CSR for Nonprofits: 4 Steps to Harnessing the Power of Corporate Giving

Doing good used to be the sole responsibility of philanthropy, but in recent years, consumerism has taken a more socially conscious, philanthropic approach. With increased access to information about the issues and challenges affecting our world, we have become conscious consumers and supporters — demanding transparency and authenticity from brands and corporations. Today, 79 percent of American consumers say they are more loyal to purpose-driven brands than traditional brands.

The digital age has created instant access to information about the issues and challenges affecting our world, as well as an endless feedback loop between brands and consumers, allowing a deeper understanding of how passionate people are about changing the world for good. The emergence of this trend presents an opportunity for the philanthropic sector to connect and partner with for-profit companies looking to give back.

According to the Giving USA 2019 Annual Report, corporate giving in 2018 totaled $20.05 billion. While this is only a small fraction of overall charitable giving, the benefits of CSR for nonprofits is clear, signaling a new opportunity for philanthropic organizations to acquire additional support for their missions.

Partnering with corporations and brands will drive deeper connections with their consumers while increasing support and maximizing impact for philanthropy. With the benefits of CSR so clear, nonprofits of all sizes now have the leverage to actively seek and recruit for-profit partners. Here are four steps your nonprofit can take to harness the power of corporate giving.

Ensuring Mission and Values Alignment

When identifying potential corporate partners, it’s important to consider whether their core values align with your nonprofit’s mission. Failing to choose a compatible partner can stir unwanted controversy — like Kentucky Fried Chicken partnering with the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Many were quick to point out the link between unhealthy eating and various cancers.

When high-end yoga clothing chain LuluLemon decided to create its own social impact program, it sought out nonprofit organizations focused on enhancing equity in their local communities by creating access to yoga and meditation across social, physical and economic barriers. While the brand isn’t familiarly associated with addressing inequities, it found a connection with organizations focused on community growth through mindfulness practices.

One of the brand’s partners, I Grow Chicago, is on a mission to build thriving communities in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood through yoga classes and mindful experiences. Since 2016, LuluLemon has provided more than $40,000 in financial support as well as yoga teacher training to staff through its “Here to Be” social impact program.

Connect With Small and Local Businesses First

While it’s probably alluring to seek out giant, corporate partners, setting your eyes on businesses within your reach is more effective — especially for smaller nonprofits. Beyond being more accessible, there is a shared sense of community pride that stems from partnering locally, making the partnership even more meaningful.

For three years, Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County has partnered with Intertape Polymer Group (IPG), a local packaging products company, to put on the inaugural Rock the Boat Regatta, a fun skill-building event for Club members. Using cardboard and a variety of IPG’s colored duct tape, members split into teams and construct boats that they use to race on water. Not only does IPG donate the supplies needed for the boats, employees donate their time to help construct them. Through the partnership, Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County is receiving much-needed resources and capacity, and IPG’s staff have an opportunity to connect with members of the community — making it a mutually beneficial effort.

Offer Opportunities for Hands-On Giving

Although most nonprofits are focused on acquiring more donations, establishing opportunities for hands-on giving, such as volunteer programs, can have a transformative impact on your organization’s ability to advance its mission. In recent years, skills-based volunteering — using skills and talents of willing professionals to strengthen the infrastructure of nonprofits — has increasingly become a popular strategy for corporations looking to do good.

There are numerous websites that match nonprofits with professionals looking to volunteer their skills and talents, such as Catchafire and VolunteerMatch. The Starbucks Foundation, the coffeehouse giant’s philanthropic arm, recently launched a service fellowship program with Points of Light, the largest service organization in the country.

With a desire to support local nonprofits and give its partners an opportunity to pursue their personal passions for giving back, the Starbucks Foundation’s Service Fellows program is an innovative model that increases volunteer engagement. Fellows work part-time to support a nonprofit, while also working part-time at Starbucks.

Create a Corporate Giving Campaign

While corporations are a great resource, it’s likely they don’t have the time or willingness to come up with a corporate giving campaign for your organization. Building it on your own and presenting it to the company is a great way to convince them by showing that it won’t create more work for them than they already have.

Arguably the face of social responsibility, outdoor gear and clothing company Patagonia consistently gives back to organizations that mirror its brand and overall values.

A few years ago on the heels of Black Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year — Patagonia’s CEO announced it would give 100 percent of its Black Friday sales to grassroots organizations fighting for clean water, air and soil. Exceeding Patagonia’s expectations of roughly $2 million in sales, the campaign ignited a record breaking number for the brand of $10 million.

The Power of Corporate Giving

As humans, we have an inherent need for authenticity that aligns with our deepest held values, and these core truths are motivating our behaviors and expectations more than ever before. For years, philanthropy has had the sole responsibility of facilitating those desires to create positive change, but now philanthropy can share this responsibility with corporations and brands through partnership.

Corporations and brands that choose to engage in corporate social responsibility activities and behaviors solidify a favorable reputation, credibility and support from consumers. And for philanthropic organizations, the benefits are undeniable.

Are you ready to start harnessing the power of corporate giving, but not sure where to begin? We have years of experience helping for-profit and nonprofit companies find their authentic identity and revitalize their communications and would love to help. You can set up a free 15 minute consultation with us to discuss your new direction here.

Photo Credit: Tim Marshall via Unsplash 

2 thoughts on “CSR for Nonprofits: 4 Steps to Harnessing the Power of Corporate Giving

  1. ZOLTAN karpathy

    Hi Sam:

    Good intro article on corporate giving. Would be strengthened by mentioning pitfalls of assumed product endorsement, percentage-based donations, shared donor lists, marketing vs contribution budgets, etc.

    1. MagnifyGood Post author

      Excellent point Zoltan and one we hadn’t considered. We’ll expound on this in a followup blog. Thanks for contributing!


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