Five things corporate funders wish you knew


By Katy Moore
Managing Director of Corporate Strategy
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

As a nonprofit professional, when you hear names like Boeing, Capital One, and Washington Gas, do you think dollar signs? Do you think about headaches and hoop-jumping? Or, do you think partnerships?

As we in the nonprofit community are looking for ways to increase and diversify our revenue streams, our counterparts in the corporate philanthropy space are looking for ways to grow and deepen their companies’ community engagement programs. The time is right for nonprofit professionals to learn how to harness corporate partnerships as a powerful means of support and community change.

Here are five things to consider when looking to build or grow your corporate partnership strategy:

1. Do your homework.

Want to know how to start off on the wrong foot with a corporate philanthropy officer? That’s easy. Simply reach out to inquire about funding before doing basic research to see if your organization is a good fit for the company’s community priorities. Relationships are built on mutual respect. If you reach out blindly, you are not respecting their time or illustrating that your organization cares about building a real partnership with their company.

2. Corporate philanthropy is not purely altruistic.

Unlike foundations, companies are not required to give grants. They were not set up for philanthropic purposes. And, supporting the community is not their primary function. Understanding a company’s multifaceted goals and motivations for supporting their communities will help you craft mutually beneficial partnership proposals. Motivations for giving will differ from company to company but here are just a few that typically rise to the top: garnering positive PR and media coverage for the company’s community efforts; demonstrating a measurable ROI to company leadership, shareholders, and the general public; recruiting, retaining, and developing top-notch employees and building high-functioning teams through meaningful volunteer experiences; and engaging company executives as skilled nonprofit board members.

3. Corporate philanthropy officers are real people with unique challenges.

It’s easy to imagine how great being a corporate philanthropy officer must be. After all, reviewing grant proposals, attending galas, and having the backing of corporate resources does sound pretty great. And, while being a CSR officer IS great, it’s definitely not without its challenges. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments are usually small – think one to three team members on average. Their responsibilities are broad – including overseeing grants, sponsorships, employee giving, employee volunteerism, executive board placement, CSR reports, media relations, and much more. Their geographic footprints are vast – think multi-state, national, and sometimes even global. And, the expectations of their work from employees, company executives, and the general public are very high, often unaligned and unrealistic, and ever-changing. This statement is not meant to elicit pity. Rather, it is included to offer some insight into what these professionals’ roles really entail and to empower you with the knowledge you need to build meaningful relationships and deeper partnerships with corporate philanthropy professionals.

4. CSR professionals are also fundraisers.

Unlike foundations whose annual grants budgets come from endowments, corporate giving programs are typically funded as a line-item in the larger annual corporate budget. This can make corporate funding much more volatile than that of foundations (sometimes larger, sometimes smaller). Every year, CSR officers have to “fundraise” internally to maintain (and hopefully increase!) their annual giving budgets. They do this by illustrating the ROI of their community investments, actively campaigning with key internal stakeholders, and fostering relationships with key allies across departments. In large part, the ammunition they use to do all this is the outcomes data and anecdotal stories they gather from their nonprofit partners. They really do read your grant reports and value the information they gather through your newsletters, social media posts, community gatherings, meetings, and more! The more impact you have (and can illustrate), the more impressive your outcomes, the more ammunition CSR officers have to advocate for more corporate dollars to invest in the community (“See?! Our money is making a real difference!”).

5. Offering volunteer opportunities is REALLY important. 

Over the last decade, with the rise of the millennial workforce, volunteerism has become an intrinsic part of nearly every corporate social responsibility program at nearly every size company. There is a strong business case to be made for corporate volunteering. Company-organized volunteer activities connect employees to each other and to their employer, provide valuable on-the-job training opportunities, boost morale, build teams, and serve as a valuable recruitment and retention tool. Nonprofits who can offer a spectrum of high-quality volunteer opportunities – from low-skilled “day of service” offerings to skills-based pro bono projects to executive board service – have a leg up in sparking and building more meaningful corporate relationships. (For additional insights, check out this free online course from Realized Worth on the power of employee volunteering.)

 If you’d like to learn more about why and how companies give back to their communities and how you can develop more effective corporate partnerships strategies, join WRAG each spring for our two-day Fundamentals of Corporate Social Responsibility workshop. The dates for the workshop are typically announced in January.