Society & Culture & Entertainment Society & Culture Misc

Leave Money On the Table Again? Can't We Learn Our Lesson?

This is how Daniel Claunch, a Katrina victim living in Biloxi, MS deals with the vicious hurricane that plowed through his world and left him homeless.

It's not like Americans haven't tried to help Daniel Claunch and others like him. Here in Houston, we've had an especially active role in caring for Katrina evacuees. We were the first city in the nation to invite them in. We opened our closets, cabinets and wallets. We welcomed displaced friends, relatives, even strangers, into our homes. We even opened the Astrodome.

But too many of us missed one of the most obvious ways to ease the pain - matching donations.

After Katrina, my husband and I began researching meaningful ways to contribute. We looked for volunteer opportunities and we also examined our family budget to figure out what we could afford to give. Neither of us works for a company that matches donations, so we searched for an organization that would. It wasn't easy. After hours combing the Internet, we came to the realization that valuable pledges were being wasted because no coordinated source of information exists on matching gift opportunities.

We knew we couldn't be alone. If more people understood how a $25 donation could almost magically turn into $50, they would make the effort to steer their gifts through organizations that provide matching gift programs.

We read what economists Catherine C. Eckel of Virginia Tech and Philip J. Grossman of St. Cloud State University uncovered when they conducted a study several years ago on matching gifts. Their research led them to a whole new take on charitable giving and left them with the compelling question: What if the federal government offered taxpayers a charitable giving match rather than the tax deduction permitted by law? Would this motivate people to give more? Their study showed it would. 
Americans are not stingy. Following Katrina, millions of dollars poured into charities. My husband and I watched news reports about local shelters that received so many supplies they began turning away contributions because they ran out of space to store them. In October, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the trade newspaper of the charitable giving community, reported that in 2004, donations to many of the country's biggest charities grew by almost 12 percent. Furthermore, the publication explained that many professional fundraisers anticipate a sharp increase in major donations through the end of this month as Americans take advantage of a new law enacted since Katrina that permits taxpayers to write off up to 100 percent for charitable gifts made before January 1.

And yet - with matching gifts - we could raise twice as much. We know where our hearts are, but where are our heads? Anyone, anyone, can donate to a sponsoring organization and watch their donation double. But how likely is this to happen without a globally accessible resource to locate the information?

Almost immediately after Katrina did her damage, many local and national organizations began relief efforts including many programs aimed at matching consumer donations. For instance, Lowe's Home Improvement Centers matched $1 million in consumer donations. Best Buy's Children's Fund matched $2 million. Large companies like these have the resources to promote their fundraising efforts. However, we learned that hundreds of smaller companies offered similar opportunities that went largely unnoticed. They simply lacked the capability to get the word out. A sad example: Service Credit Union, headquartered in Portsmouth, NH, offered to match up to $350,000, but they received only enough money to donate $165,000 to Katrina relief. That's $185,000 left on the table! What could a fraction of this sum have done to prop up Daniel Claunch's world?

Although hurricane relief is the charity of choice today, we now know that corporate matching programs exist year-round to benefit various non-profit organizations - large and small, local and international. Visa, AAA and 7-Eleven are among the many companies that currently have matching donation programs in place.

Even if Americans have unwittingly allowed many Katrina matching gifts to slip through their fingers, common sense dictates that disasters will continue to rear their ugly heads. The question then is: Will we leave money on the table again?

Houstonian Stephanie Tobor is a stay-at-home mother and part-time investment manager who, along with her husband, Robert Tobor, has begun a long-term project of organizing an accessible Internet database to locate information about matching gift opportunities throughout the United States. They encourage volunteer assistance. The couple has applied for, and expect to receive, a 501(c)3 designation as a non-profit organization. For more information about this effort, visit

Leave a reply