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. For inspiration, check out what other companies are doing.

No matter what kind of corporate philanthropy programs 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 a corporate giving program 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. Plus it’s a great tool for recruiting. According to a recent survey, more than two-thirds of respondents said they’re more likely to apply for and accept a job with a socially responsible company.

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 types of corporate giving programs

1. 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 grant programs 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 internal and external 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. Plus these connections can become long-term partnerships.

Meet community members where they are

As you build your grant program, be sure to center the people you’re aiming to support. Start by involving them in the conversations early. Get their input about what problems the community faces and what kind of solutions might do the most good. Remember: the people closest to a problem usually have the best insight about how to solve it.

Structure your grant application so that it is easy to access and complete. Nonprofits are busy. They don’t have time for a complicated application process. Choose a grant management software that streamlines the application experience and makes it easy on your internal team to review applications and communicate with grantees.

2. 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.

Consider the timing of your gift. Do you want to align with a global giving event such as Giving Tuesday? Or perhaps you want the gift to coincide with an event you’re planning or a product launch you’re preparing. Adding a charitable component to business programs can be a great way to drum up more interest in both initiatives.

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.

Philanthropist Mackenzie Scott has become known for making 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.”

3. 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. An employee donates to a nonprofit and the companies will match or double the donation 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.

Make giving quick and easy

These days, most employees expect companies to have some form of corporate giving and matching. According to the latest report from Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose, 85% of companies surveyed offer year-round matching gifts programs.

Despite matching gift programs being incredibly popular, participation can be a struggle. It turns out, one of the main reasons employees don’t participate in corporate giving programs is because the process is too complex. This is where technology comes in. One study found that nearly half of employees said an easy-to-use, online technology platform was a top motivating factor to donate. Choose a corporate giving platform that makes it easy for employees to get excited about giving and helps them track their impact.

4. 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 local nonprofits 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. You can also find opportunities that encourage employees to use their professional skills in their volunteer efforts.

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. This has countless benefits for morale and engagement. Plus it can actually improve employee mental and physical health.

Let employees lead the way 

Volunteering is most impactful when employees get to choose the causes they give their time to. Rather than making your volunteer program feel like a top-down initiative, put employees in the driver’s seat. Seek out employee feedback to help you organize volunteer opportunities. And empower employees to create volunteer events and invite their coworkers.

Taking this approach lets you build on the relationships that already exist within your company. It’s much more powerful to get an invite from someone on your team who’s excited about a cause rather than a company-wide email from HR.

5. 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.

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.

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.

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.

Create your corporate giving program today

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

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 corporate social responsibility 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, manage, and measure your program.

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