5 Key Takeaways for CSR Professionals from the 2021 Giving in Numbers Report

In partnership with private companies, Chief Executive’s for Corporate Purpose (CECP) has recently released the 2021 Edition of Giving in Numbers, its signature annual report. 

Billed as “the unrivaled leader in benchmarking on corporate social investments,” the Giving in Numbers report examines trends in corporate social responsibility (CSR) across large corporations. The 2021 Edition is based on survey responses from over 200 large companies across industries in 2020. 

With insights that cover community investments, employee engagement, operations, and measurement and evaluation, the data presented helps CSR professionals assess their own performance, as well as keep tabs on the state of corporate social responsibility at large. 

Here, we summarize five key takeaways from the data. We also offer key questions to help drive action for those seeking to leverage CSR programs for the benefit of their employees, community, and bottom line.

Community investments remain the backbone of CSR

Giving is on the rise

The 2021 data solidifies the role of community investments as the fundamental component of CSR. Almost across the board, community investment as a CSR strategy is growing. In the last three years, median total corporate giving increased 41%, and 68% of companies have increased community investments by at least 2%. 

Community investment in the form of direct cash, grants from foundations, or non-cash contributions is on the rise for a majority of corporations: 

  • 63% increased direct cash
  • 68% increased foundation cash
  • 65% increased non-cash 

Data includes companies that have reported in each of the last five years.

Non-cash and foundation giving take up more share

It’s clear that grants to communities in all forms remain a top and growing priority for businesses. Non-cash investment experienced the largest proportional growth of community investments, expanding from 19% of total giving in 2016 to 22% in 2020, with the lion’s share of the increase in the form of product donations. Much of this increase was a direct response to COVID, such as masks and medical equipment. Other non-cash giving included Pro Bono contributions, as well as in-kind gifts such as office space, real estate, and patents. 

Foundation giving also increased its share from 31% in 2016 to 34% in 2020. Proportionally with the growth in non-cash and foundation giving, direct cash’s share of total community investment shrank. The overall expansion in community investment across industries paints a clear picture of its preeminence in corporate responsibility practice. 

Key questions to drive action

Do you currently offer community grants?

If you don’t, you’re behind—but don’t worry. The right software makes launching a new grants program easy for everyone involved. In fact, organizations large and small launch grants programs on Submittable in an average of just 14 days. Find out more.

Is your existing grants program poised for future growth? 

With trends toward community investment increasing, it’s a good time to assess whether your program is ready to take on more. An appropriate budget, efficient grant management software, and commitment from company leadership and staff alike should all be key considerations. 

Are you taking advantage of opportunities for non-cash contributions? 

You might be in a position to make a big impact through the donation of your products or services. Not sure where to start? Your workforce has all kinds of connections in your community. Try getting input from your employees on what they would give and to whom if you were to begin or expand your non-cash contributions. 

Is it the right time to create a foundation? Foundation giving is on the rise, and it might be a good time to reexamine your community investment strategy. Explore options for structuring your corporate giving.  

Your partner in community investments

Submittable’s grant management solution makes it easy to launch, manage, and measure your social impact programs, from start to finish. 


Impact measurement is table stakes 

A full 92% of companies measured social outcomes on at least one grant in 2020. Taking a closer look, Giving in Numbers found that of companies that measure grant impact:

  • 28% measured all grants
  • 39% measured strategic programs
  • 25% measured threshold, cause area, or both
  • 8% identified other

A three year trend further shows that measurement of social outcomes has been on the rise, with the proportion of companies measuring all grants and strategic programs growing by a point each (from 29% to 30% and 35% to 36%, respectively). While not all companies measure the impact of all grants, clearly, some outcomes assessment is an essential component of any community investment program.

Leveraging existing efforts

How to measure social impact can be a sticky issue. Of course, you want to measure short- and long-term impact in the communities of your investments. 

But CSR professionals are also accountable for hard business goals, such as improved reputation and employee engagement. Here, the Giving in Numbers data offers a helpful strategy—leveraging existing efforts to do the job.  

