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Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

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January 14, 2009 11:21 AM

Companies axing matching-gift programs? Not exactly

Posted by Kristi Heim

Matching-gift programs boost the power of individual donations and have been linked to employee satisfaction and retention, not to mention tax benefits and image enhancement. Some companies contribute five times what an employee donates, and even pay non-profits for employee volunteer time.

But a story in The Wall Street Journal today made me wonder how many of them may fall victim to cost cutting as companies adjust to tough times.

Turns out many more companies added these programs in the last year than dropped them, according to HEP Development Services, which tracks gifts at nearly 17,000 companies throughout the country, including their divisions and subsidiaries.

The firm's data in August showed that eight companies stopped their programs, but 277 new programs were added over the same period, said Marianna Funk, HEP senior researcher.

Although the data wouldn't reflect the severe downturn that hit last fall, 'the trend is to create matching gift programs,' she said. 'There are many, many more companies added every year than suspend their programs.'

Among employers in Seattle, the list of companies with matching-gift programs includes: Alaska Airlines, Boeing, Boeing Employees Credit Union, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bullitt Foundation, Foss Maritime, Getty Images, Corbis, Attachmate, Pemco Insurance, Silver Creek Capital Management and ZymoGenetics, according to HEP.

The Gates Foundation matches $3 for every employee dollar of annual donations. Boeing and Microsoft match $1 for every dollar, with Boeing matching up to $6,000 and Microsoft up to $12,000. Starbucks offers a 1-to-1 match up to $1,000. Google offers a 1-to-1 match up to $3,000. Microsoft donates $17 for every hour of employee volunteer time.

If Microsoft employees, who donated a record $72 million to charity in 2007, were ranked by total giving, they would be the second-largest philanthropy in Washington, after the Gates Foundation.

Weyerhaeuser, which suspended its program at the end of 2007, was among the companies that eliminated or reduced their matching gifts as the economy faltered. That list included General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Pfizer. The programs reflect market cycles and often return when finances improve.

Among the country's most generous employers were law firm Covington & Burling, which matches $5 for every $1 for certain employees, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with the same 5-to-1 match up to $50,000. John Wiley and Sons publishing and the Rockefeller Foundation donate $3 for every employee dollar.

Most company matching dollars go toward funding higher education, since employees like to help their alma mater, Funk said. Accenture, for example, gave $4.4 million in matches to colleges and universities in 2007. Some companies choose a higher match for certain causes, such as Alliant Energy, which offered a 2-to-1 match for flood victims.

Companies typically budget for such programs a year in advance, Funk said, so declines might be seen later and into next year. Nevertheless, given the popularity of the programs, 'I'm still optimistic,' she said.

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