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Corporate Philanthropy: The Complete Guide for Businesses

More and more, corporations see the value in partnerships with nonprofits and other charitable organizations. Just last year, companies gave over $21 billion to nonprofits. This represents a powerful alliance between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors that offers benefits to both parties. 

As a business owner, manager or HR professional, you’ve heard of these benefits and likely want to incorporate charitable giving into the DNA of your organization. But where should you start? 

Corporate philanthropy can take many forms, and it’s important to find what works best for your business. This ensures that your philanthropy program is sustainable and can persist for years to come. 

Enhance your corporate giving program with the help of Aly Sterling Philanthropy!

In this guide, we’ll review the basics of corporate philanthropy and what it means for your business. We’ll provide you with the foundation you need to start building a strong program that engages both employees and the wider community.

We’ll cover:

By adopting a robust corporate philanthropy program, your business can remain accountable to all of its stakeholders, not just its shareholders. This means prioritizing the needs and interests of employees, customers, community members and the environment. 

A corporate philanthropy program could be the missing link your organization needs to fully realize its brand and embrace its potential to do good.

What is Corporate Philanthropy?

Before we explore the ins and outs of what corporate philanthropy means for your business, let’s define the term to have a foundational understanding of this concept.

This image shows the definition of corporate philanthropy, also covered in the text below.

The term corporate philanthropy refers to the programs and efforts that businesses undertake to improve the welfare of others. The term generally refers to charitable donations made to and partnerships formed with nonprofits and other community organizations. These donations can take the form of funds, goods and volunteer time.

It’s important to note that these actions are taken voluntarily by businesses — they aren’t required by external or industry groups to participate in philanthropic initiatives. These programs are typically taken on by businesses that prioritize giving back to the community and practicing good employee and customer stewardship alongside pursuing profits.

Corporate Philanthropy vs. Corporate Social Responsibility

In conversations about corporate philanthropy, you may have also heard the term “corporate social responsibility.” According to Double the Donation, corporate social responsibility describes “a company’s efforts to improve society in some way.” Corporate philanthropy falls under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility. 

CSR can be further separated into internal and external policies to better grasp its potential impact. Internal CSR refers to activating positive change within your organization and external CSR refers to activating positive change outside your organization. Let’s explore examples of each:

This image is a list explaining the difference between internal and external CSR within corporate philanthropy.

Organizations should strike a balance between internal and external CSR to maximize their potential social impact. 

Internal CSR Examples

  • Employee training and development programs: Workshops, classes, conferences, and other career development opportunities showcase a business’ commitment to its employees’ professional growth. 
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies. DEI initiatives are business practices and programs aimed at constructing a work environment where people feel safe and included. 
  • Employee and consumer engagement efforts. This encompasses a business’ efforts to treat employees and consumers fairly and offer them motivating opportunities that lead to personal and professional fulfillment.
  • Employee wellness programs. A notable offshoot of employee engagement, employee wellness encompasses a business’ efforts to promote the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of its employees. 
  • Sustainable business practices. These involve minimizing a business’ negative environmental impact through waste reduction, conservation practices, and ethical sourcing policies. 

External CSR Examples

  • Charitable donations of funding. This includes providing financial support through donations and corporate matching gifts to nonprofit organizations.
  • Volunteerism. Businesses can promote volunteerism by offering volunteer grants and participating in community service projects related to schools, shelters, food banks, and other local nonprofit organizations.
  • Community development efforts. These refer to the actions a company can take to improve its local community by supporting local infrastructure plans, educational programs, and other initiatives that enhance local living conditions.
  • Disaster relief efforts. Companies can provide immediate assistance, resources, and support to communities affected by natural disasters to aid in reconstruction plans.
  • Environmental conservation. Outside internal practices, companies can aid in global environmental efforts related to climate change and ecological sustainability. 

Because of the complexity of these issues, some people see CSR programs as only being accessible to major corporations. While these companies do have a greater platform for change and capacity for charitable giving, they don’t have a monopoly on CSR. 

Businesses from all fields and of all sizes can launch corporate philanthropy programs and make a positive impact on their corner of the world, starting within their office walls. 

