stress can lead to absenteeism, lower productivity, and higher healthcare costs for employers. By investing in financial well-being programs, employers can help reduce financial stress among their employees, improve job satisfaction and retention, and enhance overall business performance.

Considering that in 2020 70% of American households gave to charity, it’s safe to assume that charitable giving is an important part of the financial wellness of employees’ lives. This holds true across the wage spectrum. Low-income households give a higher percentage of their income to charity than high-income households. According to a 2018 study by the Urban Institute, households with incomes below $25,000 gave an average of 7.6% of their income to charity, while households with incomes of $200,000 or more gave an average of 4.2% of their income to charity.  Perhaps obviously, despite giving a higher percentage of their income, low-income households donate smaller dollar amounts to charity. In 2020, households with incomes below $50,000 gave an average of $1,336 to charity, compared to an average of $6,082 for households with incomes of $200,000 or more (Source: Giving USA 2021).

Knowing that your employees are giving to charity creates a compelling argument to provide for them a donor-advised fund along with charitable gifts and matches that effectively subsidize their annual giving. 

Tax advantages

There are three primary tax advantages that donor-advised funds can provide to your employees: minimizing taxable income in the current year while maintaining the ability to distribute funds in future years, the ability to donate appreciated stock assets, and the simplicity of a single year-end charitable giving receipt for tax reporting. 

First, because the DAF is a qualifying tax-exempt vehicle, contributions to them are immediately tax deductible.  This means that an employee – for instance, a high-earning sales executive receiving a large commission check – can work with a tax planner to make a large contribution to her donor-advised fund, minimize her current year tax liability, and then work strategically to distribute those funds over a longer time horizon. 

Second, donor-advised funds like Groundswell unlocks the ability for employees to donate appreciated stock assets – a significant philanthropy hack utilized by wealth donors for decades. 

When you donate appreciated stock to a charity, you can claim a deduction for the full market value of the stock at the time of the donation. Moreover, by donating the stock instead of selling it and then donating the proceeds, you can avoid paying capital gains taxes on the appreciation.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you purchased 100 shares of XYZ stock for $5,000 several years ago, and the stock is now worth $10,000. If you were to sell the stock, you would realize a capital gain of $5,000, and you would owe taxes on that gain. Assuming a capital gains tax rate of 20%, you would owe $1,000 in taxes.  At the conclusion of this sale, you would only have $9,000 to donate to charity.

Instead of selling the stock, you could donate the shares to a donor-advised fund. If you do that, you can claim a charitable deduction for the full market value of the stock, which is $10,000. You can then use the funds in the donor-advised fund to make grants to charities over time. Because you donated the stock instead of selling it, you can avoid paying the $1,000 in capital gains taxes that you would have owed if you had sold the shares.

Lastly, because an employee’s donor-advised fund is a tax-exempt vehicle that centralizes all of its users’ philanthropy, the employee receives only a single tax receipt for reporting purposes at the end of the year, regardless of how many contributions were made or charities were supported.

Lower fees

Online and recurring monthly giving to charity have been growing trends in recent years. Here are some statistics to illustrate the trend:

  • Online giving continues to grow year over year, with a 10.6% increase in online donations in 2020 compared to the previous year. (Source: Giving USA 2021)
  • Recurring giving has become increasingly popular, with a 20.4% increase in the number of recurring donors in 2020. (Source: Blackbaud Institute)
  • Donors who give online tend to give more than those who give through other channels. According to a 2019 report by Classy, the average online donation amount was $93, compared to $65 for offline donations.

Younger donors are more likely to give online and to prefer recurring giving. A 2019 report by the Nonprofit Tech for Good found that 60% of Millennials prefer to give online, and 54% prefer to give monthly.

These are all positive trends.  However, with the ease of online giving comes a cost: credit card transaction fees.  Typical online donation fees are 3% plus $0.30. Oftentimes, online giving platforms ask the donor to cover these fees in order to provide the full donation amount to the charity.  That means that an employee donating $100 online is paying $3.30 to do so.  If that employee has his gift set up to occur monthly, he is going to pay nearly $40 in fees. 

Groundswell’s revolutionary platform has reduced the cost of these transactions and has passed those cost savings to users.  Groundswell’s distribution fees are 1% – offering significant annual savings to employees.

Privacy leads to inclusion

Employee donor-advised funds also offer something essential to an inclusive and equitable employee giving program: privacy

In traditional corporate donation matching programs, employees must submit evidence of their donation to an administrator, often in human resources. For decades this arrangement was never questioned. How else would a company know where to send the match? However, in an increasingly polarized world and workplace, employees are increasingly hesitant to disclose what charitable organizations they support for fear of ridicule, or worse, retribution. 

For the first time ever, donor-advised funds offer an alternative. Because the DAF is a charitable account, with the funds contributed to it only eligible to be sent to charity, employees can contribute to their DAF and request that their match be made directly into their account. Since the employee has received their match prior to sending the money to the causes they care about, they can distribute the funds how, where, and when they like with complete privacy.

In this manner, Groundswell’s platform has completely reimagined what corporate matching looks like. The result is a more private, inclusive, and equitable program – all made possible by donor-advised funds. 

