Corporate Philanthropy: Building A Lean, Mean, Corporate Giving Machine

Giving ain’t easy.

Especially when you’re a corporation under significant scrutiny about how and to whom you give.

But don’t fret. If you’re committed to supporting local communities and organizations through your corporate giving program, you can still make a big impact.

Through various philanthropic approaches, such as matching gift programs and volunteer grants, corporations can make a difference by giving needed resources to specific causes.

Beyond the impact you’ll have in the community, corporate giving boosts employee engagement and generates value for your business. Corporations that engage in giving are able to create a positive work environment for their employees, improve relationships with consumers, and bolster a positive public image for their brand.

It’s important to distinguish corporate giving from corporate social responsibility (CSR), a more holistic approach towards the relationships between a company and society. Corporate philanthropy is often considered a subset of CSR.

While the benefits of corporate philanthropy are fairly clear on both sides of the donation, the essential question for practitioners of corporate giving is: how do I build a corporate giving program without too much hassle?

At the outset, a few considerations can help guide your corporate giving strategy.

What are the key steps? Who is leading at each juncture? How will the impact be evaluated?

Armed with key questions and a basic knowledge of how corporate philanthropy is typically structured, it becomes easier to improve the process and optimize the tools at your disposal.

Remember, a top-tier corporate giving strategy is within reach. Let’s get to it.

Key steps to a successful corporate philanthropy program

Steps for building a corporate philanthropy program

Powerful and successful corporate giving is possible—and there are many best practices out there.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You can follow basic tracks laid down by previous corporate giving programs while also carving a new path for your organization.

In light of your unique brand and giving goals, you’ll want to find your own way regardless of how much alignment you see with past corporate giving efforts. But, by all means, study what has worked and learn from it.

Here’s a basic outline for a generalized corporate giving program:

Establish your giving goals

What kind of impact do you want your company to have in the community? This is the big question.

Take the time to map out how various community issues align with your company goals and the interests of your employees. This will make your philanthropy more authentic. Take it a few steps beyond being just another PR initiative.

You might consider which target audience you wish to reach through corporate giving. Is it education for youth? Issues relating to the environment? Challenges within the local healthcare system?

Honing in on a target population or issue will help you achieve the goals you set at the beginning of your giving program. Be sure to also clearly lay out criteria for what success at the end of your campaign will look like.

Set up your system

Just ask any nonprofit leader.

There’s nothing more frustrating than being frustrated while trying to access the funds your organization needs to help folks in the community.

The same goes for company teams running corporate giving programs. They have to manage all of the organizations earnestly looking for resources to make an impact while navigating complicated systems for reviewing proposals.

To run a top-notch corporate giving program these days, companies might consider investing in an all-in-one submission platform that makes receiving, reviewing, scoring, and making funding decisions simple. Communicating with applicants and reviewers can and should be streamlined in such a system.

Whichever format you choose for considering funding requests, be sure you’ve given thought to how it will work for those seeking assistance and as well as those making decisions.

Build awareness

Without organizations to support, you won’t have much of a corporate giving program.

To reach the organizations best-aligned with your giving goals, you’ll need to put in some legwork. This is unfortunately where a lot of funders fall short. Putting out a press release about a new giving program is not enough.

One helpful step here is to set some basic criteria for the amount and types of organizations you want to reach during this phase. Exploring community-based organizations in your area is a good start. Then, dig into those networks to ensure you’re reaching leaders and organizations that would be well-suited for your giving program.

In other words, take your giving to the people you want to support. Don’t expect them to find you just because your organization is doing the giving. Remember that these groups are busy doing important work in the community and that searching for resources is often a necessary, but secondary, priority.

Accept proposals and requests

Once you’ve established a system that makes the funding proposal experience clear and user-friendly for submitters, your team is ready to proactively communicate with reviewers and organizations applying for funding.

You’re ready to accept submissions from applicants.

Set up your submission software to ask applicants for only the necessary information you’ll need to make smart funding decisions when considering their proposal. Send reminders to applicants that have only partially completed their submissions to ensure that your team has everything it needs to decide who gets funded.

Make sure that applicants get a confirmation email once they’ve submitted everything. That’s an easy win.

If you’ve got multiple reviewers, your submission portal should keep them up-to-date with email notifications so that the review workflow process remains smooth. Any requests within the workflow should be tagged to the relevant individual so that concerns can be addressed in real-time.

To save your staff time fielding requests from applicants, set up automated notifications for applicants so they know the status of their funding proposal at every stage of the process. Remember, this is a step where consistent and streamlined communication is key.

Decide on a cause to support

Values and due diligence are the two most important aspects of decision-making.

Take time to dig into the specifics of each applicant’s proposal while holding fast to your company values and giving goals for this round of corporate giving.

In some cases, you’ll want to diversify the organizations to whom you give. In other moments, you’ll want to go all-in on a specific issue that you care about deeply. This choice will flow naturally from your organizational values and those situational giving goals.

In terms of research, you’ll want to do your homework and scour those annual reports to better understand how the organizations you’re reviewing have been managed in the past. Talk to other corporate giving officers and community members to get a well-rounded view of each organization before you commit to supporting their work.

Give generously

Once you’ve selected a cause, think of ways you can add value beyond just cutting a check. In some cases, publicity around the donation can help both your company and the funded organization advance its goals. Use the moment of the decision to expand your impact by getting creative about connecting your employees to the cause you’ve chosen to support.

There are countless ways to be generous as a corporation and also actively involve your team.

Here’s a quick list of potential avenues for giving:

Types of corporate philanthropy to consider

Each of these options entails benefits and limitations. Be sure to lay out exactly how you’ll be giving at the outset of your campaign and communicate that clearly to organizations that apply for support.

Evaluate your impact + share your results

While it’s tempting to keep the results of your giving close to the vest,don’t.

You’ll enhance your own corporate giving, the philanthropic initiatives of other corporations, and even the community programs themselves when you analyze the impact of your giving and share it with other practitioners.

That’s a win-win-win.

Data-driven approaches to corporate giving are all the rage these days as funders and community-based organizations look to make smarter investments and help their dollars go even further.

Still, remember that not all corporate giving will result in massive, game-changing impact and that’s OK, especially if you focus on urgent issues. What’s even more important is building a strong corporate giving programs over time, grounded in real data that will eventually change lives when leveraged the right way.

Play the long game.

Manual vs. automated: What’s right for your corporate philanthropy initiatives?

More and more businesses have begun thinking of their corporate giving programs as a core business function.

While corporate giving may have been previously associated with one-off initiatives focused on PR, the importance of corporate philanthropy has grown. According to a recent survey by, 77% of respondents believe that employee engagement opportunities such as corporate giving programs are an important part of recruiting millennials.

The question is no longer whether a corporation should be giving, but how they can get it done and done well.

The companies leading the way on corporate giving are focused on building a philanthropy program that saves time, protects key data, delivers accurate reporting, and streamlines the overall giving process for all stakeholders.

Building a lean yet effective corporate giving program starts with the right system to manage funding requests and proposals. A modern submission platform like Submittable enables corporate giving managers to automate key parts of their giving process while delivering a focused corporate philanthropy program from start to finish.

That lean, mean giving machine you’re building will run better with the right system.

Paul Perry
Paul Perry

Paul Perry is a writer and former educator with significant experience in nonprofit management. He has a soft spot for grant-seekers striving to make the world a better, more just place.