Most mature employee volunteering programs now include employee volunteer grants commonly known in North America as Dollars for Doers. Companies position the programs as an incentive to generate participation, which inevitably ends in failure. Here’s some guidance on how to use them correctly.


By Chris Jarvis

First, the facts

According to the latest data from CECP’s report Giving In Numbers: 2014:

  • A whopping 98% of Fortune 500 companies surveyed (261 in total) offered the benefit to full time employees.
  • The median match in 2013 was $10 per hour volunteered.
  • Most companies capped Dollars for Doers programs at $500 per employee.
  • Among companies matching predominantly through Dollars for Doers programs, 57% targeted matches to predetermined strategic partners or cause areas.

And now the sobering statistic: The median percentage of employees who participated in 2013 was just 3%. Yep, you read that right: just a measly 3%.

The incentive nobody wants

We wrote our first blog on the topic of Dollars for Doers programs back in November of 2011. Many readers misunderstood the point of our article as an argument against this type of program, and it’s easy to see how this occurred. In the article we cited five significant difficulties facing Dollars for Doers programs:

  1. High cost.
    Matching gift programs require substantial investments in grant management technology, employee communications, and staff to manage these programs. These high costs can be worth the investment, but you’ll need a higher participation rate to realize a solid ROI on the Dollars for Doers portion.
  2. Low awareness.
    Most employees are unaware of the program because the communication techniques are ineffective. Posting information about the program on the employee volunteering website and sending emails simply will not get the job done.
  3. Clumsy processes.
    Despite the widespread adoption of third-party tools, there often remain significant obstacles. Asking employees to verify hours or learn how to use the online tools is not a simple process. It takes time for people to change behaviors. Despite the advances of the tools in this space, we spend a lot of time helping employees figure out how to use the tools, and then following up with them to make sure they’ve entered their eligible hours.
  4. Low eligibility.
    Most of your employees that volunteer will not qualify for the program. Companies typically require a minimum of 40 or 50 hours per year to qualify. Yet only 1 out of 4 employees volunteer on a regular basis, and most of those employees volunteer fewer than 8 hours each year.
  5. The wrong motivation.
    The bottom line is that for the employees who are both eligible and likely to take part in this program, it just isn’t motivating.Here’s why:

Dollars for Doers is not an incentive

Most people don’t volunteer. The most reliable statistic in the United States measuring volunteering rates in 2013 reports a participation rate of 25.4 %. This number is a bit higher in Australia and a bit lower in the UK and Canada. In other parts of the world it can be much lower. In Hungary, for example, the participation rate for formal volunteering is 5.5%. Offering employees a $10 reward to volunteer for an hour will not incentivize people to adopt a significant behavior change like volunteering. Coupled with terribly high thresholds to qualify to receive is not a barrier – it is a disqualifier. In our experience working with over 30 companies on their employee volunteering programs we have not found one example of Dollars for Doers incentivizing people to begin volunteering. Not one.

Dollars for Doers is not a reward

For those employees who do volunteer enough hours to qualify, these programs do not reinforce existing behavior. We refer to employees who volunteer over 40 hours a year (the threshold typically required for eligibility) as either Stage Two or Stage Three volunteersThese employees are intrinsically motivated to volunteer for personal reasons. Adding a small dollar amount to the equation does not substantially reward or reinforce existing behaviors that are already present at an intrinsic level of motivation. In fact, we’ve often found that with small cap programs the math can be disheartening. For someone who volunteers 40 hours annually, receiving a Dollars for Doers match of $500 reduces their contribution to a value of $5 dollars per hour. In many cases the volunteer would rather write a check to the nonprofit rather than go through the perceived difficulty of logging and verifying the hours through the company’s volunteer management tool.

Why you still need Dollars for Doers

If Dollars for Doers programs don’t incentivize new behaviors or reinforce existing behavior, are they worth including as part of a company’s employee volunteering program? Absolutely. The key is to reposition the programs as an engagement strategy. Corporate philanthropy does little to engage employees in the company’s community investment programs. Employees often know little about the huge sums of money their employers invest in communities. If they are aware of these charitable donations they often do not see any connection between these donations and their own personal interest in social or environmental issues. They were not consulted on how much to give or where the donations should go. They are spectators in the process. It’s doubtful that many employees would say it is bad that their employer is making such donations – it just lacks a personal connection to the process and the results. Dollars for Doers offers employees the opportunity to participate in the process of creating change in the communities in which they live and work. This can be very motivating and rewarding. But to reposition Dollars for Doers as an engagement strategy, you’ll need to make the following changes:

  1. Get rid of minimums.
    If an employee volunteers for just one hour they should still be eligible to join the company’s effort to invest in the community. Apple has taken this approach in their newly launched employee volunteering program to great effect.
  2. Choice.
    Make sure employees get to choose where the money goes. It’s good to create some kind of alignment between the company’s core business and community investment. But narrowing the focus of Dollars for Doers eligibility to just those social and environmental issues that the company has identified will is not an effective engagement strategy – it’s a focused investment strategy. You need both.
  3. The right leadership structure.
    Work with your Stage Two and Three volunteers by giving them leadership roles in your program. This is absolutely key to increasing participation and helping employees understand that by participating in the program they can truly make a difference that matters to them.
  4. Reallocate charitable dollars.
    It’s not going to be easy, but you’re going to have to start moving money out of your company’s purely philanthropic budget and into the Dollars for Doers budget. Including employees in your company’s community and environmental impact is essential to engagement. But it’s also essential to recruiting Millennials and retaining those with high potential.

For more guidance on how to properly structure your Dollars for Doers programs, read this article by Corey Diamond.

Some ways we can help

Most of the blogs we write are geared toward managers responsible for employee volunteering, workplace giving, and sustainability programs. Our intention is to help you be more successful, whether you engage us formally or not. The work you do is critical to addressing the huge social and environmental issues facing our global society. The role you play in the company you work for is key to humanity’s future. If you’d like our help with your employee volunteering or workplace giving program, please feel free to drop us a line at, leave a comment below, or call us at 855-926-4678. You can also reach out to us on Twitter and Facebook.

Chris Jarvis
Realized Worth Co-Founder
Connect with Chris on LinkedIn
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