A true benefit that stays with the employee

Because the DAF is an individual account registered in the employee’s name – like a 401k plan or health savings account (HSA) – the employee is able to take their account with them if they were to leave the company. 

This makes leveraging a DAF for employee giving the first step toward truly making philanthropy an employee benefit. Previous models of employee matching were nothing more than process automation tools. But providing a portable DAF is giving an employee something of lifetime financial value. 

What do companies gain by leveraging donor-advised funds

Reduced risk

Within traditional matching programs, a company receives a request from an employee to send a donation match to a charity they’ve supported. The company, upon confirming the details of the charity, sends payment directly to the charity from the company’s account.  This action thereby directly associates the company with the charity – a potentially risky association in a hyper-polarized world. 

However, leveraging employee DAFs provides companies with an alternative. By structuring a corporate matching program through employee DAFs, companies can eliminate their association with recipient charities.  Because the company’s funds are only ever going to the DAF’s fiscal sponsor – in Groundswell’s case this would be the Groundswell Charitable Foundation – there is no financial link between the company and the charity. The charity receives disbursements from the Groundswell Charitable Foundation, at the recommendation of the employee (whose employment status or employer is not disclosed).  

The result is a matching program that is optimized for inclusion, not exclusion.

Reduced risk leads to increased inclusion

Not surprisingly, many companies have been fearful of directly associating with specific charities and have thus resorted to various forms of restricting the range of nonprofits eligible for corporate matches. This restriction has basically taken two forms.  

The first form happens when a company creates a list of charities it has proactively screened and approved.  These lists tend to have between five and 25 charities listed, with most of them national in scope. The problem with this list is that for most people, philanthropy is deeply personal and often local, and it’s unlikely that a large, national organization fulfills its philanthropic aims. 

The second form happens when companies attempt to place specific charities or issue areas on a “deny list” that excludes them from eligibility. Not surprisingly, this approach is a slippery slope. Each nonprofit or issue area that is restricted effectively amounts to a statement by the company that the issue at hand is not worthy of support – a statement that can be marginalizing for employees who want to support that nonprofit. 

One segment of eligible charities that are often excluded is religion. This is unfortunate for employees because giving to houses of worship accounted for $131 billion of the $324 billion in individual giving in 2020. According to a 2016 study by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, 70% of low-income households gave to religious organizations, compared to 48% of high-income households.  While choosing not to directly support a religion may seem like a logical thing for a corporation to do, it fails to acknowledge that for many employees their house of worship is also their source of other social support, such as counseling, food security, or education. 

Groundswell believes that inclusion begins with inclusion – specifically, companies should strive to match contributions to any eligible 501c3 that is not a documented hate group. Our matching solution – which uses donor-advised funds as an intermediary – provides companies with the opportunity to do so. 

Reduced administrative burden

Like individuals, companies can also utilize donor-advised funds for their philanthropic giving. Due to their minimal legal, compliance, and administrative requirements, DAFs are often the most logical and cost-effective solution for companies looking to create a charitable vehicle for their corporate social responsibility. 

As part of its platform, Groundswell offers companies a corporate DAF at no extra cost. This corporate giving account is fully tax-advantaged and has the ability to create corporate grants that are sent directly to charity.

68% of Nonprofits Say This About Donations vs Volunteers – “Show us the money!”

Recently, leaders have stopped organizing employee volunteer events and shifted towards gifting and matching programs for good reasons.

That’s because company leaders have discovered that they’re not the only ones that think volunteering isn’t the best place for highly-skilled employees to spend their limited time. In fact, two-thirds of nonprofit leaders agree that donations are often better than organizing and overseeing volunteer events.

A recent poll conducted by Groundswell of 500 nonprofit leaders indicated 68% preferred receiving monetary contributions over facilitating a corporate volunteer event.

If you’ve considered putting together a volunteer event for your employees or setting up a corporate gifting and matching program, you’re in the right place.

This article helps you decide what programs are best for you and your organization, what benefits and drawbacks come with organizing volunteer events, and why companies are moving away from sending their employees out and moving towards offering employees a gifting and donation match program that sends money directly to nonprofits.

Volunteers or Donations?

Volunteering is at the heart of many charity and nonprofit organizations. Without people willing to volunteer their time to support the causes they care about, some nonprofits would fall short of their goals.

However, while the act of volunteering is noble and well intentioned, not all volunteers and volunteering activities are created equal. Most organizations that rely on volunteers to deliver services strive for volunteers who are willing to show up consistently, complete training, and execute tasks according to standards.

For example, the Boys and Girls Club’s lifeblood is community members who sign up to mentor at-risk youth. Mentors who consistently meet with, coach, and encourage their mentees can have a profound impact on that child’s life. Conversely, a volunteer that quits after two meetings can devastate a child’s self-esteem.

Similarly, Feeding America – the largest network of foodbanks in the U.S. – relies substantially on volunteers to help operate its food warehouses. But, just like any Amazon fulfillment center, maintaining an efficient operation requires effective human capital management, including volunteer scheduling and training on tasks like storing, packing and shipping different types of food items. Having dedicated volunteers that commit to consistent work shifts allows FA operations leaders to plan effectively.

