Welcome to our partner profile series. Each month, we'll feature insights and perspectives from HR professionals and consultants working with a wide variety of clients to address today's most pressing issues.
Interview conducted by David Sherman, Director of Channel Partnerships and Strategic Alliances at PTO Exchange.
A Conversation with Michelle Naggar Reichenbach
Michelle serves as the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at EAF.
Many organizations want to help their own during tough times. Emergency Assistance Foundation (EAF) allows these organizations to establish Disaster and Hardship Relief Funds that can award grants to individuals in need. EAF has the knowledge and experience to build and administer successful Relief Funds.
Michelle has been in the social responsibility and relief industry for over 12 years. She currently resides in Weston, Connecticut.
1. For those who don’t know Emergency Assistance Foundation (EAF), can you give us a high-level overview of what you’re doing for your Fund Partners?
Emergency Assistance Foundation (EAF) is the oldest and largest standalone charity designed solely to administer disaster and hardship relief funds globally, thereby providing grants to individuals in need around the world. In 2020 and 2021 combined, we awarded more than $162 million in grants to 250,000+ individuals who were impacted by disasters and personal hardships.
As a third-party administrator, EAF independently administers all fund activities – including accepting donations, objectively reviewing grant applications, and awarding and distributing grants – while also advising our Fund Partners to ensure that each fund is regulatorily compliant and increasingly effective.
As financial first responders, we are resourceful and fearless to ensure that financial assistance reaches individuals in need as quickly and efficiently as possible, no matter the unique circumstances. We remain agile and adaptable by harnessing technology, developing scalable platforms and procedures, and constantly evaluating and improving our processes.
EAF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that currently administers more than 350 disaster and hardship relief funds, serving over 10 million individuals across six continents. We have our pulse on disaster events occurring around the world in real-time, and our 100+ team members, located across 10 different time zones, are ready to respond to every crisis in more than 20 languages.
We have an immense passion for what we do, and we know that many of those we serve are experiencing severe financial hardship. This understanding drives every interaction with our Applicants and Grant Recipients, as well as our commitment to supporting our Fund Partners as they endeavor to help their own.
2. What are the most common reasons your Fund Partners feel compelled to start a relief fund to support their employees?
Many organizations want to help their own through difficult times. Emergency Assistance Foundation (EAF) allows these organizations to establish a disaster and hardship relief fund that can award grants to their team members in need. These grants provide essential financial assistance in the interim between disaster or hardship and recovery.
EAF surveys grant recipients to find out how the assistance they received has impacted their lives. They have reported that:
- They felt less stressed or worried overall.
- The grant provided breathing room to figure out the next steps.
- They were better able to focus on their work and personal relationships.
- They avoided late fees on bills, having utilities or services shut off, and/or eviction.
A disaster and hardship relief fund can also help an organization meet the Social aspect of its Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals.
3. Are there any current economic factors or market conditions that are making EAF particularly relevant today?
Absolutely, financial hardships can hit at any time. Experts recognize an upward trend not only in the frequency of natural disasters but also in severity. Personal hardships – such as unexpected injuries or illnesses, the death of a loved one, or a housefire – occur without warning and can have a devasting financial impact. In addition, inflationary increases can result in a greater need. The global economy is unpredictable and devastating events like the COVID-19 pandemic or the conflict in Ukraine can have long-term downstream effects. Having a relief fund established and ready to respond to help those in need as quickly as possible is one way that companies show they care about their team members and their families.
4. What kinds of initiatives is EAF taking to raise awareness around relief funds, how easy they are to set up, and the impact they can make?
Emergency Assistance Foundation (EAF) is committed to furthering the relief fund industry and remaining a thought leader to ensure that relief funds – even those unassociated with EAF – become increasingly common and are administered based on best practices and regulatory requirements. This is essential to ensuring that relief funds remain an option for helping individuals who are impacted by financially devasting disasters and personal hardships.
Many industries, particularly those with a prevalence of hourly workers – retail, restaurants, hospitality, etc. – are showing increasing interest in learning more about disaster and hardship relief funds, and many organizations are establishing funds to help their own through tough times.
Last year, EAF published our 10-Year Report (A Decade of Assistance: Offering Hope Through Disaster & Hardship Relief Funds), which takes a deep dive into the past, present, and future of the relief fund industry, including our recommendations for fund sustainability.
For organizations that choose to partner with EAF, the process of establishing and launching a relief fund is streamlined and simple. Our Relief Fund Senior Advisors provide dedicated support to each Fund Partner during onboarding, launch, and beyond. After launch, EAF independently and objectively administers all fund activities. EAF also provides all of our Fund Partners with access to our Fund Partner Portal, which is a valuable tool for maximizing relief fund success. The Fund Partner Portal provides a curated collection of relief fund resources related to funding engagement, fundraising, and more. It also houses a forum where our Fund Partners can network, ask questions, and share ideas.
Those that choose not to work with a third-party administrator like EAF may face higher than necessary administrative costs, operate with non-compliant processes, and can be ill-equipped to respond to surges in applications during large-scale disasters. EAF partners closely with Relief Fund Services Group (RFSG) to support self-administered funds. RFSG offers consultation for both new and existing self-administered funds, striving to ensure that funds keep administrative costs low, maintain regulatory compliance, develop scalable platforms and procedures, maximize applicant support, and remain aligned with industry best practices and benchmarks.
5. Why have you chosen to partner with PTO Exchange?
Emergency Assistance Foundation (EAF) has often received inquiries from organizations and individual donors about whether they can donate unused paid time off to a relief fund. It is a simple and effective way for employees to support a good cause without directly impacting their pocketbooks. EAF believes that PTO Exchange is the best solution to capture this contribution stream and meet the needs of our Fund Partners, as it expands our donor pool and supports the sustainability of our funds.
Based on research by the U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics, and Ipsos that PTO Exchange shared with us, more than $65B of PTO goes unused annually, which is another great reason to offer employees an alternative option to put those hours toward help their colleagues in need.
Through this partnership, we look forward to helping our Fund Partners expand fundraising efforts to further support qualified individuals who are suffering financial hardship.
Use PTO to Enhance Financial Wellness
PTO Exchange developed the first flexible benefits platform that allows employees to self-direct the value of their unused paid time off (PTO) for other needs and causes. The platform caters to employees’ individualized needs and different transitions in life (retirement accounts, student loan repayments, charitable donations, and more) – offering a choice and flexibility to control the value of their unused vacation. PTO Exchange helps companies stand out in a competitive job market, increase employee engagement, build loyalty, reduce balance sheet liabilities, and strengthen culture.
Learn more about how PTO Exchange can help with financial wellness - download our free data sheet below.