Impact Giving | Building a Culture of Philanthropy: One Pie at a Time

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, Matt Ray discusses advocacy, philanthropic leadership, and why he chooses to invest in organizations he's passionate about.
Bri Vanderlinden Bri Vanderlinden
Assistant Director of Development
December 22, 2018

For Mountaineers member Matt Ray, the most transformational experiences of his life happened at a summer camp in the North Woods of Wisconsin. Part traditional sports camp and part old-fashioned sleepaway camp, PorterCamp offers a safe space for campers and staff to build a better understanding of who they are, while learning to develop healthy relationships and having a lot of fun in the process. Matt attended as a boy, and has since committed over half of his life volunteering to ensure today’s young campers experience the same magic he did more than three decades ago.

Matt’s eyes light up as he talks about the metamorphosis he witnesses in the campers each year. From the moment parents drop off their kids – who are anxious about a cellphone-free week – to the final campfire where kids release their fears and embrace their new environment, Matt is there, orchestrating it all as the volunteer Camp Director. 

When I ask Matt what makes PorterCamp so unique, he talks about the importance of authentic experiences in a natural setting. That’s why PorterCamp is primarily outdoors, a great setting for teaching life skills like making good decisions and taking responsibility for your choices. Through it all, campers build life-long memories in dew-dropped, foggy mornings with lungs full of fresh, Midwestern air. Here, in moments of stillness, campers come to understand what it feels like to truly disconnect from the stresses of everyday life.

PorterCamp holds such a special place in Matt’s heart that he named his best friend, hiking companion, and wonder dog after the camp: Porter. Those of us at The Mountaineers Program Center are often greeted by Porter’s friendly smile as he meanders the office seeking pets from staff on our bring-your-dog-to-work days. (Matt is good friends with our Membership and Communications Director Kristina Ciari, who he lovingly refers to as his “dog nanny.”) Porter just turned 15, but he still manages to make it to all of his meetings on time.

Matt’s dog Porter is all smiles. Photo courtesy of Matt Ray.


Matt was first introduced to The Mountaineers through a friend. After learning more about the work of our volunteer educators and the impact of our youth programs, he has become one our organization’s top donors. Matt is unique in his advocacy and philanthropic leadership. Within the first year of membership, he joined as a Peak Society member (our giving society recognizing those who donate over $1,000 annually) and purchased a table at our annual Mountaineers Gala. Each year since, Matt has continued to support the Gala by bringing new friends and bidding on auction items, inspiring first-time donors along the way.

Transforming lives through philanthropy

As Vice President of Infrastructure Engineering, Matt’s job is to think outside the box, and through his personal approach to philanthropy, he encourages others to be the best version of themselves. He challenges those around him with the question: how are you giving back?

It’s easy to see the talent and leadership skills Matt possesses. His approach is all about making the giving process easy and fun. It seems serendipitous that he would end up at Salesforce, a company well known for their unique workplace culture, commitment to philanthropy, and matching donation campaigns. For The Mountaineers, matching donations generate over $130,000 in philanthropic revenue annually. This includes matching membership dues, volunteer hours, and outright donations. By submitting their contribution for a match, donors and volunteers provide over a thousand youth and adults with scholarships to explore and connect with our wild places. These gifts are life changing.

Linking philanthropy to the workplace helps employees feel more connected to their community. Employer matching is making a notable difference with charities across the nation, contributing an estimated $4.8 billion to U.S. nonprofits each year. In 2017, Salesforce climbed to #1 on the “100 Best Companies” list by Fortune, citing strong encouragement of employee philanthropy and a commitment to creating a rewarding work environment, with 56 paid hours each year for employees to volunteer. The culture is elevated through workplace events designed to build camaraderie between colleagues and offer easy ways to give back to the community.

Employees from companies that support philanthropic giving perform better too. Finding meaning in our work is a priority for today’s workforce, and companies that connect with employees on social issues and community impact drastically improve their ability to attract and retain talent. It’s a cultural shift worth paying attention to, and Matt embodies it well: make it personal, make it enjoyable, and don’t squander your employee benefits if you’re fortunate to have them.

Giving is rewarding… and fun!

A nonprofit’s effectiveness exponentially increases with advocates like Matt. “It’s all about gamifying the experience,” he says. Matt has many examples where he turned a personal challenge into something fun, ultimately raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities, while helping people understand the real difference their support makes in a community.

An exceptional example of this is Pi Day, an event where Salesforce executives volunteer to receive an actual pie to the face, with all proceeds benefiting the nonprofit of their choice. Matt embraced the unique fundraising opportunity and took it a step further, upping the ante for his coworkers and offering to match every bid raised. As a result, Matt was covered in key lime pie and The Mountaineers received $6,000 to support our members and volunteers – and it all started with a $1,500 bid from a group of his employees (they drew straws to decide who actually got to ‘pie’ Matt). Matt matched the $1,500, and Salesforce matched the combined total.

Salesforce is not the only example of a strong workplace giving culture. The Mountaineers also receive philanthropic support from Adobe, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing, Expedia, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Nordstrom, Starbucks, Tableau, and others. Many workplace giving programs make it easy to donate through payroll deduction, dollar-for-dollar matching gifts, and grants to employees who use their “volunteer time off.” As an organization relying primarily on volunteer expertise to deliver on our mission, The Mountaineers receives twice the impact when employees take advantage of their volunteer benefits.

“I think we can all agree that there are enough programs that just need a little bit to get things done, and $1,000 can change a program,” Matt says. Just as climbing a mountain starts with one small step, building a culture of philanthropy starts with a single gift.

For one week every summer, Matt takes full advantage of his volunteer time off and heads to CampPorter. When he puts on his hat, boots, and sunglasses – his “camp uniform” – Matt shifts from the responsible, busy executive to the forever-young counselor. Through his campers, Matt reconnects to his personal transformation long ago.

Matt supports PorterCamp and The Mountaineers because he knows the outdoor experience has the power to change lives for the better. He wants future adventurers to experience the same profound transformation he did. This spirit of paying it forward – embodied by our donors and volunteers – makes The Mountaineers’ mission possible.

Double Your Impact

Many companies sponsor workplace giving programs to support their employees’ charitable donations and volunteer commitment to the community. To find out if your company matches, contact your HR department. If you have any questions about matching gifts or would like to serve as a Workplace Ambassador for your company’s matching gift program, please email development@mountaineers.org. We'd love to have your support!


This article originally appeared in our Winter 2019 issue of Mountaineer  Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.


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