There are countless examples of how committed volunteers can make a difference, but anyone considering a day of volunteering should ask themselves important questions about what the nonprofit they’re aiming to support needs most: time or money?

The Truth About Why Companies Love Corporate Philanthropy

Corporations love sending employees to help nonprofits because they see it as a win-win-win:  nonprofits get support, employees get engaged, and the company burnishes its reputation.. 

It’s clear that an army of employees adorned in color-coordinated shirts emblazoned with the company’s logo, deployed out into the community with rakes or paintbrushes, makes for a great photo op. The activity sends a message to the community that the company cares, and that’s a good thing as corporate stakeholders increasingly demand that company’s focus on social impact.

There’s also no doubt that the activity engages employees. It often gets them out of the office and mingling with one another in a low-stress, lighthearted way. Many will return to the office grateful that their employer prioritized making a difference. 

But what about the nonprofit? Have they received the resources they need most to execute their mission best?

The Pros and Cons of Hosting Volunteer Events

Corporate volunteer events are events organized by nonprofit organizations at the request of a company, often through a corporate social responsibility (CSR) team.

These events generally last a few hours, typically around the same time as an employee all-hands conference or retreat. They can be hosted at the company’s headquarters or at the nonprofit’s location. Often, employee volunteers are untrained, and despite wanting to make a difference, likely have no direct tie to or passion for the nonprofit’s mission; meaning most will conclude the event with no intention of volunteering with the organization again.

If coordinated with the nonprofit effectively and resourced appropriately, corporate volunteer events can create value.

Here are the pros and cons of corporate volunteers.

Benefits of volunteering:

  • Positive employee experience – employees that volunteer often walk away with a good experience and positive outlook on aiding others.
  • More hands on the project – some projects benefit from more people on a project, like with community clean-ups.
  • Positive company image – Employees that volunteer contribute to the philanthropic values of a company and improve its public image.

Drawbacks of volunteering:

  • Additional work for the nonprofits – Organizing an event, training new volunteers, and managing an unfamiliar person can take a lot of effort and resources away that could have otherwise been used on supporting the organization’s cause.
  • Reduced efficiency – The best nonprofits build efficient systems to do their work. Oftentimes, corporate volunteer events operate outside these systems. This can happen geographically, by dictating the location be at the corporate office, or otherwise by having to accommodate volunteers unfamiliar with the established system or process.
  • Volunteering isn’t always equitable and inclusive – Not every employee can participate in a volunteer activity. For example, if you’re cleaning up a beach employees with mobility issues could be left out.
  • Smaller return on investment – Volunteer events take a lot of work to plan, coordinate and execute, and sometimes – especially absent an additional monetary contribution from the company – the effort doesn’t yield sufficient impact.
  • Unpredictable effort and labor – The skills of volunteers can range from amateur to expert, which can make it tough for organization leaders to get high-level contributions.
  • No time — Businesses are busy. Not all employees, executives, investors, and board members have the time to commit to volunteering, making it easier to donate money instead of time.

While volunteering can have a handful of benefits, it can sometimes come with a great deal of unnecessary administrative duties that take valuable resources away from an organization’s limited resources.

Four Valuable Insights From Nonprofit Employees

Along with uncovering the reality about corporate volunteer programs, our poll revealed important insights into the truth about how nonprofits leaders felt about shifting trends in corporate philanthropy.

According to our research, 79.4% agreed that corporate volunteer events are often more focused on employee experience than generating desirable outcomes for the organization’s causes.

Notably, 56.2% experienced a corporate volunteer event that didn’t lead to efficient outcomes for the organization’s cause.

Perhaps in light of that, 72.2% believe corporations should make monetary contributions to offset the effort required to facilitate corporate volunteer events.

Finally, a remarkable 42.2% believe planning volunteer opportunities for companies is actually a distraction to their core mission.

Here’s Why Donating Is Better Than Volunteers.

Just like any business, having working capital is crucial for charities to deliver consistent outcomes.

For nonprofit organizations, donations help fuel campaign initiatives, purchase supplies, pay for employee salaries, cover the cost of insurance and support efforts made by the entity. Even volunteer events cost money! Who do you think covers the cost of those bottles of water, ham sandwiches, and cans of paint?

In other words, donations support nearly every facet of an organization, from supporting their infrastructure to facilitating initiatives and backing campaigns.

In nearly all cases, donations are much more flexible than volunteering. Donations can be used for anything related to the organization’s operation while volunteering is limited to labor-specific tasks. Volunteering is also limited by the volunteer’s level of expertise, whereas donations can be used to hire experts to accomplish the same task using less effort and resources.

Have You Launched Your Company Gifting and Matching Program?

Since donations generally contribute directly to the organization’s central mission while providing them with ultimate discretion in how to deliver impact, corporate leaders and their employees are realizing their contributions can go a lot further when donating money instead of time.

If you’re curious to learn more about how corporate gifting and matching programs work, you’ll find more resources on our blog.

Is Your Company Ready To Handle the Next Hot-Button Issue? How To Stay Two Steps Ahead

Crickets. That’s the sound coming from many companies over today’s most pressing hot-button issues. Yet there is an increasingly blurred line between business and politics, leaving business leaders wondering how they should weigh in. These issues are both plentiful and polarizing. It would be easy, if not forgivable, to remain silent from a business standpoint. However, it’s not so simple. The public supports and even expects companies to speak out. 

