There are billions of free donation dollars that are missed every year through employees that don’t take advantage of their matching benefits. I work at a Fortune 500 company in the U.S. that offers 50% matching for up to $2000 worth of donations ($1000 free dollars) every year. They even allow me to donate to the Long-Term Future EA Fund. There are 50,000 employees at my company and I’m confident most of them do not take advantage of this benefit.

In individual cases you can give money to your coworkers to donate. I’ve already spoken to one of my friends at work who is fine doing this. They may even be able to benefit from a tax write off (I’m not sure the legality of this). If you can individually convince a few friends at work to do this, that is a couple thousand extra dollars a year that can be donated.

Larger scale we could create an organization that takes advantage of these missed opportunities. For example, there are already companies[1] that front you money so that you can take advantage of your employee stock purchase program. Why couldn’t there be a similar organization that allows individuals to fully take advantage of their donation matching benefits. Further, our organization could even pay people to donate. If a company is offering a 50% match up to $2000 it would even make sense to incentivize individuals with an additional $100 (or more) if they would just take the steps of receiving money from us and donating it to an EA approved organization.

To clarify, if a person was working at the company I do and didn’t previously donate we could send them $2100. They could keep $100 and donate the other $2000 to an EA approved organization. That would give the organization an additional $900 that they otherwise would not have received.

  • An estimated $4 – $7 billion in matching gift funds goes unclaimed per year.
  • 65% of Fortune 500 companies offer matching gift programs.
  • Over 26 million individuals work for companies with matching gift programs.
  • An estimated $2 – $3 billion is donated through matching gift programs annually.
  • Over the last three years, the percentage of Russell 1000 companies publicly disclosing that they offer employee matching gifts grew by 11.8%.[2]

Some questions and caveats that I have:

  1. How would we confirm that they donated the money?
  2. What is the legality of doing this?
  3. Companies will start to decrease their matching benefits before we could reach the $4 - $7 billion limit.
  4. If the company finds out that you are individually doing this with your colleagues it could hurt your reputation.
  5. Has this idea already been thought of?
  1. ^
  2. ^

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They may even be able to benefit from a tax write off (I’m not sure the legality of this).

I don’t think they can get a net tax advantage even if they deduct this, because they must also receive the funds to donate, so they have to account for those extra funds as income.

Overall I think this idea could be worth examining. It’s one of the plucky ideas that is in a legal and enforcement grey zone and I guess that many corps will just shrug intensely.

The next statement seems ideological but it’s not: literally every major corp commits similar acts and straddles similar grey lines. This is good perspective for the “morality” of trying to use this matching.

My quick guess is the relevant legal theory that you should be concerned about is fraud or fiduciary duty?

Below are some low quality guesses:

  • I would probably guess that outright paying people use their matching would be a problem.
  • I guess your project might be tenable if you were just getting people altruistically to donate and sent them money, and they signed a waiver saying this is what they are doing of their free will with no inducement.
  • I think for reasonably prudent implementation, fraud or defection by people you give money to will be low.
  • I would not “close the loop” and get that matched and donated money returned to your entity or have your salary depend on the donees.
  • I would avoid reputation effects with EA causes and use no branding and start with near EA charities.
  • Instead of paying people to do this, I would create media and other touches that would make people feel happy and warm. This is powerful and a big deal and worth more to most people than a tax break.

The above sort of seems tenable or at least you can fight it with a legal fund. Again, I see a lot of orgs not caring or reacting.

Good points, thanks for sharing.

I love the spirit of this post and I agree with almost everything Charles said. My only difference of opinion is that I don't think people are taxed on gift income, so long as a giver provides under $16,000 in a year to any single individual and under $12.06MM in their lifetime. Letting participants keep the tax savings could be a polite way to compensate them for their involvement without dampening their altruistic glow.

I'd be excited by a project that explored surrogate donation from employees of these companies to multiply the impact of our giving. I expect the cap on Meta's Giving Tuesday match will barely scratch the surface of EAs' personal donations this year. My preliminary thoughts to scale this idea would be:

  • Learn  the fine print of the programs. Some employers explicitly disallow donating money that is given to an employee for this purpose.
  • Try to form a nuanced understanding of the long term incidence of doing this. I imagine many companies would discontinue or scale back their charity benefits if it was exploited in this way. 
    I suspect that it would still be net good because of which charities would get bonus funding, but companies price in the fact that most employees don't utilize donation matching & I suspect they would adjust their offering if it were used more.
  • Focus on employees of companies with the most generous matches first. Possibly establish a fund where EAs could pool their money and funnel them through each surrogate donor to max out the donor's gift cap.
     

