Tag Archives: non-profit

Is Your Employer Really Matching Your Charitable Gifts?

I’m a big giver. Whenever a friend, family member or colleague is asking for support, I try my best to participate in some way. Typically, it’s through monetary donations, and I am happy to do it. It helps a cause that is close to someone, is tax deductible, and sometimes, companies match your donation, doubling your gift. However, in my experience, that last part wasn’t always the case.

One of my employers was huge on giving back. They were always touting corporate social responsibility and encouraging us to help and give back to others. One of the ways they did this was through corporate matching gifts. What are matching gifts you ask? They’re extensions of corporate philanthropy by which companies support employee’s charitable giving to a wide range of non-profits.

Every time my husband or I were asked to make a donation, I was pretty psyched that it would be doubled by my employer. It was free (and more!) money for so many well-deserving charities. There was definitely some extra leg work I had to do, like fill out some basic information and get a tax ID number for the cause I was supporting, but it was a small price to pay for free money in my opinion. It was only later that I found out my company wasn’t really matching any of my donations.

I did some investigating after a charity I was closely affiliated with told me they had no record of my company matched donations. I figured it must have been a mistake or maybe just slipped through the cracks, but sadly, it wasn’t. Turns out, every donation I made while on the company’s payroll was never matched. How could that have happened?

Well, apparently there was never really a formal process for matching donations at my company because, unfortunately, not a lot of people took advantage of the program, even though it was highly promoted. So while I kept submitting matches, no one was really doing anything about it. Thankfully, I had saved all the forms I filled out, was able to resubmit them, and the charities I donated to finally received my matching gifts.

If your company offers a matching gift program, take the extra steps to participate. It’s FREE money to support great causes and goes a long way. But, do your due diligence and make sure you receive documentation that your corporate matches were actually made. And if you’re company who matches gifts, first, kudos to you! More companies should be like you. Just ensure you have a streamlined process in place so everyone wins.

How the Hungry Fed Me

This week I volunteered at a food pantry. My company organized a full week of donating your time to a charity of your choice or one of many they are affiliated with. I thought it was pretty cool that I was getting paid to do something that helped others on my company’s dime. More companies should allow their employees to do that.

So me and a bunch of other people assisted with food distribution and organization at a New York City church downtown. It was sweltering hot, it smelled funny, and some of it was a bit unorganized. Having worked for a non-profit, I accepted it. I was there to help, not complain.

My experience humbled me, as volunteering always does. I listened as our team leader spoke of only being able to help 35 people during each opening; the heartbreak of turning so many others away; how her clients could only come once a month for food and had to turn elsewhere for meals while they waited for the calendar to turn. Suddenly, my bullshit didn’t seem so big and important.

Hearing all of this impacted me, but nothing prepared me for the people who walked through that tiny door. They had waited for hours on a line to be one of the 35 “lucky ones” and stood again to actually receive their groceries. It was over 90 degrees. These people were standing in the hot, beating sun, patiently waiting for us to help them. They were so gracious and appreciative that we could give them some cereal, juice, a few vegetables. And then they had to schlep their food home, some ill, some frail, all poor and hungry.

As I handed out food, engaged with clients, and bonded with co-workers I barely knew, I felt so thankful. I never truly realized how many people didn’t have food. Sure, I’d participated in food drives and made monetary donations to charities in need, but I had never really gotten my hands dirty in this way.

When I got home, I made the most of what I had in my cupboards and refrigerator.  I begged my husband to work with me not to waste food, and to try and curb our impulse purchases that usually end up in the trash by week’s end. Leftovers will now last a little longer in our home.

If you get the opportunity, give back. It’s better than the delicious meal you’ll have tonight, the tasty martini that will wet your lips this weekend, and the new shoes you just got on sale. It’ll make you feel warm and grateful inside, and you might just change your everyday routine in a way that helps others.

Why Do Calls for Volunteers Go Unanswered?

When I lost my job, I knew I did not want to waste my time on the couch, watching TV and regretting that I didn’t do more with my time off. I had been unemployed before and regretted not taking advantaged of the time that I had when not  looking for a job or taking care of things I otherwise didn’t have time to while I was working.

Immediately, I decided to volunteer. After working at a non-profit, especially one that depended so heavily on volunteers, I knew that there was a great need at so many organizations for people like myself. I could do more than just answer phones and stuff envelopes, I could help develop strategic plans, write press releases, build media lists, create collateral materials; the list was hefty with communications and public relations experience. And I would even stuff envelopes and answer phones. I just knew that I could and wanted to give back.

