Carol Urton on how she and her team developed the Experian Hardship Fund to help employees in need

As part of Experian's overarching sustainability plan, Experian Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Carol Urton is focused on four pillars: working with integrity, valuing their people, unlocking the power of data, and investing in their communities.

“Our vision is to create a better tomorrow for consumers, clients, global communities and our people,” Carol says.

While Experian runs volunteer programs and gives charitable donations and gifts-in-kind to support the community, Head of Global Corporate Responsibility Abigail Lovell and Carol noticed there was an opportunity for them to develop something that would allow them to directly give back to their employees.

Just be prepared for the technical side of it. Carol Urton
“We found that occasionally an employee would have a hardship — whether it be disaster related or more personal in nature — that would really put a strain on their finances,” said Carol. “And when those things happened, we found the employee base and HR were reaching out to my group in corporate social responsibility to see what we could do for our employees.”

To address that need, Carol and her team started exploring the idea of the Experian Hardship Fund in early 2018.

“It felt horrible that we really had no way to help our own employees when we were asking a lot of our people to be out in the community and give back everywhere else,” said Carol. “So, we thought, if we're going to really value our people, in addition to diversity and inclusion and the other areas that we're working on, we needed to have a safety net for our people when they were in need.”

They started researching what they could do and found there were a few other organizations that had hardship funds. So they partnered with the Emergency Assistance Foundation to get Experian's off the ground.

According to Carol, they were lucky enough to get quick executive buy in on the project to keep momentum going.

“Abigail reached out to a couple of our executive leaders and found one of them was truly passionate about this cause as well,” explained Carol. “This particular leader had some employees who had faced some real hardship, and he really wanted to support the program and help.”

It felt horrible that we really had no way to help our own employees when we were asking a lot of our people to be out in the community and give back everywhere else. Carol Urton
They were able to get together a seed fund of $50,000 for the project and offered matching donations for employees who wanted to give to the fund.

“We knew that when something happened to an employee, other employees would use crowdfunding sites to help,” said Carol. “The Hardship Fund turned out to be a really great way for employees to help each other out consistently, with the benefit of having their donation matched by us.”

With the quick approval and initial seed funding, Carol and her team prepared for a September 2018 launch.

“Building a committee of key stakeholders within the organization was crucial,” says Carol. “We put together a working committee that included Human Resources, Legal, PR and others that were interested in developing the fund. Decisions about parameters for the program, the rollout, and communications were discussed within the group.”

Carol was tasked with rolling it out to their employees.

For the initial launch, they put together a motion graphics video to explain the basics of the Employee Hardship Fund.

“Then, our biggest push came during our CEO's town hall meeting, where they showed our video,” said Carol. “Our CEO also talked about the importance of the fund and how it goes toward developing a culture of caring — not just outside our organization, but inside our organization for our employees.”

The team also shared information for how employees could apply for a grant from the fund.

To apply, employees just click on a link on the dedicated Experian Hardship Fund page that takes them directly to the Emergency Assistance Foundation, who ensures that they qualify.

The Hardship Fund turned out to be a really great way for employees to help each other out consistently, with the benefit of having their donation matched by us. Carol Urton
“The process is mostly powered by our partner,” explained Carol. “But on our end, we put together a matrix for what we will fund. Then, our partner makes sure each applicant fits within the parameters and monetary amount we set, and they send us a monthly report on the status of the fund.”

Currently, they fund employees with a $500 minimum grant and a $2,000 maximum grant, but Carol said they are hoping to grow the fund as it continues to gain traction within the company.

For employee donations to the fund, Carol said they will be done through their third-party giving platform, Benevity. “Employees can make donations there, and then we match their donations up to their annual giving limit of $500,” she explained.

So far, she said the initiative has been very well received, and they've already funded a handful of applications.

“When we saw the first few applications get funded, we were really excited because we knew there was a real need for some of our employees and being able to say ‘yes, we can help you' has been monumental,” said Carol. “Before, it was very discouraging to not have an answer when our own employees were facing a difficulty.”

She said the fund is completely confidential and the information of the applicants is never disclosed unless they specifically want to share their story — and this is something she would recommend to anyone setting up something similar.

Building a committee of key stakeholders within the organization was crucial. Carol Urton
According to Carol, the early success of the fund is promising because it really underscores their core pillar of valuing their people.

“This initiative fits very well into that bucket,” she said. “And we really think if our people feel like they matter and we care about them, they're going to be even more motivated to go out when we have community projects and share the love with our other pillar of investing in our communities — so the value cascades.”

For anyone looking to launch a similar project, Carol emphasized getting leadership buy-in early.

“Leadership buy-in is a challenge that I think every CSR person faces,” explained Carol. “You need to meet with the right people and get them on board.”

She also said that picking the right fund partner for your organization is integral to its success. “The Employee Assistance Foundation was recommended to us by a nonprofit organization we work with in Orange County, so that was an easy process for us,” she said. “Fortunately our challenges were minimal, but it's a very important step.”

She advised coming up with the budget early and figuring out communication plans that are going to keep money going into the fund so it can grow and stave off the fear of running out of funding.

“And just be prepared for the technical side of it,” said Carol. “Putting together the plan always sounds fun and exciting, but there is always back-end technology too, so make sure you have some expertise around how people are going to donate, how you're going to get money into the fund, and what structure and platforms are going to be able to support it.”

Carol Urton has been a member of the CSR Board since 2018. You can follow her on LinkedIn.