Of companies that assess outcomes in terms of employee metrics, the most common method was to leverage an existing employee survey, reported by 55% of respondents. According to Giving in Numbers, the most common benefits among employees were: 

  • Increased employee engagement score (55%)
  • Attracting and recruiting better job candidates (18%)
  • Improved retention (10%)

CECP found a similar strategy when it comes to brand measurement. Of companies that measured their impact in terms of brand and/or customers, the most common strategy, practiced by 36% of respondents, was via an existing external brand assessment. The most common benefits in this instance were:

  • Improved reputation/trust score (33%)
  • Improved perception of brand (26%)
  • Attracting and retaining the best candidates and employees (21%)

Growth in investor interest

One of the most remarkable trends identified by Giving in Numbers is the growing role of investors as a key stakeholder in corporate social responsibility. Across various methods, including ESG (environment, social, and government) scores (determined by Bloomberg), sustainability reporting, and social KPIs, there has been phenomenal growth in recent years in both considering investor perspectives and providing data to investors. 

Specifically, some key findings were:

  • A 40% increase in teams providing ESG information to investors (from 57% in 2015 to 80% in 2019)
  • A 21% increase in a single year of companies considering the investor perspective on sustainability topics (from 58% in 2019 to 70% in 2020)
  • 78% of companies currently consider the investor perspective when reporting social results in sustainability reports

This data makes clear that investors, like consumers, are increasingly holding companies accountable for their commitment to CSR. 

Key questions to drive action

Are you measuring the impact of your community investments within communities served?

Impact measurement is a tricky topic. Choosing the right grant management software helps. Submittable’s Impact Reports automatically aggregate qualitative and quantitative data to help you tell the full story of your impact. And here are the best questions to ask when it comes to measuring grant impact. 

Are you measuring the impact of your community investments in terms of your employees, customers, or brand? 

If not, consider ways in which you could leverage existing undertakings, such as employee satisfaction surveys or external brand assessments. 

Have you been providing social impact data to investors? 

Don’t wait until they ask you. Your commitment to CSR is good business, and your investors know it. Get ahead of current trends by proactively sharing ESG scores, sustainability reports, and other CSR metrics with your investors. 

Does your company leadership appreciate the link between CSR efforts and the health of the business? 

The growth in investor interest is just one more way in which a strong CSR program has become crucial to the success of modern businesses. If you’re not feeling completely supported by your leadership, Giving in Numbers provides additional data to help you make your case. 

DEI investments are on the rise 

DEI becomes better funded and more important

George Floyd’s murder in 2020 galvanized a racial reckoning across the country, and corporate America was no exception. Giving in Numbers found DEI investments both grew and grew in importance: 

  • Almost all companies surveyed (93%) said resources allocated for DEI were growing 
  • The median total community investment in Social Justice/Racial Equity in 2020 was $500,000
  • As a percentage of total community investments, the median ratio of contributions to Social Justice/Racial Equity was 2.5% (with median total community investments at $27.5M, this small percentage still represents a significant figure)
  • As the top priority focus area for community investments named by companies, DEI was the area with the second largest percentage increase since 2018 (behind only Digital Donations)
  • 83% of workers said their companies’ antiracism actions reinforced their individual sense of purpose (from a CECP Pulse survey in June 2020)

Giving in Numbers defines Social Justice/Racial Equity as a new category as “a result of racial civil discourse in the spring of 2020”; thus, year over year data is unavailable.  

Trust-based practices take hold

Trust-based philanthropy is a philosophy in grantmaking centered on redistributing power between funder and fundee. A close ally of antiracism, trust-based philanthropy calls on funders to adopt methods of giving that will redress historical and systemic inequities. It depends largely on strengthening relationships between grantmaker and nonprofit.

One finding hidden in the Giving in Numbers data is that trust-based practices seem to be taking hold in corporate giving. The data shows that the companies that measured outcomes across all grants both:

  • Had fewer nonprofit partners in their portfolios, and 
  • Had full-time employees overseeing fewer grant recipients. 

Given the resources required to measure grant outcomes, CECP speculates that these findings are tied to businesses developing deeper relationships with nonprofit grantees. Appropriately staffing key roles that manage grants and measure their impact is an important precursor to being able to develop strong relationships with your nonprofit partners in the first place. 

