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Matching Plans Bolster Aid For Tsunami Victims

Corporate matches drive up tsunami donations.

January 31, 2005

International relief agencies say employee contributions matched by corporate donations are helping to drive an unprecedented outpouring of money and support to help the victims of the tsunami disaster in South Asia.

    "We have never seen anything like this," Susan Schroeter, managing director of corporate partnerships and alliances for UNICEF, says of the size of contributions from employees and corporations. UNICEF received $45.5 million in cash and pledges in just over two weeks after the Dec. 26 disaster. Corporations contributed $14 million of that, she says. The previous high for corporate contributions to the agency was $2 million, which it received after a devastating earthquake in Gujarat, India, in 2001, Schroeter says.

    Both UNICEF and CARE USA report receiving contributions from many companies that had never contributed to international relief campaigns before. Marshall Burke, vice president of private support for CARE USA, says his relief agency had raised $21 million by mid-January—$5.4 million of that from corporate sources. By contrast, CARE took in $8.2 million over six months in 1999 in the aftermath of the genocide in Kosovo, he says. The agency hopes to raise $50 million for tsunami relief.

    "A lot of that is being driven by the corporate matching campaigns," Burke says. "There are literally dozens of corporations, large and small, doing matching campaigns."

    Overall, more than $400 million had been raised by relief organizations by mid-January, an amount that exceeded the $350 million pledged by the U.S. government up to that point, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The American Red Cross raised $173 million of the total amount going to relief organizations, and that is the largest amount received by an individual agency. The Chronicle said that while the overall pace of donations to tsunami victims was extraordinary, it trailed the more than $550 million raised to help victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks during the two weeks after that tragedy.

    Companies are mostly matching their employees’ contributions dollar for dollar. But some, like the Gap, are doing better than that, handing over $2 for every $1 contributed by employees. Some companies are setting limits on matches. Home Depot is matching gifts up to $1,000 per employee. JPMorgan Chase will match employee contributions up to $100,000 per gift. Crain Communications Inc., which publishes Workforce Management, is matching employee gifts on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

    Matt Hirschland, director of research and communications for Business for Social Responsibility, which promotes corporate ethical values, says it is pushing its 300 member companies to contribute. "Our counsel to our members is to please give," Hirschland says. "There is a need."

    Those involved in the money-raising drives cite many reasons for the outpouring of support by corporate donors. With globalization, many businesses have manufacturing plants and outlets in the devastated areas. Nike, which has factories in several of the stricken countries, made an early $1 million contribution to four aid groups and set up an employee matching program.

    "There is a deep emotional response to the sheer scale of this tragedy," Burke says. "So many people are bereft, whole communities are gone, people are gone, schools are gone. For anyone who has lived on a coast or near a coast, there is a sense that there but by the grace of God go I."

Workforce Management, February 2005, p. 18 -- Subscribe Now!