In recent years as the political landscape becomes even more divisive that expectation continues to grow. In a Forbes poll, 75% think that companies should be leaders and change makers. And why not? Thanks to employees, stakeholders and the communities they are privileged to serve, companies have the bully pulpit and the resources needed to make a difference. Moreover, recent polls indicate that people trust businesses more than the government

Leaders must ask themselves what role their companies should play in the evolving political environment. But before they decide how to engage, they must consider both the risks and the challenges. 

Current Landscape of Hot-Button Issues

It’s not just about the things that any good corporate citizen ought to do, like be a responsible steward  of the earth’s precious resources. It’s about values that cut to the core of every American. Issues like voting rights, vaccine mandates, Roe v. Wade and gun control. There are new issues arising monthly.

Impact on Business

Make no mistake: Taking a stand can have both good consequences and bad. For some companies, it may mean an increase in sales or a boost to their reputation. When Uber and Lyft offered to pay the legal fees for drivers sued under Texas law for driving pregnant people to abortion clinics, they saw an uptick in their stock. However, there was also a negative backlash. Purportedly, the company doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to supporting its drivers in other regards.  

Yes, taking a stand opens the company up to scrutiny. But it also helps keep leadership accountable and make them even more determined to ensure that their actions match their words, a good all-around strategy for every sustainable business. 

New Issue, New Strategy

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for hot-button issues. Most require case-by-case analysis. You may not want to issue a public statement at all, but that’s not the only option. 

Before you do anything, you’ll need to assess the potential impact on your business. It always pays to know your customers — not just the products and services they will buy but what they believe and value. What are they saying on social media? The same is true for stakeholders and employees, including the company’s affinity groups. What do they want you to do? 

Acknowledge and respect differing viewpoints while ensuring that the decision-making process is transparent. Of course, everyone will not agree but it’s important that the process is fair and that once the decision has been made, you are clear and unapologetic about how the decision aligns with company values. Follow through on your promises and be consistent.

L’oreal Paris learned the hard way how important it is to practice what you preach. After posting in support of Black Lives Matter, the fashion company was lambasted for dismissing one of their models  who had previously taken a public stance against racism and white supremacy. 

How To Be Proactive Against Hot-Button Issues: 3 Preparation Steps

In addition to making deliberate decisions, here are three concrete steps your company can take to ensure that they are prepared for the next hot-button issue.

1. Establish Safety Nets

Safety nets are resources that are set aside to protect employees and other stakeholders of the company against inequities and provide fair treatment across the board. They provide tangible benefits to all employees and to the community. A safety net allows the company to help without necessarily taking a public political stand. 

Despite their own business woes, consider the many companies that stepped up to the plate during the pandemic to provide, for example, support to first responders and vulnerable populations, or that adapted their supply chains to provide personal protective equipment. When companies establish a track record of pitching in during times of greatest need, they build the type of social currency that generates public trust.

A safety net could be considered the company’s own economic relief fund. There are no hard and fast rules about how it should operate. However, safety net funds could support:

  • Travel for health care that is not offered locally
  • Consistent levels of accessibility in all of the company’s offices, whether or not it is mandated by law
  • Volunteer activities in the community
  • Extended employee benefits like remote work, flex time, etc
  • Employee Assistance Programs
  • Trauma treatment across all of the various communities and identities
  • Temporary shelters for weather-related and other emergencies
  • Nonpartisan resources that support elections

2. Operationalize Your DEI Strategy

Hot-button issues present an opportunity to lean into the company’s core values and support them through your DEI strategy. To do so, however, the strategy must be operationalized. Until you formulate and actualize a plan, it’s just a mental exercise. Operationalization means making DEI part of your business and operating model. You will be most successful in your support of the underserved communities you’ve identified if your strategy establishes the following:

  • In-House DEI Team: Even if you solicit outside help to facilitate your DEI strategy, you still need an in-house team. Your in-house team plays a critical role in analyzing hot-button issues and making recommendations for a thoughtful and inclusive response.
  • Diversity Training: Training is key, and not just a once-and-done workshop. Rather, you’ll need an ongoing approach to ensure that your guidelines are put into practice and everyone understands what’s expected of them. Through regular training, you signal to the organization that diversity, equity and inclusion are important values that you take seriously and that these values extend beyond the doors of your organization. 
  • Affinity Groups: Your affinity groups provide the staffing and energy to take on issues. They play a key role in two-way communication that helps to bolster curiosity and empathy among the larger community. They will want to have a voice in the company’s response to these issues.

3. Fortify Your Corporate Giving Program

When hot-button issues arise, companies that have established corporate giving programs can respond internally, even without making a grand public gesture. The best programs are those that are flexible, easy to set up and require minimal administrative time. Corporate giving programs not only empower employees, they build engagement and morale, and encourage individuals to express themselves in meaningful ways. 

The Groundswell platform allows employees to pre-load charitable donations in a giving account for when and where they want to use them. There are a number of ways for employees to participate, including selecting from various volunteer opportunities or supporting a cause that the company champions. Employees are able to express their values to support something they believe in and they may be eligible, as well, to receive matching donations or use paid time off that the company provides. 

