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Introducing Buffer’s Family Support Fund

One of the most conversation-provoking perks we’ve ever launched at Buffer is our Dependents Grant.

This benefit provides a $3,000 USD stipend to teammates for each person who depends on their salary (including spouses, partners, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.).

When it first launched in 2016, the grant was designed to show support for Buffer teammates as they navigated various life situations.

“We we want to help our teammates feel taken care of if they happen to have children or others in their family who rely on their income,” we said back then.

We’ve gotten a lot of comments, feedback and thoughts about this perk over the years, both within the team and outside it. And as the team grows and evolves, we want to be fully aware of the financial and cultural impact of all of our benefits and perks.

That’s why we recently decided to take a deep dive into the Dependents Grant to review the intent of the grant, how it has evolved over time, how it has/will scale, and team-wide perception of it today.

Read on for the full story, our process and methodology, and our conclusions and changes as a result of this review.

The Dependents Grant by the numbers

First off, we wanted to know the data behind the grant.

As of October, 2019, when we began the review, 44 teammates claimed 99 dependents total.

  • 58 in the US → $174,000
  • 11 in Canada → $33,000
  • 4 in the UK → $12,000
  • 26 in other countries → $78,000

That means we spent $297,000 in 2019 on the Dependents Grant.

Breakdown: Dependent Types
Number Claimed
Children
63
Partners + Spouses
27
Parents
8
Siblings
0
Grandparents
1
Total
99

Over time, we’ve seen a slight uptick in use of this benefit:

  • The average in 2018 was 1.04 grants per teammate across the whole company
  • In 2019, the average was is 1.1123 per teammate
  • In 2020, we project an increase to 1.2 per teammate

As part of our overall benefits and compensation package, the Dependents Grant falls in the upper middle when it comes to costs. Here’s a look at it in context of all our benefits and compensation and their budgets for 2019:

  • Salaries: $11.6 million
  • Retreats + Onsites: $700,000
  • Healthcare: $450,000
  • Dependents Grant: $300,000
  • Retirement matching: $180,000 (US + Canada only right now)
  • Growth Mindset Fund: $80,000
  • Coworking Spaces + Coffee Shop Coworking: $72,000
  • Accounting fees: (contractors only; $50,000)
  • Home office + personal equipment: $40,000
  • Lawyer fees (for immigration assistance): $35,000
  • Free Kindle and physical books: $30,000

At this level, the grant is sustainable, though if it were to grow much larger in scale it might become difficult to keep it up.

Interviewing the team

Next we went to the team to conduct dozens of interviews in order to understand the overall perception of this benefit across the team. It felt important to take care with our questions: How many people would say they didn’t want more money at the end of the day?

How could we ask and learn teammates’ true feelings about this particular benefit? Everything stemmed from understanding the true “problem” we were trying to solve: Does the Dependents Grant accomplish our goal of providing a comfortable wage and work environment where teammates don’t have to worry about money and are able to do their very best work at Buffer?

We needed to know: Did teammates feel distracted by finances? Did teammates feel Buffer was equitable and inclusive in our benefits philosophy?

Having established these as the key questions, we broadened our questions and approach to a more holistic benefits interview, with a few questions near the end specifically about the Dependents Grant.

Some of the questions I asked:

  • Which of our benefits do you find the most essential in your life?
  • Which of our benefits do you find most essential to you feeling productive and able to focus on work?
  • What worries or concerns fill your mind most often?
  • If you could wave a magic wand, what else would you have Buffer provide to our teammates?
  • If you could have more of any one of these, which would it be: time, money, influence?

Overall, I spoke with 24 teammates, 13 of whom receive the grant currently, 11 who did not (four had received it in the past).

The overwhelmingly conclusion from these interviews: The Dependents Grant did meet our goal of providing additional support for teammates to feel they can do their very best work at Buffer.

Teammates shared that the amount, though not huge, was a significant way of taking the edge off costs relating to supporting dependents.

“When I think how much it is, $3k per year, it’s more of a message of, ‘Hey we’re supporting you through this life.’ It’s not about actually monetary support.”

Many teammates shared it wasn’t about the amount, but the statement the Dependents Grant made to the team.

“There’s definitely a symbolic level of support and practical level of support in it too.”

Amongst single-income households, we learned that the grant has been part of allowing for some dual-income households to move down to single-income, creating a happier and better balanced Buffer teammate experience.

Most teammates who don’t use the Dependents Grant (and might never do so) still view the Dependents Grant positively.

A few teammates did feel it would be better to allocate the money to other things within Buffer, such as raises. But several teammates mentioned that it was important to create a positive example in the tech industry, which can be less-than-friendly toward families and work-life balance.

From this phase, we learned that the team’s feeling toward the benefit was overall positive, and their perception of its meaning was in line with our intention.

