How to Structure Your Corporate Giving Program

In the world of philanthropy, businesses and corporations are uniquely positioned to make a positive impact. They often have practice in uniting a team around a mission, using existing resources to increase capacity, and spreading the word about their work. For companies looking to leverage their strengths to better the community, corporate giving is a great tool to make change.

A corporate giving program is an initiative that allows businesses to invest in social good. There are a variety of options when it comes to program design, and each offers its own advantages.

No matter what kind of program you choose, the time, money, and effort you invest will benefit not only the community at large, but will strengthen your organization.

The benefits of giving

Become a trusted brand

These days consumers want to support businesses and corporations that invest in causes they care about. In fact, over 75% of consumers polled said they are more likely to buy from a company that supports environmental, social, or governance causes.

Kristin Kenney, Senior Associate at Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, explains, “Consumers are much more savvy today. They’re asking, how are employees treated? Where are products coming from? Who are products made by? And they’re really good at research.”

Corporate giving builds positivity around your brand and allows you to align your outreach with your community’s values. This provides your customers new, meaningful ways to engage with your business. It’ll also help you build a reputation as a company that does more than talk the talk. You show up.

Though in the past corporate giving has been viewed as an optional program, today it’s imperative that organizations get engaged with this work.

If the social, health, and environmental crises of this past year are not enough to compel business leaders, then leaders need to hear this: You need a social impact strategy not just to do some good, but to remain relevant and competitive.

Mark Horoszowski, CEO at MovingWorlds

Engage employees

A corporate giving initiative can also inspire your employees. Everyone wants to engage with a company that incorporates doing good into its mission—whether that means buying their products or being part of the team. 

Giving back allows you to connect with your employees on a deeper level, helps them feel more fulfilled, and empowers them to make a difference. With 50% of millennials—the largest segment of the workforce—reporting that they’d take a paycut to find work that matches their values, corporate giving initiatives can be instrumental in reducing turnover and attracting talent

Boost revenue 

Using donations to create a loyal customer base and a strong company culture can help you boost revenue in the long run. 

Corporate giving provides a great story for your marketing and recruitment team. It allows you to get your name out into the community in a new way and gives you the opportunity to build partnerships with other organizations. These connections can translate into more sales and they create a strong foundation for future growth. 

Support sustainability 

Beyond your bottom line, this form of corporate philanthropy supports long-term sustainability. Your business doesn’t exist on an island. It is part of a complex system that relies on the health and wellbeing of the planet, the people, and the social structures that connect them. Investing in nonprofits that sustain the community and protect resources means you’re ensuring sustainability for your business and the world at large.

6 corporate giving program models

1. Charitable donations

A charitable donation allows your organization to give money or resources directly to a nonprofit. Structuring your giving this way allows your business to have an immediate impact

This approach to corporate giving lets you minimize the time and effort your team puts into structuring and executing the program. All you have to do is choose a cause, identify charities that align with your values, and make a donation. 

You can choose to write a check or you can make an in-kind donation. Giving goods or services is great if you have the means and capacity and the community has a need for what you can offer. 

As an example of the effect charitable giving can have, look at the momentum around the Giving Tuesday movement. Launched as an initiative to inspire generosity on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the program encourages businesses and individuals around the world to commit to making charitable donations. With incredible success, the one-day event has helped launch a nonprofit that operates year-round. 

Root your giving in trust

When you make a charitable donation, you can choose to designate your gift for specific programs or you can make the funding unrestricted. Unrestricted funding allows the nonprofit to decide how best to use the resources they receive. It offers more flexibility for the charities as they seek to cover the costs of running programs. 

Recently Mackenzie Scott made large unrestricted donations to nonprofits. She explains the decision: “Because we believe that teams with experience on the front lines of challenges will know best how to put the money to good use, we encouraged them to spend it however they choose. Many reported that this trust significantly increased the impact of the gift.”

Learn more about trust-based philanthropy

Watch our webinar with Shaady Salehi of the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project.

2. Community Grants

Awarding grants to nonprofits doing work in the community is a great way to leverage your resources and their expertise. Rather than picking a charity, you can set aside a designated amount of money to fund grants and invite organizations to apply. 

If your team has a specific cause or population in mind, you can create targeted grants around an issue. Only organizations engaged in that specific work will be eligible to apply. For instance, you could create a grant dedicated to helping disadvantaged communities address climate change. In your grant application, you could ask applicants to explain how they are engaged in this work and what a grant will allow them to do. 

Community grants allow your business to support the organizations already doing good work in the community. Forming relationships with these nonprofits helps you build trust with community members and shows that you’re willing to be humble in your approach to giving. 

This model also fosters collaboration. By uniting around a common purpose, you can work together with the organizations you fund to make change. You can determine the program focus and help guide outcomes.  

Create a foundation for a lasting impact

Some businesses award grants directly to nonprofits while others form foundations to do this work. If your organization is committed to establishing a lasting corporate giving program, a foundation can be a good solution. 

A foundation is an entity dedicated solely to philanthropic work. Though this can put some distance between the company and the giving, the structure of the foundation ensures longevity. Should the leadership of the business shift, the foundation and its mission will remain intact. 

Establishing a foundation has some tax benefits and allows the charitable work to be distinct from the business. This insulates the philanthropic work from the business decisions, ensuring that that money earmarked for charity will never get tangled up in other projects. 

For example, the media giant Knight Ridder launched the Knight Foundation in 1950 to help support its mission of investing in education, journalism, art, culture, and community. Though the business was later sold and dismantled, the foundation is alive and well, continuing the work that the Knight brothers first envisioned. 

3. Scholarships

Channeling your corporate giving into a scholarship program means you will be helping students further their education by providing money for tuition, books, or other living expenses. 