I began by applying at places that I interested me; places that I would like to work if I had chance, but since I couldn’t, at least could be a part of the team in a voluntary role. My interests varied, so there was a lot to choose from. Unfortunately, no one was answering my calls, emails or applications.

I must have applied to at least 10 non-profits in the last five months. I applied at the YMCA, the Jubliee Center, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, the Innocence Project, Hoboken University Medical Center, and others, throughout Hoboken, Manhattan and surrounding northern New Jersey towns, but no one got back to me. My husband even applied to a non-profit or two and no one got back to him either.

I understand that many non-profits are probably bogged down with unemployed people who are interested in giving back while they are looking for their next career move, but what I don’t get is how these organizations advertise and beg for volunteers yet don’t answer when people heed their call.  I know that some volunteers only want to do something related to their field, but at least call them back. Maybe they’d be willing to do something else or contribute in another way that you never thought possible. Non-profits are losing many valuable people by not returning calls and emails of those who are willing to help. It creates a false sense of urgency for your causes and your needs. And by not developing these relationships, non-profits are losing more than just those who can help, but those who can help foster their mission.

Lost My Job Too, But Worrying Less

Since my last posting, I too lost my job. I wrote my last piece back in early February and  about four weeks later, I became a casualty of the workforce. I wasn’t all that surprised. 

I worked for one of the nation’s most recognized non-profit disaster relief organizations.  I handled their communications for the northern New Jersey region. Most recently, I had dealt with large scale fires in areas like Hoboken, Paterson, Newark and Jersey City, as well as the aviation disasters that hit my region, including US Airways Flight 1549 and Continental Airlines Flight 3407. It was a tough job when disasters hit, both mentally and physically. I could tell I was being phased out though. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Our CEO was instructing folks to find volunteers to do portions of my job and had consultants come in left and right to do other facets of communications. When I confronted him, he lied straight to my face. I understand if you can’t tell employees that they are going to lose their job in a few weeks, but note to upper management: don’t lie to your employees, you lose more credibility than you’ll ever imagine. 

Back to my story. So I lost my job and my husband and I became a married couple with no positive cash flow coming in, despite some severance packages and accrued vacation time. Surprisingly enough, I never felt better. I felt so trapped at my job that when I lost it, it felt as if a 20 pound weight had been lifted from me. All the anxiety about whether or not I might lose my job, the low employee morale and the way that things were handled at the organization were no longer weighing on my shoulders. It was such a release. While I had a huge burden to deal with, which included finding health insurance, signing up for unemployment and assuring my husband we’d be okay, I felt better than I had in months. 

In the interim, I had been applying for jobs for some time. As I mentioned, I wasn’t blown away by the fact that I let go, so I tried to keep one step ahead and beat job loss to the punch. A little over a week after losing my job, I was offered a position at a small public relations agency managing their staff and accounts. I was so excited. It seemed like a great growth opportunity and a perfect fit between my last job at an agency and my most recent job with a non-profit. It also took away the fear of having both my husband and I unemployed at the same time. It almost seemed too good to be true…

And so it was. About five days after accepting the position, the agency rescinded the offer. What? Are you kidding me? I know, I thought the same thing. The long and the short of it is that the company lost a major account and now could not afford to bring me on. It was like a TV show. I went from losing my job to getting a job to losing it all within about 10 days! All I could do was laugh. 

I’m a worrier. I worry about everything. I worry about my parents driving home after dinner from a night out with me in Hoboken; I worry about my brother traveling through Australia; I worry about my socks not matching! Through this whole situation, I have probably had the most positive attitude of my whole life. I don’t know why I am not worried. I don’t know why I am not angry about what happened at my last job or about what happened to me with the job I had for about 96 hours, but I’m not. 

At the end of the day, I have my husband and he has me. While I may have to give up some of my vices over the next few months if things don’t come together on employment front, I can do that. The world won’t end. I know I am better off than I was at the non-profit or if I joined the agency that thought I would be starting work with soon.    Maybe public relations and communications isn’t for me. Maybe this is a new chapter that is opening up for me and I just have to figure it out. Maybe this is my chance to really make a difference. The possibilities are endless. While so many doors have closed, no they’ve actually slammed in my face over the three weeks, new ones will open and I’ll be there with a smile.