The Importance of Corporate Purpose

Right now, our economy is a purpose-driven one. That means that businesses are increasingly thinking about their social purpose, values and impact as well as their profit. Plus, consumers are more interested in doing business with corporations that are cause-driven and that prioritize improving their societal impact. 

According to a Harvard study, highly purpose-driven companies have outperformed the market by 5-7% per year. This shows that CSR is increasingly becoming the rule, not an exception, for corporations of all sizes. 

The first step of creating an effective, productive CSR program is to identify your business’s purpose and understand why it matters to you and your community. We’ll discuss this more in a later section.

Benefits of Corporate Philanthropy

We’ve already highlighted a few benefits of corporate philanthropy for nonprofits, such as having enhanced access to valuable corporate donations that boost their fundraising efforts.

By launching a corporate philanthropy program, your business can provide the additional following benefits to nonprofits:

  • Greater marketing reach: When you partner with nonprofits to host fundraising or volunteering events, you help promote the cause to a new audience of employees and their networks. 
  • Non-monetary support in the form of volunteerism or in-kind donations: Nonprofits don’t only require monetary donations — they also benefit from volunteer support or the donation of necessary supplies. 

As you can see, there are plenty of benefits your organization can offer nonprofits and other charitable organizations. But what benefits will your business realize when you join the world of corporate social responsibility? 

This image lists the benefits of corporate philanthropy for your business, also covered by the text below.

By launching a CSR program, your organization will be able to:

  • Engage employees. Employees benefit from the personal sense of goodwill and fulfillment that accompanies charitable giving and volunteerism.
  • Attract and retain top talent. Employees increasingly express a desire to work for businesses that prioritize corporate philanthropy, especially if those businesses support causes they personally care about.
  • Increase customer loyalty. 69% of Americans say that they are less likely to support companies that are clearly only in business to make money—they must positively impact society as well. As consumers want to spend their money at businesses that care about leaving a positive social impact, launching a corporate philanthropy program will help you secure their loyalty.
  • Access new marketing opportunities. Nonprofit partnerships usually offer many opportunities to get your business’s name on marketing materials. For instance, when you sponsor a major fundraising event or project, your nonprofit partner will promote your business’s name on social media or signage.

Well-rounded, authentic corporate philanthropy practices can help your business reach new heights when it comes to community engagement and stakeholder relationships.

Types of Corporate Philanthropy

This image shows four top types of corporate philanthropy, also detailed in the text below.

As previously mentioned, there are plenty of corporate philanthropy initiatives that your organization can consider when developing or expanding your CSR program.

These initiatives will look different for each business depending on the size of the organization, its giving capacity, and its CSR goals. Additionally, businesses must take both internal and external CSR into account when planning their philanthropic efforts. Nonetheless, some businesses have massive budgets to dedicate to philanthropic causes, while others are more limited and are looking to start small with their CSR programs. 

No matter where your company is on this spectrum, there are several corporate philanthropy initiatives that any organization can adopt. Let’s take a closer look at popular programs:

Matching Gifts

In corporate matching gift programs, businesses match charitable donations that their employees make to eligible nonprofits.  

Most companies match at a 1:1 ratio, but some choose to match at a 2:1, 3:1 or even 4:1 ratio. In addition, companies may apply minimum and maximum donation requirements. For instance, your organization may choose to set a $25 donation minimum and a $1,000 maximum. 

To set up a matching gift process at your business, you’ll need to determine the parameters of the program and create a form for employees to fill out to apply for a matching gift. Then, you’ll promote the program to your employees, explaining how to apply for a matching gift and reminding them about the opportunity every so often.

Matching gift programs are an easy, convenient way to involve employees in charitable giving opportunities, which can lead to greater employee satisfaction. In fact, 84% of survey participants said they’re more likely to donate if their company offered a matching gift program.

There’s a strong desire among today’s workforce for giving programs that are driven by companies, and a matching gift program is an excellent way to fulfill this wish.  

Volunteer Grants

Volunteer grants, also known as dollars for doers programs, are another type of corporate philanthropy initiative. Volunteer grants are donations businesses make to nonprofits based on the number of hours their employees spend volunteering with those nonprofits. 