For example A+ Federal Credit Union has a scholarship program for high school and college students in Central Texas. In 2021, they awarded a total of $100,000 to 50 students chosen based on academic achievements and community involvement. The scholarship money goes towards college tuition. 

Funding scholarships is a valuable investment in the future. You’re helping students access education and easing the financial burden on them and their families. Of course, this can have an immediate impact on when and where they attend college, but it also has long-term effects on their job prospects, earning power, and financial stability. 

Investing in education connects you with the up-and-coming generation. Showing up for them will help your brand stay relevant. These are your future customers and employees. 

A+ Credit Union lays out its guidelines for scholarship applicants on their website.

Recruit top talent

Some companies focus their scholarship programs on disciplines related to their businesses. This approach can create relationships with a strong pool of candidates for the future. It also gives you the ability to reach out and support a wide range of students and, in turn, help diversify the pool of talent you can draw from. 

For example, Acxiom is a customer data management firm. Each year, they offer $5,000 scholarships to students from diverse backgrounds who are enrolled in a full-time post-secondary degree program such as computer science or computer information systems. Through this program, the company is supporting diversity across the sector and connecting with potential applicants. 

4. Matching gifts

Matching employee contributions to nonprofits gets the whole team engaged in giving. A matching program allows employees to choose the causes they want to support. They make a donation and the company can match the donation (or double or triple it) to create a bigger impact. 

This method gets employees involved by letting them determine how the company’s charitable funds will be distributed. They can choose the causes they care about most or those they have a personal connection to. By putting the decision in the employees’ hands, you ensure that company donations align with employee values

For example, Related Group, an urban developer based in South Florida, has created a matching gifts program for their employees. This helps them get folks involved and boosts the assistance provided to nonprofit organizations.

Related Group employees submit their requests for matching gifts through Submittable. 

Inspire more giving

Creating a matching campaign not only boosts the impact of each donation, but it also encourages people to get involved. Knowing that a gift will be matched or doubled empowers folks and often results in more and larger donations.

According to Double the Donation’s report on corporate giving and matching, 84% of donors say they’re more likely to donate as part of a matching program. And 1 in 3 donors say they’d give a larger gift if matching applies. 

5. Volunteering

When it comes to corporate giving, it’s easy to overlook one of your greatest resources: people. Your company has taken time to assemble a great team. The talent and enthusiasm each employee brings to the table is unique. Channeling these skills to help charities pursue their missions is a great way to leverage your resources and get employees engaged. 

As part of a volunteer program, your employees donate hours to a local nonprofit. This can entail simple, non-specialized work that the charity determines. For example, your company could donate volunteer hours to a local food bank. Employees would go during their normal working hours to help the food bank with tasks such as packing boxes or sorting food. 

Submittable employees pack food during a volunteer shift with the local food bank.

No matter how you structure your volunteering, this kind of program helps keep employees invested. It provides opportunities for folks to connect with team members they don’t often get to work with directly, enhancing cohesion and connection across the company. 

Other forms of corporate giving can help employees feel a sense of purpose, but volunteering allows them to get their hands dirty and to truly get engaged in the work. According to the report on corporate volunteering by the MGSM CSR Partnership Network, employees who volunteer report higher job satisfaction overall.

Build deeper partnerships

Another approach to volunteering is forming a partnership that leverages your employees’ unique set of skills to help a nonprofit solve a larger organizational problem. This entails a longer-term collaboration. You want to find a partner that needs the expertise your team can provide. Together, you will set goals and measure progress. 

These partnerships benefit both the charity and the business. Working on these projects gives employees more opportunities to develop skills, take risks, and innovate. They can take on new roles and get practice problem solving in the context of a partnership. 

One other option is funding volunteer grants. In this format, your company will contribute to nonprofits where your employees regularly volunteer. This allows your employees to help direct the company’s giving program. It also encourages them to get involved in the communities where they work and live. 

Want to get your corporate giving program off the ground quickly?

See how Submittable can help you put your ideas into action today. 

6. Sponsorships

In a sponsorship, a business helps financially support a community group, event, or activity. Often in exchange for the support, the company is featured in promotional materials. By affiliating with a beloved event or group, a business can build goodwill in the community. This form of outreach gives you a chance to subtly market your brand while spotlighting important community activities.

For example the Alaska Humanities Forum sponsors events that bring Alaskans together and encourage civil discussion. They support events such as the Blueberry Arts Festival and in return their logo is featured on the event website. 

The Alaska Humanities Forum awards up to $2,000 in funds to sponsor community events.

Sponsorships often entail funding, but you can also provide support through in-kind donations. Perhaps the goods or services you offer would be useful to organizers. 

Align sponsorships with your mission

As you look for an event to sponsor, try to find one that aligns with your business mission. Think about your target customers and what kind of interests they might have. Not only will this give you a natural point of connection with the folks you most want to reach, but it will also make it easier for you to show up in an authentic way. 

A great way to approach your search is by starting with the events and causes that your employees are already involved in. Perhaps you can include their input as you create your giving plans. 

Launch your corporate giving program today

Creating an effective corporate giving program is not so different than launching other business initiatives. You want to ensure success by building from strategy, setting clear objectives, and measuring progress

As Alnoor Ebrahim, author of Measuring Social Change: Performance and Accountability in a Complex World explains, “In the social sector, we tend to think a lot about impact but don’t necessarily give enough attention to strategy—and the two are completely intertwined.”

As a social impact platform, Submittable can help you create a program that works for your whole team. Whether you’re managing grant applications, accepting sponsorship requests, or promoting a scholarship, Submittable makes it easy to launch, oversee, and measure your program. 

Laura Steele

Laura Steele is a content writer and editor at Submittable. She also writes fiction and nonfiction. You can read some of her stories and essays at laurapricesteele.com.

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