Groundswell makes it easy, allowing companies to offer giving as an employee benefit. Further, the Groundswell platform removes the hassle. There’s little administration, paperwork or reporting so that your company can easily shift gears for the next hot-button issue. Employees appreciate the opportunity to help the causes they care about year-round, as well as to be part of larger-scale, more impactful giving efforts.

Stay Ahead and Be Proactive

Hot-button issues can be tricky to navigate. But they don’t have to create internal headaches. They can, in fact, be opportunities to lean into the values that make your company unique, attract and retain diverse talent and drive innovation. You just need a good plan.   

10 Charitable Giving Ideas Based on Moments That Matter for Employees

If the business of HR is to manage — and enhance — the employee experience, an understanding of Moments That Matter (MTM) may be one of the most critical tools the HR professional can add to their repertoire. The HR world adopted the term from the customer relations department, which refers to the moments in a customer’s life when they are likely to make the decision to buy a product or service.

In HR, it refers to the moments in an employee’s life, both professional and private, that can most influence their feelings about their job and their employer. There are many ways to employ a Moments That Matter approach to employee management, but there’s one that’s often overlooked — incorporating it into the company’s corporate giving strategy. Here’s why you should, and some ideas of how your company can do it.

Moments That Matter — What It Is and Why It Matters

The idea behind the MTM management philosophy is that there are certain moments in your employees’ lives that have an outsize impact on their work satisfaction and attitude toward the company. Some of them are fairly generic — the job interview, their first weeks on the job, and promotions, for example. Others are more personal: an expectant parent, for instance, is likely to be influenced by how well — or poorly — HR helps them navigate the changes surrounding that milestone. Each of these experiences contributes to the overall employee experience with your company, and managing them well can play a big role in improving employee morale, job satisfaction, productivity, and retention

Which Moments Matter?

As suggested, the answer to that question can vary from employee to employee. There is, however, some agreement on the most common moments, and there are some suggestions for how to determine which moments actually matter the most to your employees. Gartner, Inc., an internationally respected HR consulting firm, lays out five types of moments that are likely to have the highest impact on employees in a recently published paper. They include moments that are:

  1. Emotion-generating: like personal anniversaries and life milestones.
  2. Scalable: have the potential to influence many employees.
  3. Frequent: happen many times over the course of a day, week or month.
  4. Business-aligned: moments that align with corporate strategy or culture.
  5. Critical talent-aligned: impact a specific population with critical talents in the organization.

Understanding which moments matter to your employees can help you create policies and procedures that acknowledge those moments and respond to them in the most positive and beneficial ways. In order to do this, it’s vital that you equip your HR department with the tools to identify important moments and respond to them with empathy and clear guidance.

Corporate Philanthropy and Moments That Matter

More and more research shows that employees care about working for a company that aligns with their values. They want to work for a company that makes them proud, one that takes corporate responsibility seriously (CSR) and that supports — or empowers them to support — the causes that matter to them. Many employees are motivated by a company’s commitment to give back and are engaged by corporate giving strategies like donation matching, group volunteer efforts and community giveback days.

When you incorporate MTM into your corporate giving strategy, you can exponentially increase the impact on both your employees and the causes they support. 

10 Moments That Matter-Inspired Charitable Giving Ideas 

If all of that explanation left you buzzing but still unsure how to combine it with your corporate giving strategy, here are 10 ways that you can use Moments That Matter to inspire, motivate and engage your employees.

1. Make Corporate Giving Part of Your Employee Benefits Package

The job interview is one of the first times your employee will have contact with the HR department. Use that moment to explain that corporate giving is part of your standard employee benefits package, and show them how you make it easier for them to support the causes that matter to them.

2. Celebrate Work Milestones With Charitable Donations

Instead of — or in addition to — recognizing work anniversaries or achievements with swag, offer a bonus donation to be made to the charity of their choice. If you’re using the Groundswell platform, it’s easy to simply add the appropriate amount to the employee’s giving account. You can even set it up as part of the policies that administer the program.

3. Use Data From Your Employee Donation Programs To Help Identify Moments That Matter

Many employee benefits management companies provide data and feedback to your company that can give you insight into what matters to your employees. Use that data to help identify giving trends and refine your program to make it more appealing.

4. Reward Team Milestones with a Giving Stipend

Sure, go ahead and have that pizza party for the team when QA checks off on their work, but why not give them something even more meaningful — add a little something to their charitable giving stipend. By giving them the power to support the causes they care about, you’re being doubly rewarding.

5. Recognize the Employee of the Month with the Opportunity to Make a Difference

It’s nice to get your picture in a place of honor when you’re voted Employee of the Month, but you can do better by giving your EOTM the chance to do more good. It’s easy to set up one-time additions to an employee’s giving fund based on their designation as a valued employee.

6. Give the Gift of Giving for Birthdays

Birthdays are a classic personal moment that matters — and many people celebrate by making a donation to charity. Even Facebook recognizes that — their Birthday Fundraiser feature is one of the platform’s most popular. Empower your employees to be more charitable on their birthdays by making a birthday donation part of their benefits package.