If you’re interested in creating a volunteer grant program, first determine the requirements for employees to meet before applying for a grant. For instance, you may decide to donate $500 for every 20 hours an employee volunteers with a nonprofit. 

By offering a volunteer grant program, you show employees that you care about the causes that are important to them. And by incentivizing volunteerism, you provide local nonprofits with the non-monetary support they need. 

Discovering which nonprofits your employees volunteer with also provides a chance to learn which causes your employees care about. This information can help you reshape your company’s values to reflect your employees’ passions or identify opportunities to initiate a more formal partnership with nonprofits your employees support.

Corporate Sponsorships

Your business can provide ongoing monetary support or contribute to a specific nonprofit initiative, such as an event or special program. In exchange, your nonprofit partner will provide positive publicity for your business in the form of granting membership in an exclusive corporate donor club or listing your business name on marketing materials. 

You likely have plenty of opportunities to sponsor organizations that are right in your backyard. Most nonprofits host major annual events like 5Ks, galas, golf tournaments or luncheons. These are not only excellent opportunities for getting your name out into the community, but also for networking with other business leaders, politicians and community leaders and members. 

To sponsor a nonprofit, reach out to organizations near your company headquarters. That way, you can work together to help your local community. Alternatively, you can create a sponsorship page on your website. Be sure to outline any relevant criteria on this page. For example, you may only consider sponsoring education or environment-focused nonprofits.

Then, include a sponsorship application for nonprofits to complete. Ask nonprofits for their organization name, mission, the initiative they’d like you to sponsor and why they’d like to partner with your company. Once you’ve received an application, have your team review it and respond with a decision in a timely manner. Consider including your decision timeframe on your sponsorship page so interested nonprofits know how much time they’ll have to account for in advance.

In-Kind Donations

In-kind donations are any non-monetary contributions that businesses make to nonprofits. This includes donations of goods, time or services. 

Here are some examples of in-kind donations in action:

  • A local animal shelter has seen a recent influx of abandoned cats and dogs. They need supplies such as leashes, bowls, cat and dog food, dog beds and cat toys. Instead of donating funds, your business purchases the needed supplies and delivers them directly to the shelter, ensuring that the charity can get what they need right away. 
  • The local Habitat for Humanity branch has a goal to build three houses this year for families in need. Your business partners with the nonprofit as part of your employee-led volunteer program. Your employees contribute dozens of volunteer hours to help build one of the houses.
  • One of your nonprofit partners wants to carry out a rebranding project to enhance its public image. However, they don’t have a graphic designer on staff. Your business steps in to provide marketing consulting services and helps redesign the organization’s logo and brand style guide. 

These donations can be contributed alongside monetary donations. They can also play a large role in bringing your organization positive publicity. To make the most impact with your in-kind donations, work with your nonprofit partners to determine which goods or services will be the most useful to them. 

Additional CSR Ideas 

Of course, CSR programs don’t only consist of corporate giving opportunities. Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of additional initiatives that you might consider implementing in your company’s CSR program:

  • Giving employees time off to volunteer with local organizations. 
  • Implementing ethical labor guidelines that ensure employees’ safety and wellbeing. 
  • Taking steps to increase the diversity of your workforce and create systems and practices that promote participation and inclusion of all.
  • Assessing and reducing your negative environmental impact with recycling initiatives or emissions reduction goals. 
  • Offering employees personal and professional development opportunities such as training and educational programs.
  • Using your business’s platform to speak out for causes you care about.

Spend some time thinking about what’s most important to you when it comes to improving your relationships with employees, community members and consumers. Then, you can adopt one or more of these initiatives into your business practices to kickstart your CSR program.

5 Corporate Philanthropy Examples

When you think about corporate philanthropy, a few examples of well-known companies with robust CSR programs probably pop into your head. Reviewing the activities of leaders in the CSR space can help you develop ideas for incorporating philanthropy into your own business. Examples include:

This image shows five examples of companies that practice corporate philanthropy, which are discussed in more detail in the text below.

1. Starbucks’ corporate social responsibility initiatives

Starbucks isn’t only known for its delicious coffee — it’s also renowned for its corporate social impact initiatives that seek to create a positive impact globally. 