I want to reiterate what Charles said about disassociating this from EA, and I recommend speaking to a(t least one) lawyer before making any moves. This feels like the type of ends-justifying-means action that is righteous in intent, but underhanded in public appearance.  


Feel free to reply here or PM me if you'd like to flesh this out. I think it's a great idea, thanks for sharing!

Thank you for your feedback, Sam! After thinking futher about this idea and emailing a GWWC contact I think this idea is not worth pursuing any further. I now agree with your statement "This feels like the type of ends-justifying-means action that is righteous in intent, but underhanded in public appearance." The person I emailed sent me this article on "Considering considerateness: Why communities of do-gooders should be exceptionally considerate" https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/blog/considering-considerateness-why-communities-of-do-gooders-should-be 

I think it was a good attempt and worth posting but it's now time for me to keep brainstorming and see if I can come up with any better ideas. Thank you everyone for your time!

I did some digging and found this website which seems to focus on this exact problem for institutional donors with $25,000 or more. (Though I don't believe they give people money to donate). The main obstacle they report is that people simply don't know about the donation matching programs at their companies and what charities they can apply them toward. I wonder how many companies will actually match donations to EA charities?

It might be worth either 

  • Reaching out to organizations about accepting matches for EA orgs
  • Reaching out to organizations that try to increase donation matching to help include EA charities
  • Setting up a donation matching promotion project focused on this for EA


This also reminds me of an EA donation swapping project where people donate to each other's favorite charities so they can each get tax deductions they wouldn't otherwise. 

Overall, taking advantage of unused corporate donation matches seems like a good idea and I'd be happy to help if there's anything I can do. 

Thank you for the reply, Peter. Yes, I’ve come across people at my company not knowing the match existed as well so that makes sense. I actually think your concern around how many companies will be willing to match EA organizations will not be a problem. If my experience has any relevance to the rest of the world, which I think it does because my Fortune 500 company is supported by an umbrella donating organization that helps multiple companies, GiveWell organizations were already approved for matching. Even the NTI was already approved for matching. The EA funds themself took a little more effort to get approved though and other AI organizations were not approved. I didn’t put any effort into getting the AI organizations approved though once the funds became available for matching so maybe they would be approved if requested.

Your last two points seem good. Maybe the best way would be having CEA or GWWC directly reach out to your attached website so that the contact is more professional? I’ll send CEA/GWWC an email and let them know they should pitch EA organizations to your linked website and consider making a project that incentivizes more matching. Let me know if you think there’s a better way of going about this.

Oh that's good news. Yes, that sounds like a good plan I think. There are probably a number companies that use that platform so if some EA charities are added it could result in quite a few new donors over time. 

Seems like lots of work for a $2000 donation. Why focus on the worker when you could focus on their employer? Why not convince an employer to distribute unused funds? There is good data that companies with pro-social causes have increased productivity. See work by Stephen Meier.  

Wouldn’t convincing one  company to donate unused funds be more impactful and less work than convincing lots of individuals?

From the article: "An estimated $4 – $7 billion in matching gift funds goes unclaimed per year." I work for a well known tech company (big 4 subsidiary), where the maximum gift match is $10k. This is not a small amount of money (even I am not currently giving at this level). On the flip side, while there aren't very many companies like mine, there are probably quite a number of places like your company that offer smaller charitable match thresholds. I am sort of wondering where the previously cited figure comes from. Does it come from many companies like yours, where the charitable match is relatively low? Or does it come from a small number of companies like mine with a relatively high charitable match?

I was surprised too when I saw that number on their website. I think you could get there though by just thinking about how many employees are at these companies that offer matching. The large caveat that I previously mentioned in the post though is that these companies would certainly alter their matching programs if too many donations started to be requested. I still think there are at least millions of dollars of easily available matching donations opportunities that we could take advantage of especially if we spread out the campaign across as many companies as possible.

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