Key questions to drive action

Do your monetary investments in social justice and racial equity reflect your corporate purpose?

With investments on the rise, people are noticing if you are talking the talk but not walking the walk. That means your employees, your customers, and your investors will be increasingly holding you accountable.

How are your relationships with your grantee partners?

It’s always helpful to take the temperature of your relationships with your nonprofit partners. Here’s why a trust-based approach is crucial for your equity work, and here’s how to find a grant management software that will help. 

Employee volunteering is impacted by the pandemic

Volunteering drops due to COVID

Giving in Numbers found that average employee volunteer participation (of at least one hour) dropped to just 17% in 2020. Clearly, lockdowns and the pandemic played a major role in the decrease of volunteer opportunities and the safety of volunteering in person. At corporations of 50,000+ employees, volunteer participation was only 13%.

The rise of virtual volunteering

A silver lining is that virtual volunteering has taken hold, with a 129% boost among companies offering it (from 38% in 2018 to 87% in 2020). With many organizations emerging from the pandemic with more flexible work from home policies as well as permanently distributed teams, a rise in remote volunteer opportunities bodes well for the future of corporate volunteerism. 

Contextualizing the data, however, paints a clearer picture of overall CSR trends. Giving in Numbers reported that the average volunteer participation rate over the last three years has been closer to 30%—so even before the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer than one in three workers were taking advantage of volunteer opportunities provided by their employer. 

The ubiquity of corporate volunteering programs paired with low participation suggests that community investment has taken center stage in CSR, with volunteerism taking a still-important, but less popular backseat.  

Key questions to drive action

Are you providing virtual volunteering opportunities to staff?

Particularly if you are part of a hybrid team, it’s time to audit your employee volunteerism efforts to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate. 

Could you do more to encourage participation in your corporate volunteer programs?

Your employee volunteer programs will only yield positive results, such as enhanced employee engagement, if people participate. Choosing an easy to use, engaging software to manage it is a start—especially if it’s one that gives employees the power to create opportunities that interest them and helps make volunteering social. Submittable’s platform does both. 

Gift matching poses an opportunity for improvement

A downward trend continues

Giving in Numbers found that both the percentage of companies offering and the total monetary value for matching gifts continued on a downward trajectory in 2020. While 2020 data didn’t seem to have a major impact, neither did it reverse this years’ long trend. 

The report found:

  • Dollars for Doers and Workplace Giving Campaigns each decreased the monetary value of matched donations, by 46% and 19% respectively, between 2018 and 2020
  • Total matching gifts as a percentage of total cash community investments decreased from 12% to 9% between 2018 and 2020
  • Average employee participation in gift matching programs in 2020 was 22%

Like corporate volunteer programs, gift matching in some form is widely available—93% of companies reported having at least one program. Companies looking to reap the rewards of a successful gift matching program should reexamine their efforts with an eye to improve participation. It also may behoove smart CSR teams to turn their focus to meaningful community investments, which in the current landscape, reign supreme.  

Key questions to drive action

Could you do more to make your gifting and matching program compelling for employees?

While gift matching may be in decline, it still provides a meaningful way to give to causes that matter both to your business and to your staff. Taking a moment to ensure that you are giving employees ample opportunity to participate, and are offering matches for causes or organizations that your workforce cares about, could make a significant difference in its success.

In absence of a strong gift matching program, are you offering meaningful community investments?

Of course, sprucing up your gift matching program is a good thing to do. But the larger CSR trends suggest you should focus your resources on strong community investment programs. Involving your employees in your community grants—be that through soliciting employee input or a formal corporate giving committee—is a key way to maximize employee engagement that may ultimately be more rewarding than gift matching. 

Learn more about Submittable 

Submittable helps thousands of CSR professionals launch, manage, and measure compelling and effective social impact programs. By making it easy and efficient for both your company and your grantees as well as providing tools to measure your impact, Submittable is your partner in community investment that makes a difference. Contact our team to learn more.  

Natalya Taylor

Natalya is the director of product marketing at Submittable and is focused on helping organizations get a ton of value out of the platform. She is a bookworm, adventure enthusiast and card-carrying cat lady as well as a writer and yogi.