When it comes to philanthropy, corporations give in various ways, including cash donations or grants, in-kind gifts, sponsorships, cause-related marketing, and pro bono services. Companies also like to promote workplace giving through employee matching gifts programs and other efforts that encourage their workers to give their time and/or money to charity.
One sign that a business might support your mission is whether it has taken a pledge of corporate social responsibility (CSR), meaning it takes an active interest in how its company affects the environment and the well-being of society.
CSR includes not only corporate philanthropy, but also environmental issues, employee engagement, and corporate governance. A number of studies, like this one, say consumers prefer to spend their money on businesses that demonstrate social responsibility.
Businesses usually give out cash or grants in two ways. The amount of information you can find varies:
- Corporate giving programs -- These are run by the company itself, often through a dedicated department such as Community Relations or CSR. Companies are not required to make this information public. Unless the company chooses to publicize it, you might have difficulty finding who and what a corporate giving program supports and how much it has given.
- Company-sponsored foundations -- A company can set up a separately-administered private foundation. A U.S. company-sponsored foundation is subject to the same IRS rules as other foundations. They must give money every year and make information about their giving public. They often--but not always--have webpages telling what they will and won't fund, and how to apply. Sometimes they don't take applications, because they only support pre-selected organizations.
For more information on the difference between these two types of corporate giving, see "What is the difference between a company-sponsored foundation and a corporate direct giving program?"
Some companies have both types of giving. A company could also organize a public charity or give through a donor-advised fund. How a corporation organizes its giving is mainly determined by internal considerations about tax and legal issues.
Corporations, unlike foundations, don't exist to give money away. Grantseekers should keep that in mind.
Businesses usually are looking to benefit in some way from their philanthropy. If you approach or write a proposal for a corporate funder, emphasize how support for your project will help the company achieve its own goals. For more information on what companies expect to hear from you, click on this blog, "Corporate Relationships in Action: Unlocking Corporate Needs and Interests."
Corporate giving is motivated by a combination of altruism and self-interest. Most companies tend to favor:
- Locations where they operate. They are looking for nonprofits that work in and improve those communities.
- Organizations or causes that their employees support with their own time and money. (See Workplace Giving.) Sometimes companies base their giving on a CEO's favorite cause; for example, Dave Thomas, the founder of the Wendy's chain, was adopted as a child and the company is a major supporter of adoption and foster children.
- Causes that align with their business interests -- for example, Home Depot gives grants and assistance to build homes for veterans.
While many enjoy the glow of being a good corporate citizen, some companies are cautious about revealing too much about their philanthropic activities. They fear:
- being inundated with requests they cannot fill.
- raising expectations of potential beneficiaries in a good year but disappointing people in a lean year.
- angering shareholders who might think the company is wasting money or who might not approve of an organization or cause the company supports.
- stirring up controversy and losing public support.
Learn more about corporate fundraising with Introduction to Corporate Giving. The course is available free as an online training or in-person class.
To find corporate funders and details about their giving, use Foundation Directory Online, our searchable database of U.S. grantmakers. You can subscribe, or visit our Funding Information Network locations to use the resource for free.
More Knowledge Base resources on the topic of corporate corporate can be found here.