Dollars for Doers: The Incentive Nobody Wants

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Dollars for Doers: The Incentive Nobody Wants

When 184 managers of employee volunteering programs were asked which program was most successful they answered “Dollar for Doer programs”. But they’re wrong - and here’s why.
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Dollars for Doers: The Incentive Nobody Wants by @RealizedWorth


Realized Worth works with companies to design and implement outstanding corporate volunteering programs. Our goal is to elevate employee volunteering from a task-oriented activity to a transformative experience.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - 9:00am


Employers think it's great

According to the latest report produced by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), Giving inNumbers: 2011 Edition, "Dollars for Doers has been the most frequently offered employee-volunteer program” for the past few years. More companies offer Dollars for Doers than any other employee volunteering incentive including employee recognition awards, flexible time for volunteering or even a day of service.

That makes sense. Dollars for Doers programs enable employers to recognize the volunteer efforts of their employees with cash. When an employee volunteers with an eligible nonprofit, the company matches their volunteer hours with financial donation to that nonprofit. The typical formula is  $10 per each eligible hour spent volunteering, although according to the CECP report it is not uncommon to see corporate matches of $20/hour or more.

If you'd like to learn more about Dollars for Doers, the Entrepreneurs Foundation offers details about this type of program with a sample template.

I suppose the reason Dollars for Doers enjoys such widespread popularity is that it makes use of the most universally understood incentives - money. Apparently its working. When CECP put the question to program managers what is the 'most successful domestic and international programs” guess which incentive program topped the list? Dollars for Doers.

So why then are only 7 employees out of 100 applying for this cash incentive?

Employees don’t care

That’s right. Dollars for Doers is arguably the least utilized employee volunteer program. We’ve often heard that the participation rate for Dollars for Doers is around 20%. It’s not. According to CECP it is a minuscule 7%.

We spoke with our friend, Kevin Espirito about this very issue during our visit to Microsoft a couple weeks ago. Kevin is the Senior Manager of Employee Engagement for Microsoft Community Affairs, and is responsible for the company's volunteer strategy, giving campaign, Puget Sound employee engagement, and the year-round matching gift programs.

Despite the huge financial and volunteering investment Microsoft makes in communities across the United States, (this year the company and employees are on track to give a whopping $100 million) Kevin will tell you that only 7.8% of Microsoft employees participate in Dollars for Doers.

Kevin has implemented a number of strategies to increase this number:

  • Simplified the application process - drastically.

  • Implemented an App for smart phones that allows volunteering employees to immediately record their hours.

  • Invested time with Microsoft’s vendor who processes the Dollar for Doer funds to increase the program’s efficiency.

  • Partnered with Nonprofits to encourage Microsoft employees to record their hours.

We wrote about Kevin’s brilliant out-of-the-box thinking during last year’s annual campaign at Microsoft. Each year he invites hundreds of nonprofits on to the Microsoft campus, offers great food and drinks and asks them to partner with him to increase the participation rate in the Dollar for Doers program. You can read about "Microsoft’s Smooth Kung Fu Moves" here.

The result remains to be seen, however. Even with Kevin’s solid strategies there may not be much change this year.

Why the disconnect?

In a recent interview with Margaret Coady, CECP's director, I asked why managers of these programs consider 7% a success. Margaret said that unlike almost every other question in the survey this one offered little guidance in defining "success." Managers were left to determine what success meant for each program and didn’t include their thinking in the response.

I asked Margaret to conjecture a bit as to why Dollars for Doers ranked number one given the low levels of participation. She offered two insights that made a lot of sense: First, Dollars for Doers is usually lumped in with other successful workplace giving initiatives. If the annual campaign is a success then it follows that the Dollars for Doers program contributed to that success. Second, Dollars for Doers appeals to managers. It’s flexible and it has that universal incentive of cold hard cash. How could it not be the smartest and best part of the employee volunteering program? 

The Problem with Dollars for Doers

The Cost is High: The CECP report indicates that “companies that dedicate large portions of their cash contributions to matching gifts appear to have a higher ratio of management and program costs relative to total giving. Matching gift programs require substantial investments in grant-management technology, employee communications, and staff to manage these programs.” These high costs can be worth it but you’ll need a higher participation rate to realize a solid ROI on the Dollar for Doers portion.

The Awareness is Low: If your company has a Dollar for Doers program, I guarantee that most of your employees don’t even know about it. Posting information about the program on the employee volunteering website is not going to work. Sending emails and reminders may actually incentivize people NOT to participate (it feels like nagging). The most successful strategy for creating awareness is collaboration through one-on-one conversations. This means you have to appeal to people’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). And you have to do it in person. Of course you can’t be everywhere, so you’ll need a strategy to multiply your efforts. Keep reading to find out how.

The Process is Clumsy: Unless you're a technology company like Microsoft you’re probably not going to be developing smart phone apps for your Dollar for Doers program anytime soon. Asking employees to remember to record hours and fill out semi-lengthy application forms is a huge barrier - not to mention all the work managers are required to do to develop the forms, post them online, collect the information and submit everything in a timely manner to release the funds. Instead consider using a third party solution like AngelPoints. If your budget is really tight (or non-existent), you might want to consider Spark! by Benevity which only requires a one-time, minimal setup fee.

The Eligibility is Low: Most of your employees who volunteer won’t qualify for the Dollars for Doers program. Companies often require a minimum number of hours per year to qualify. 40 hours is probably the most common threshold among the companies in our circles. Yet only 1 out of 3 employees volunteer on a regular basis - or enough to even qualify for the program. That means that the best companies can realistically hope for as a participation rate is 33%. On top of that, many companies do not include part time employees, further limiting the impact of the program to act as an incentive or reward.

The Motivation is Wrong: 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. Understanding the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations will help managers position Dollars for Doers in a way that makes sense to employees. The following blog articles and video explain what I mean:

Realized Worth works with major corporations to launch high impact employee volunteer programs. We focus specifically on the challenge of employee engagement. Call us to chat: 317.371.4435.


Angela Parker
Realized Worth
Keywords: Diversity & Inclusion | CECP | Corporate Social Responsibility | Employee Volunteer Programs | Realized Worth | angelpoints | benevity | corporate volunteering | dollars for doers | employee giving