How to Support Employee Donations During Tragedies

My heart aches for Orlando and the LGBT community. Since the Orlando tragedy I really have been unable to write or express my feelings. Thinking about what happened makes me numb. I end up in tears, but I want to help. I just don’t know where to start. I’m certain that your employees feel the same way. In the wake of a tragedy like the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando or the Paris attacks, we, meaning you and your employees want to help which is why it’s important as an HR and business leaders.

Many companies don’t have the bandwidth or are unable to create a formal fundraising campaign to help the victims and families of the Orland nightclub tragedy. And that is okay. It is our responsibility, however, as employers and community leaders to help guide our employees to places where they can contribute, volunteer or donate outside of a corporate campaign or event. Here are 10 tips for your employees to consider allowing them to donate their time or money with confidence that they’re donations are making a real difference.

1. Thoughtful Giving

Encourage your employees to take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance. I suggest providing employees a list of two or three charities that you think might be a good starting point for your employees. 

2. State Government Registration

Remind your employees that 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency (usually a division of the State Attorney General’s office) before they solicit for charitable gifts. There are a ton of scams out there. My friends who, like myself, were victims of the May 20th tornado in Moore, OK, donated their time, money and effort to a charity that wasn’t registered. Remind your employees that if the charity is not registered, they might not want to consider donating or participating. 

3. Respecting Victims and Their Families

Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names of the victims and/or any photographs of them. This is a huge sticking point for me because so many media outlets are delving into the private lives and photos of victims because their social media profiles are public on the internet. Some charities raising funds for the Colorado movie theater victims did not do this and were the subject of criticism from victims’ families.

4. How Will Donations Be Used?

Encourage your employees to ask questions and caution them to watch for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. Employees should ask how the donations will help victims families. Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.

Keep in mind that anyone can set up an online collections site on sites like GoFundMe. It’s important the profile of the person setting up the donation page is public and they are someone you know or you can verify is tied to the non-profit, person or charity they are supporting, raising funds for or promoting.

5. What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund?

Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling, and other tragedy-related needs.) Keep in mind that assistance funds like these are not tax deductible. 

6. Understanding Advocacy Organizations

Tragedies that involve violent acts with firearms can also generate requests from a variety of advocacy organizations that address gun use. Donors can support these efforts as well but note that some of these advocacy groups are not tax exempt as charities. Remind your employees to be mindful for newly created advocacy groups that will be difficult to check out.

7. Online Cautions

Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. Hackers and email phishers do horrible things and will disguise sites to look like legitimate donation pages or charities. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted. These reviews can be manipulated, faked or bought. 

8. Financial Transparency

After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites or send email updates so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.

9. Newly Created or Established Organizations

This is also a personal giving choice. I will caution that a established charities can be better vetted and evaluated. They will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed. This is an important consideration to point out to your employees when talking about providing donations to charities. 

10. Tax Deductibility

Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

How to Communicate This Information to Your Employees

I suggest you provide communication to your employees during crisis and tragedies like the one that happened in Orlando. Copy and paste this blog and publish it on your internal portal or in an employee email or communication. Provide them support, resources and information to arm themselves as they like you and myself are left speechless, powerless and hurting. Help them protect themselves and the financial or time investment they are or will be making so that they aren’t taken advantage of. Help them help others because it’s the best way to show love, gratitude and support in times like these.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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