It’s Time for Employee-Funded Disaster Relief Programs

Date: June 14, 2013

Employee-Funded Disaster ReliefFinancial assistance programs build community among staff and promote longevity.

In 2007, as Wellesley, Massachusetts-based Benchmark Senior Living prepared for its 10th anniversary, staff members were asked to come up with an idea to celebrate the company’s history while also recognizing its associates, who had helped make the company’s success possible.

Most organizations would just throw a party, but Benchmark wanted something sustainable. So Benchmark staff members came up with the One Company Fund, a nonprofit organization that is fully supported by donations and fundraisers and that provides grants of up to $5,000 to employees dealing with natural disasters, family illness, death, and other unexpected challenges.

Could other modest-sized businesses do something similar? Lisa Orndorff, manager of employee relations and engagement at the Society for Human Resource Management, believes so.

“I think anytime an employer can implement an effective tool or mechanism to assist employees during a time of crisis or distress [it] will add up to a ‘good idea,'” she says, as such programs not only alleviate stress and enhance productivity but also allow employees to literally “give” to coworkers in need.

Small business owners hoping to mirror the success of the One Company Fund would do well to take the following five pieces of advice to heart while establishing their own programs:

1. Consider what you want to accomplish.

That’s the first suggestion shared Benchmark’s Kelly Mazza, who is director of One Company Fund engagement. “You have to be thoughtful about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to oversee it, as well as whom you want it to reach.”

2. Begin with buy-In.

If you want your employee assistance program to get off on the right foot, “you have to help your coworkers see what it’s going to do and how it’s going to impact their lives and the lives of their colleagues,” Mazza says. Sometimes, she adds, that can involve “a lot of reaching across the aisle [and] asking questions like, ‘How do you think people in your community or department or office will respond to this?'”

3. Involve your financial pros.

Orndorff encourages ongoing conversations with whomever handles the accounting aspects of your business “to ensure the program is set up to comply with all applicable tax regulations.”

RELATED: Unusual Employee Perks To Keep Your Small Business Staff Engaged

4. Get support from the top.

“A real key to our success in this area, I think, has been that the leadership of the company believes in and supports it and basically walks the walk, so to speak,” Mazza shares. It helps, she adds, that she meets regularly with Benchmark’s president, “so he knows about and understands what’s going on, and is able to be as invested in it as I am.”

5. Find strong partners.

According to Mazza, “it’s really important to maintain strong relationships with your outside business partners.” That’s because, in Benchmark’s case—and probably in the case of many other small businesses, too—the average employee isn’t all that highly paid, “so you often need to lean on your business partners for donations and [fundraising] sponsorships.”

READ NEXT: Employee Gifts: How to Give Tax-Free


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