Other distribution approaches we explored

The Dependents Grant in its existing format used a simple model of distributing the grant over the course of the year, listed as “additional earnings” on a teammate’s paycheck.

While this format did meet the goal of supporting teammates, we still wondered: Was there possibly a better, different way to utilize Buffer’s dollars?

For full-time employees (those in US, UK, Canada, and more countries as we incorporate), we currently cover teammates’ healthcare premiums at 100%, and 50% of dependents’.

What if instead of the stipend, we used those funds to cover 100% of dependents’ healthcare (while keeping the stipend for our international contractors)?

We spent many, many weeks in financial projections and queries to look at the costs and benefits of this approach.

The benefits of this approach:

  • More clearly spoke to the intent of the grant (it’s not about providing more money to people with more kids)
  • More stability for teammates’ incomes and budget
  • An immediate $60,000 savings (subject to change year-to-year based on healthcare premiums)
  • Paying 100% of dependents’ healthcare premiums is fairly rare and could have been a recruitment advantage

The negatives:

  • Less of a “perk” for our UK and Canadian-based teammates, who have fairly low insurance premiums
  • Would have required a lot more paperwork
  • Would have been a predominantly US-centric benefit

We also considered childcare and in-home elder care reimbursement, but there are many hurdles to this with a global, remote workforce. (If we were all located in one city, the dollars from this might be funneled into a really amazing childcare center at the office!)

In the end, we opted not to go down any of these routes, but it was a very helpful exercise to consider each of them.

Introducing the Family Support Fund

Although this was a fairly lengthy and involved process, it answered some important questions for Buffer.

We learned that the grant is sustainable. That it works and is perceived as intended. And that the funds create a deep sense of goodwill within our team.

So after this long journey, we ended up keeping the grant much as it has always stood, with a few new changes – including the name.

“Dependent” as a term always felt a bit fuzzy and is often used synonymously with children, though a full 1/3 of the total number of dependents claimed aren’t children.

Thus the newly-renamed “Family Support Fund.”

Another tweak is a limit of 4 dependents per teammate and a new, annual application process. The yearly application will help us keep a better accounting of the benefit and also help us reinforce the meaning of this fund.

As before, the grant remains a $3,000 per dependent per year sum that is pro-rated and paid bi-monthly as “additional earnings” on a teammate’s paycheck.

Over to You

Though this intense deep dive yielded us with a nearly identical program as when we started, this was nonetheless an immensely helpful exercise to validate the intent, sustainability and parameters of this cornerstone benefit.

If nothing else, I hope it will illustrate just how much we think about and care about every benefit we roll out to the Buffer team, and our drive to always keep evolving and improving.

How do you think companies can support working families (of all shapes and sizes?) What about our process stands out to you?

  • Michael Nothdurft

    Your Family Support Fund is great.
    What I like most that you are really thinking and acting in a holistic way.
    You are demonstrating that you you care about your people and they will recognize it.
    They will give you much refund by being better, more engaged and you will get better people.

    I just love what I am getting to know from Buffer it is a great approach.

    Have a great day & enjoy life
    Michael

    • Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful words, Michael!

  • ranavain

    Love it. I choose to not have children but I won’t begrudge people with children getting more money… they need more money! Plus, caretakers in general (whether they take care of children, parents, or whoever) are disproportionately women and disproportionately people of color, and it’s good to sometimes have benefits that disproportionately accrue to those groups.

    • Excellent points! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. :)

  • I love this concept and wish more employers would institute it. Yes, while the amount seems modest per family member, the caring shown is invaluable. Buffer’s values are why I love your company and definitely influenced me to take my account from free to paid. Plus, what if something unexpected popped up like an emergency expense? The amount would take the edge off of a lot of common ones. Renaming the grant “Family Support Fund” makes the name more accurate, particularly in the case of a two income family. The non-Buffer, working spouse/partner doesn’t need to feel like a dependent when she or he is contributing to the family, too.

    • These are great points, Beth Ann! Really appreciate your point of view; thanks so much for reading and weighing in!

  • Martin Dell

    Great, thought-provoking post, thank you. We’re a remote team of 30 people and look to Buffer for leadership in these areas :)
    One quick (tangential) question:

    For full-time employees (those in US, UK, Canada, and more countries as we incorporate), we currently cover teammates’ healthcare premiums at 100%, and 50% of dependents’.

    What’s your process around which countries to incorporate in (and deliver team members the local government-subsidised benefits) versus having a contractor / freelancer relationship (and compensating them for the lack of those benefits)?

    • Hey Martin, thanks for reading and great question! Right now we’re prioritizing incorporation in the countries where we have the largest numbers of teammates. Eventually we’d love to be able to be incorporated everywhere a Buffer teammate lives, but it can be quite an involved process as I’m sure you know!

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