Is your company thinking of stepping up its charitable involvement? It might be time to think beyond the “one company-one charity” model and explore a matching gifts program.
In its broadest terms, a matching gifts program does what it says on the tin: the company matches the charitable donations – of money, time or both – that are made by its employees.
Cisco Canada has been offering a matching gift program to its employees since 1996, and has recently launched its Time2Give and Be The Bridge programs.
Willa Black is Cisco Canada’s Vice President, Corporate Affairs, and she believes that Cisco’s matching programs have thrived because they empower employees with choice, and equally important, they are aligned with Cisco’s core competence.
“Cisco is a very “Get to it” culture, and collaboration and teamwork are a very natural fit for us,” she says. “We’re reinforcing the message that the tools we have at our disposal are being used to make positive impact in communities: like bringing classroom experiences to Indigenous communities in our Connected North program, for example, or donating the technology that we used to run the Pan Am games to nonprofits.”
She spoke to us recently about Cisco Canada’s matching gift programs.
Willa Black: When I think about the power of our matching program what stands out is that we know we have great employees and we want to amplify their impact. The first way we do that is by giving them the freedom to spend time investing in their own communities.
In our Time2Give program full-time employees can take up to five days off work, fully paid, to volunteer in the activity of their choice. For every hour that an employee commits, we donate $10, up to $1,000.
(Note: all dollar amounts are USD.)
We have 1,700 employees in Canada, and in 2016, they gave 3,602 volunteer hours – we think that’s an excellent result.
Then there’s Cisco’s Be the Bridge program which matches cash donations up to $10,000 during the holiday season. In 2016, we matched $111,000 in donations.
How do you decide which charities to include in the matching program?
Individual employees nominate a charity or non-profit in the Cisco matching system. Then the charity gets vetted, and if they meet our requirements they are processed in the system and employees’ donations are eligible for matching. We have a civic council that determines the employee engagement activities we do. We get on a call once a month; we talk to charities in person; and we’re constantly keeping our fingers on the pulse of what employees think is meaningful. This culture of giving back is woven into our strategic plan: we have a seat at the table with the strategic team. It makes employees feel really proud about what they do and where they work.
What would you suggest to companies that are considering starting their own matching program?
You have to be creative about the different ways you can support employees: maybe you can give them a paid day off or sponsor a community event. Organizations have to focus on their core competence and do what works for their culture.
What have the benefits been to your company overall?
We were ranked by Aon Hewitt as the Number 1 best employer in Canada for several years, and giving back and volunteerism are key to this, because it engages employees and gives them a sense of pride. It’s important for people to know it’s more than dollars and cents.
Cisco Canada has supported Daily Bread Food Bank since 2000 – including organizing in-office food and fund drives to gathering hundreds of volunteers to assemble Toronto Star Santa Hampers each holiday season. Cisco’s matching program has granted Daily Bread over $35,000 to match the volunteer efforts of hundreds of Cisco employees.
4 reasons why your company needs a matching gift program
How to start an employee donation matching program