How One Nonprofit is Raising Money With Its Volunteers

volunteers
Photo via Cradles to Crayons

Dollars for Doers is a matching gift program for volunteerism that rewards volunteer hours with a company donation to the nonprofit. The typical formula is $10 for each hour spent volunteering, although it’s not uncommon to see corporate matches of $20 per hour or more.

To learn more about Dollars for Doers (also called volunteer grants) I knew I had to speak to a nonprofit that worked with a lot of volunteers. If it really is true that only seven out of 100 employees apply for this money, I needed an organization that had so many volunteers that they’d be sure to have experience with this program.

Boston-based Cradles to Crayons helps poor children from birth through age twelve with the essential items they need to thrive at home, at school, and at play. This includes everything from shoes to coats to backpacks and many other important items.

Cradles to Crayons collects these items from community organizations and companies. But they don’t get collected, sorted and distributed on their own. Cradles to Crayons relies on volunteers to help them—and not just a few. Last year, 20,000 volunteers worked in its “Giving Factory.”

I had found the right nonprofit!

My point person was the then Director of Development and Strategic Partnerships Jennifer White. She knew all about Dollars for Doers.

“We’re very familiar with the program,” she said. “We always ask our volunteers if they have a program and follow up with them afterward.”

Jennifer conceded the biggest challenge is getting employees to log their hours with their company.

“If employees can log their hours online we get a better and faster response,” she said. “But if they have to print out a form and get it to another department in the company . . . well, you know what happens.”

“It’s also not always easy to determine which companies offer Dollars for Doers,” said Jennifer. “Companies don’t seem to promote it as much as its sister program matching gifts.”

And unlike matching gifts, nonprofits have to jump more hurdles to get the money. Companies often require a certain number of volunteers or hours—or both—to trigger a donation.

For example, department store chain Kohl’s requires that a group of five or more employees volunteer together for three consecutive hours before a grant is awarded. Some companies take it one step further and put eligible nonprofits into a pool from which grant recipients are chosen.

Nonprofits lose out when companies make it too challenging to receive a grant. But companies may be missing an opportunity as well.

“I’m surprised how few companies track employee volunteer hours,” said Jennifer. “They just don’t keep track of this—but we do. It’s there for the asking.”

In a time when consumers are as interested in a company’s community footprint as they are in product and price, employee volunteerism may be just what cause consumers are shopping for.

Joe Waters blogs at Selfishgiving.com.

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