Here are a few facets of Starbucks’ CSR program:

  • Ethically sourced products such as coffee, tea, cocoa and manufactured goods
  • Green initiatives, including donating disease-resistant coffee trees to help farmers 
  • Employee opportunities including veteran and military support, DEI initiatives, a college achievement plan and community service projects

With more than 28,000 stores in over 75 countries, Starbucks’ CSR program reaches far and wide to support employees and local communities. 

2. Microsoft’s matching gifts and volunteer grants programs

Microsoft has an ambitious goal to be carbon negative with their direct emissions and supply and value chains by 2030. They’re also seeking to remove all of the carbon the company has released into the environment since its founding by 2050. 

In day-to-day operations, Microsoft offers plenty of philanthropic opportunities to its employees, such as: 

  • Empowering employees to give $221 million in 2020 with the help of a company match program
  • Encouraging employee volunteering, leading to volunteers contributing over 750,000 hours in the past year
  • Facilitating opportunities for employees to give back through pro bono services

These initiatives help Microsoft employees give back directly to their communities and work in conjunction with Microsoft’s overarching CSR goals. 

3. Walmart’s global responsibility commitment

Global retail corporation, Walmart, has launched a variety of sustainability and CSR initiatives over the past 15 years. Walmart is targeting zero emissions in its operations by 2040 as well as zero waste by 2025. 

Here are additional features of Walmart’s CSR program

  • A volunteer grant program that offers a $250 donation for 25 hours or $500 for 50 hours of commitment by its employees
  • A commitment to pay 100% of college tuition and books for its employees
  • Initiatives to source sustainable goods such as coffee, seafood, paper and beef

Walmart’s CSR program reaches into many different areas, from sustainability to community initiatives and ESG considerations, to create a well-rounded approach to corporate philanthropy.

Review each of these companies’ CSR programs and borrow any ideas or initiatives that you think would work well for your company. These examples can provide a great starting point to gather ideas and build your CSR program with powerful initiatives that have a proven success record at other businesses.

4. Google’s corporate philanthropy grants

Google’s unique philanthropy program positions the search engine as a partner with nonprofits, providing them with collaboration and productivity tools for free through Google for Nonprofits. Most notably, the Google for Nonprofits account gives eligible organizations access to the Google Ad Grant, a $10,000/month grant for nonprofits to spend on Google Ads to promote their websites.

According to Double the Donation’s list of corporate philanthropy programs, Google also matches employee donations at up to $10,000 annually per employee and an additional $10,000 annually per employee to disaster relief. They also donate $10/hour of volunteering.

5. Verizon’s corporate philanthropy program

Verizon encourages employee giving by matching individual employee donations up to $5,000 for higher education institutions and $1,000 for other nonprofit organizations. The company also offers a volunteer grant of $750 when employees volunteer for 50 hours or more.

Enhance Your Corporate Philanthropy Program with Aly Sterling Philanthropy

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t know how to start implementing a CSR program at your business, partner with specialists in the field to give your program the helping hand it needs. 

The corporate philanthropy experts at Aly Sterling Philanthropy offer a variety of services to help businesses discover the good they can do for their employees and the community.

ASP helps you determine your company’s purpose and how that fits into your corporate philanthropy goals. When you determine your business’s purpose, you can create a stronger foundation for your CSR program that’s aligned with all of your other business operations, making CSR a natural part of your organization. 

ASP’s corporate philanthropy services include:

  • Program evaluations and stakeholder assessments
  • Company values exploration
  • CSR program startup, including developing cause platforms and giving policies
  • Community and employee engagement
  • Employee/leadership retreat facilitation and consensus building

You can also engage in ASP’s corporate philanthropy workshops, which are geared toward:

  • Business owners and entrepreneurs looking to build a socially responsible enterprise.
  • Leaders in HR, sales and marketing, supply chain and other functional areas who are responsible for running CSR programs. 
  • Anyone interested in learning how corporations can increase their positive social impact and build brand awareness through intentional CSR strategies. 

Interested? Reach out to Aly Sterling Philanthropy today to begin optimizing your CSR approach and finding the programs and initiatives that align with your business goals. 

To learn more about corporate philanthropy and how it impacts nonprofits, explore these additional resources:

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