Charlotte's E4E Relief Helps Companies Help Employees In Need
The coronavirus pandemic has helped speed the establishment of employee disaster relief programs at companies nationwide. That's bringing more business to Charlotte-based E4E Relief, a subsidiary of the Foundation For The Carolinas that runs these kinds of programs.
A growing number of companies in recent years have turned to E4E Relief for help setting up disaster relief programs for their employees. It now has 113 clients. That's double the number two years ago, and includes brand names like Wells Fargo, Hewlett-Packard, Petco and Duke Energy.
"It is solving for a company need to be responsive to employees in their most difficult moments," said Holly Welch Stubbing, E4E Relief's chief executive. "It is giving the C-suite kind of a readiness plan, if you will, for when disaster strikes."
That includes disasters like hurricanes, wildfires and the coronavirus pandemic — or individual tragedies like a house fire or a death in the family. Nikki McGowan works in Nashville for American Tire Distributors, a wholesale tire company based in Huntersville. She sought financial help last year during the pandemic after her mother died and left nothing to take care of the funeral or other expenses.
"There weren't any insurance policies, savings, or even a simple bank account that we would be able to use to offset any of those expenses," she said. "We were already pretty tight, given the circumstances. So those added expenses were just a lot to take on at the time."
Her husband had lost his job as a school bus driver and the unexpected expenses hit the family finances hard. So she turned to her company's employee relief fund, WeCare, which is run by E4E Relief. She was approved for a grant within two weeks.
She didn't want to say how much it was for, but says it allowed her and her family to travel to Florida and take care of things for her mother.
American Tire employees can get grants of $1,500 to $5,000. Since the fund started a year ago, about 50 employees have gotten help, said American Tire's Chief People and Communications Officer, Rebecca Sinclair.
"We use it for the COVID cases," Sinclair said. "We use it for a lot of natural disasters. So last year, I mean, we had the fires in California, we had the hurricanes that came through there in the South and the East. And then we also have health care issues — you know, family illness, members of the family passing away — and so we help with all the costs associated with that."
Roots in 9/11 Attacks
E4E Relief actually started at the Foundation For The Carolinas back in 2001, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Both Wachovia and Bank of America employees died in the attacks and the banks were looking for a way to support the employees' families. It was new territory for the foundation, Stubbing said.
"What we all of a sudden, in a 24-hour period, decided to do was get into the business of making grants to individuals — which is actually quite different than making grants to nonprofits, both from the standpoint of the legalities and the technology systems operations," Stubbing said.
Not long after that tragedy, Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) asked the foundation to help it set up a permanent nationwide employee relief fund. And E4E Relief has been growing ever since.
Last year, E4E made $103 million in grants, up from just $7.4 million in 2016. A big chunk of that came from the $65 million nationwide Brave of Heart Fund set up to help the families of health care workers who died of COVID-19.
Outsourcing Makes Sense
Companies typically seed their relief programs by donating to a fund managed by E4E Relief at the Foundation For The Carolinas. E4E Relief also handles all the mechanics — running company-branded websites, managing legal affairs, reviewing and approving applications, and transferring funds to employees. Outsourcing the program makes sense, said American Tire's Sinclair.
"It's very easy, it's online, it's digital, and they take care of all the decision making," she said. "It's confidential; that respects the privacy of the associate's situation. So we think that's the best way to really manage that."
Having a third party run the program also avoids accusations of bias or favoritism — at least within the company, Sinclair said.
Some large companies run their own relief programs. But over the past three years, more have been looking to outsource the work, for a variety of reasons, Stubbing said.
"There's investment in technology that's required. There's investment in human beings and capital. There are fraud risks. There's some intellectual property, if you will, around developing and understanding a grants policy in this regard," Stubbing said. "Because we've been doing it for 20 years, we kind of have that down."
Employees Helping Employees
E4E Relief could stand for "Employers for Employees." But once the funds are set up, many companies encourage their employees to donate. So it also could mean "Employees for Employees." Either way, it's something that employees appreciate, McGowan of American Tire Distributors said.
"To work for a company that puts that kind of forethought into their employees' well-being is really monumental," McGowan said. "But what is even more incredible to me is that ATD (American Tire Distributors) started that fund with one large contribution ... then it's the associates going forward who have been really keeping that momentum going for each other."
As a former recipient, McGowan is now donating to the fund through payroll deduction.
As E4E keeps growing, it's becoming a bigger part of the Foundation For The Carolinas. Stubbing says a committee hopes to make a recommendation later this year for how it might spin off as its own company.