7. Mark Work Transitions with More Donating Power

Take the opportunity to recognize work transitions — the end of a probation period, a promotion to team leader, or moving to a new department — with a contribution to their giving fund. If the transition is a promotion or other permanent rise in the company structure, you can even make it a permanent increase in the company’s charitable giving program.

8. Celebrate Personal Milestones With a Contribution

There’s no better way to make employees feel valued than demonstrating that you notice — and care about — what’s happening in their lives. In addition to standard milestones, such as weddings or a new addition to the family, you can also celebrate their achievement of a new degree or certification, closing on a new house, or being recognized by a community organization.

9. Share the Celebration of Company Milestones

It’s common for businesses to mark milestones by making a donation to charity. Whether your company is celebrating Founder’s Day, recognizing their 1 millionth sale, or marking the awarding of a big contract, let your employees share in the festivities by making a contribution to their donor funds to distribute as they see fit. 

10. Extend Your Annual Holiday Bonus

Add a little something extra to your holiday bonus program — an extra contribution to their employee giving fund. Many employees celebrate holidays with a donation to their favorite charities anyway. Why not empower them to give a little more?

How Groundswell Helps You Meet Moments That Matter to All of Your Employees

The right software program can make it easy for you to match moments that matter to the unique interests and needs of all of your employees. Designing a corporate giving program can be challenging, with many factors to consider and incorporate.

Groundswell is designed to be inclusive, private, and empowering. By putting the power to give into the hands of each employee, the platform eliminates many barriers to giving that are inherent in traditional corporate match programs. 

  • Employees can donate on their own timeline, rather than during a specified giving period.
  • There are no complicated forms to fill out and have approved.
  • Charities get their donations all at once rather than having to wait for the matching part of the donation.
  • Employees can give to the causes they support without worrying that their donations will expose parts of their private lives they’d rather not reveal.  You can read more about how the Groundswell platform helps make employee giving more accessible and welcoming to everyone in the blog Is Your Donation Matching Program Inclusive and Equitable? Probably Not.
  • The simple interface makes it easy for your company to respond quickly to current events that have a wide cultural impact and provides a way for your company to be supportive to diverse groups among your employees.

Of course, your company can — and should — support your employees’ charitable efforts in other ways, as well. You can create moments that matter for your employees by, for example, sponsoring weekly, monthly, or annual team volunteer opportunities.

The time spent building out playgrounds, repairing homes for seniors, and serving meals at a local food kitchen all have the potential to be part of the reason your employees feel that they matter, not only to your company, but to the community at large.

Final Thoughts

Moments That Matter is more than just a current HR trend. It reflects a long tradition in the HR field — one of philanthropy and benefit focused on employees and their needs.

When your company recognizes the most impactful moments in the lives of its employees — and provides them with a way to recognize, celebrate and navigate them — you are strengthening the relationship between your employee, your company and the community. In short, everyone benefits. Learn how at Groundswell.

Is Your Donation Matching Program Inclusive and Equitable? Probably Not.

Corporate employee gift matching – where an employer matches an employee’s gift to a charity – has been a mainstay of major companies for decades. It has unlocked billions of dollars of community funding and helped donors double their impact. It’s also inequitable and lacks inclusion as matching programs currently operate. Fortunately, there’s a solution.

But first, a history lesson.

In many ways and for many reasons, GE is one of America’s most iconic companies – though notably its star has dimmed since its peak several decades ago. GE was born by Thomas Edison, became a founding member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (where it stayed from 1907 to 2018), and was awarded countless patents for innovation across aviation, healthcare, and energy.

However, an innovation GE rarely gets credit for is its innovation in corporate philanthropy. In 1954, GE rolled out what is often credited as the first workplace-giving program. In the nearly seven decades since GE reports that it has matched over $1.5 billion in employee gifts. That’s an astounding number.

Yet GE’s program has not evolved much since its inception. Sure, it uses a software platform to help facilitate gifts (one that could use a good ol’ fashioned overhaul) and they’ve probably increased the amount they’ll match (it’s currently a generous $5,000 per employee). But the basic construction remains the same – and therein lies the problem.

Today’s standard matching gift program works like this:

An employee gives money to a charity; they then submit that donation receipt to someone on staff (often in HR, finance, or perhaps a dedicated corporate social responsibility or CSR function). That staff member then must vet the charity to ensure it’s a registered 501c3 with the IRS and that it meets the company’s stated program requirements (for example, many companies won’t match gifts to places of worship – like a church – despite them being tax-exempt organizations). Finally, if all goes according to plan, a form is submitted to the accounts payable department and a check is issued from the company to the nonprofit – often weeks or months later.

Many folks would rightfully point out that this process seems like an administrative nightmare – and it is, both for the employee and the employer.  But what’s often not discussed is that it is also by nature exclusionary and therefore inequitable.

How so? Let me explain.

The existing process – even if supported and enabled by software platforms that ease (but don’t eliminate) some of the administrative burdens – requires the employee to disclose where they have given to charity. On the surface, this may not seem like a problem – how else would the employer know where to send the matching money? But spend a moment and imagine all the reasons that someone may not want their employer or work colleagues to know the specific charities you are supporting.

For many people, their philanthropy is deeply personal and inspired by lived experiences. An employee that grew up in an abusive household may support a local domestic abuse shelter. A member of the LGTBQ community that is not yet open about their sexuality certainly wouldn’t want their coworkers knowing they support the Trevor Project. A recovering alcoholic may not want to submit the receipt for their monthly donation to Alcoholics Anonymous.

So what happens?

They simply don’t participate. They feel excluded.

The inequity is further exacerbated when companies determine that some causes or issues are worth matching, but others are not. In GE’s example, the determination that the company will not match contributions to houses of worship – churches, synagogues, mosques, and others – is akin to telling GE’s employees that what matters to them is not worth matching.

Now, we should be fair to GE. Because of GE’s matching program design, any matches sent to charities are coming from GE. Iconic brands like GE must be very careful in creating a perception that they are affiliated with or endorse any specific organization, or in this case, faith. That’s certainly reasonable – but it’s demotivating to the practicing Catholic who dutifully tithes 10% of her paycheck each week to her church.

(As a disclaimer, we draw the line at any nonprofit, religious or not, that stands for hate, and you won’t find any classified hate groups available to fund in the Groundswell app.)

Essentially, today’s standard matching program makes about as much sense as if an employer chose not to deposit employees’ paychecks into bank accounts, but instead forced those employees to submit receipts for all of their expenses so that their cost of living could be reimbursed. How comfortable would you be with inviting someone into your personal life in that fashion?

So is there a better way? Yes, there is.

Modern matching programs must evolve to reflect the capabilities of our modern tax and financial technology ecosystem. Groundswell ( is doing this by making donor-advised funds (DAFs) accessible to anyone, and by specifically creating a corporate benefits platform that provides one to employees. By providing employees with Personal Giving Accounts built on top of donor-advised funds, our platform can disaggregate someone’s decision to be charitable (the moment they contribute to their Groundswell account) from their decision on what charity to support (sending their Groundswell funds to a nonprofit).  

With Groundswell, employees contribute to their Personal Giving Account and companies can match those contributions according to their matching program rules. At that point, the employee controls the funds – they can direct the full amount to whatever qualifying charity they choose when they choose.

Because funds sent to charities are distributed by the Groundswell Charitable Foundation, companies no longer have to restrict where their employees give – because the company is never directly associated with the gift.

Information provided back to the employer is anonymized. They will know all the charities that were supported but will not be able to associate them with individual employees. The result is that companies can better understand what their employees truly value, without violating their privacy.

With Groundswell, employers can take meaningful action that drives home their commitment to DE&I initiatives while providing a unique employee benefit that allows employees to freely be their authentic, charitable selves.

Let’s have a conversation – what do you think?

Our Founder in Forbes on Rethinking Corporate Donation Matching

We always love to share the Groundswell philosophy with the wider world whenever we can. 

Just recently, our CEO Jake Wood shared his insights over at Forbes, talking about why organizations should rethink their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies and programs – and how, with this corporate philanthropy overhaul, they can establish a more cohesive relationship with their employees and nonprofit organizations.

Here are some of the highlights from the article:

Corporate Charity Should Represent the Passions of the Employees

Traditionally, corporate giving efforts are driven by a handful of executives or corporate foundations. The efforts are often disconnected from the company and the employees that are supposed to be represented by the program. This, Jake explained at Forbes, results in an ivory tower situation.

“In its best form, corporate philanthropy is loosely aligned to a company’s values, but often not to those of the company’s employees. In its worst form, it simply serves as a CEO vanity project.” 

What corporate entities need to realize is that their employees have diverse perspectives and backgrounds. Some, if not all, of them want to find a higher purpose for the work that they do. Unfortunately, traditional CSR programs don’t often reflect that.

Most Nonprofits Don’t Get the Support They Should Be Getting

Jake also pointed out how the current system for corporate donations excludes some nonprofits.

“If employees who want to give feel left out by their corporation’s donation strategy, it’s even worse for the nonprofits meant to benefit from those matching programs. While the top 1% of nonprofits might have cracked the code, most have trouble getting in the door.

There are a couple of challenges that nonprofits face, even for those who’ve already gotten their foot through the door.

  • Nonprofits led by historically marginalized individuals or communities often find it difficult to even get the attention of executives or foundation staff.
  • Even when they’ve been qualified and chosen, most nonprofits still need to go through a lot of processes before they can receive funds, which can either take a long time, or end up with the funds being undispersed.

Jake shares his experience as the CEO of the disaster-relief nonprofit Team Rubicon:

“I once received an email from a major Fortune 500 company eight months after a donation by an employee (in the prior year no less!). The email asked me to confirm receipt of the $75 donation and then to log into an obscure portal to upload proof of receipt so the company’s matching donation could be processed. What a hassle.”

Nonprofits end up chasing donations that are owed to them because of this inefficient processing, instead of focusing on delivering impact to the communities they serve.

Traditional Philanthropy = Low Employee Engagement

Employees are not as engaged in traditional, centralized philanthropy because this CSR can’t please everyone. Your ivory-tower philanthropy may please one or two people, but it will probably not resonate with everyone.

Plus, the systemic approach to giving that companies do doesn’t often result in massive impact and changes. This can lead to employees seeing these efforts as lacking or unapproachable.

Jake points to homelessness as an example:

“Solving homelessness at a macro level requires systemic solutions and massive policy changes, both of which could take years, if not decades. But employees riding to work on the subway care less about systemic solutions and more about ensuring that the human being sleeping on a piece of cardboard near the turnstile they step over each morning has a bed that evening.

Decentralizing philanthropy would go a long way to achieving that. Sure, systemic changes are necessary, but making employees the “agents of change” in this regard can make them feel that their company’s philanthropy efforts are indeed going somewhere beneficial.

How Companies Can Decentralize Corporate Giving

Jake shared with Forbes the key steps to how companies can decentralize their philanthropy efforts:

  1. Provide a charitable giving stipend to each employee that they can direct to a charity of their choice on an annual basis.
  2. Have employees vote on a slate of charities chosen by leaders to determine which cause gets the company’s contribution.
  3. Empower business resource groups, which are typically aligned around specific diversity elements, to make recommendations on charitable giving related to their interests.

With these steps, companies can generate meaningful impact in their communities through their employees.

To read Jake’s full article, click here. Or if you want to learn how you can start changing your approach to corporate giving, talk to us here. Here at Groundswell, we help you give better.

Reviewing a Big 2021 at Groundswell

As we move into the heart of the holidays – and as 2022 looms on the horizon – it feels like a moment to take stock, and reflect on what has been a big, big year here at Groundswell. It’s only been just a few short months, but we’re fired up and extremely fortunate to have hit some incredible milestones already. 

Throughout 2021, we’ve been working as hard as we can to revolutionize philanthropy. This year, we assembled an incredible team; we were featured in major news outlets; we launched our web presence; and we received significant seed funding to help us achieve our goals.

Why? Because we think that sophisticated philanthropy should not be limited to the 1%. Because we want more people to have more impact, and back more great causes.

Thanks to everyone who has followed along on our journey this year. Here are a few highlights.

Assembling a World-Class Team

A company is only as good as its people. Especially when your goals are as bold as ours. And this year, we have assembled a fantastic core team.

Led by our founders Jake Wood, a former marine and founder of Team Rubicon; Adam Miller, founder of Cornerstone OnDemand; and Joe Marchese, executive chairman of Human Ventures Co., we have built a powerful leadership unit. In 2021, we’ve added: 

  • Tammy Hahn, Former VP of Product of Cornerstone, as Chief Product Officer (CPO). 
  • Karan Keswani, Former Chief Architect of Bluebeam, as Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
  • Candice Schmitt, Former Chief People Officer of Team Rubicon, as Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).
  • M.G. Siegler, General Partner at GV (previously Google Ventures), on our board of directors.
  • Heather Hartnett, CEO of Human Ventures, on our board of directors. 

Our Series Seed Funding

We have a big mission: Take a model of philanthropy typically only accessible to the 1%, and make it available to everyone else. With such a large project ahead of us, the more backing we can get, the better. And in November we received a total of $15 million in startup capital

$10 million Series Seed investment was led by GV (previously Google Ventures) after our first $5 million received in September earlier this year. GV was joined by Human Ventures, Moonshots Capital, Felicis Ventures, and Core Innovation Capital.

This funding will provide us capital to develop the world’s most revolutionary philanthropy platform, propelling us closer to our ambition of building a world in which every solution is financed and every problem is solved.

Entering The Mainstream

In the past few months, Groundswell has attracted more and more attention from major media outlets. In September, Jake was featured in a Forbes article, where he discussed Groundswell’s objective to democratize philanthropy for the public, and inspire a new generation of philanthropists.

It was a fantastic chat, where Jake mapped out our bold goals: 

“Ten years from now, we hope to have helped unlock a trillion dollars of philanthropy globally. That won’t solve all the world’s problems, but it will be a good start.”

This Forbes appearance was followed by a great feature in LA TechWatch featuring an interview with our Chief Product Officer Tammy Hahn.  In the feature, Tammy shared a little about our journey to raising capital, how we’re providing a value-add to society, and what’s ahead for us at Groundswell.

Our team is made up of talented, high-performing individuals that were tired of building products that didn’t add value to society.  We saw an opportunity to create an entirely new category and bring philanthropy into the 21st Century, which is exactly what we intend to do.

Over the next six months, we’re going to execute against our product roadmap and get out into the market.  We have a long list of companies standing by to implement Groundswell’s beta product.

We’re eager to establish ourselves as the creator and leader of the Philanthropy-as-a-Service category, but, more importantly, are eager to make the world a better place by making charitable giving a new table-stakes component of total compensation.”

2022 – We’re Coming For You

Despite everything we’ve achieved this year, we’re just getting started.

In 2022, our product is launching, and Groundswell will be loose in the wild. If you haven’t signed up yet, request early access to be a beta tester. We will be growing the team (check out our open roles!) and having more conversations out in the world.

Thanks again to everyone who has followed along on our journey this year. See you in 2022!

Veterans Day Is A Good Time To be Thankful For What We Have

Jake Wood, former Marine and founder of Groundswell, joins the ‘Halftime Report’ on Veterans Day to discuss his company and philanthropic efforts through Team Rubicon.