CSRFuture of WorkImpact Culture

The new corporate “ask”: Is corporate philanthropy dead?

A recent post by Tawanda ChirendaImagine Canada’s manager of corporate engagement, posited the question: Is corporate philanthropy dead?

Chirenda noted that there is an evolution in corporate giving which may make some nonprofits wary, especially due to the trend and growth of strategic corporate-nonprofit partnerships. In his recent post on Imagine’s Grantseeker newsletter site, Chirenda stated: “Many will fear a world where corporations are writing fewer unrestricted checks and are more interested in leveraging their employees, business strategy, and only select partners to help those in need.”

He indicated that a distancing from traditional modes of corporate philanthropy might be a good thing, as part of a mix of philanthropic strategies for the Canadian charitable sector. Further to that, Chirenda advised nonprofits to start thinking about how best to engage strategically with select corporations whose giving might align with their own causes/missions.

That’s some pretty bold musing. So CharityVillage sought out Chirenda to ask him all about this subject.

He reveals more important information and gives his advice in the following Q&A with CharityVillage.

CharityVillage: For fundraisers and nonprofits who have yet to start operating in this way, what are some tips you can share about how best to seek out and engage strategically with potential corporate funders? How do you know if a corporation aligns with your nonprofit goals?

Tawanda Chirenda: The competition for funding is high, so it’s important to use your most valuable asset – your time – focusing on potential partners who truly are aligned with your organization. An easy framework to use when searching for and assessing potential partners on how well they align is “L.A.I.” – linkage, ability, and interest.

Linkage is all about the low-hanging fruit. Start your search by listing out all the companies already in your network, including past donors. A positive experience in the past can greatly improve the chance of forming a higher level of partnership in the present. An “inside connection” can be equally valuable. Speak with past and present staff, board members and volunteers. Open yourself up to a much broader network of affiliates, and you may be surprised to discover an ally in these contacts who could play an integral role in your corporate engagement efforts.

Then consider the interests of the company. The good news here is that you can use online resources to make your job easy. In your search and assessment, don’t forget about geography: Canada is a big place. Ask yourself, does this company have a lot of employees and customers in the community we serve? If not, move on.

Lastly, consider the ability or capacity of each company to give – now and into the future. Think of your time and resources in developing a new corporate partner as a long term investment. You may not be able to secure $50,000 first engagement, but as the relationship develops, an initial $5,000 project can blossom into something much larger as both parties learn how to leverage one another’s assets and develop a solid track record of working together.

CharityVillage: Are there limitations to what a nonprofit could (or should) ask a corporate partner re: amount of giving, access to information, etc.? If so, what would some guidelines be?

Chirenda: The most successful partnerships are ones that value openness and mutual benefit. If you have an established relationship with a corporate partner, invite them to collaborate with you on your future plans. It’s never too early to start this discussion. Well in advance of your next engagement, have a conversation about the kinds of projects they’d like to support next year, what level of support they feel would be appropriate, and the next steps for your nonprofit to present the project more formally. After all, they likely have a team or internal committee to present to!

If you are approaching a new partner, the #1 guideline… is to pay close attention to guidelines. Although this tip may seem obvious, not paying attention to the guidelines and preferences of the funder is one of the most common fundraising mistakes, landing many proposals in the trash bin. Many corporate funders receive thousands of funding requests per year. Receiving one that ignored their published guidelines gives busy grant-makers a quick excuse not to read the rest of your application.

Past giving history is also a useful indication of an appropriate ask size, but take this with a grain of salt. The amount of “the ask” should depend on the established reputation, corporate partnership experience, and capacity of your organization. Why? Consider the support you are asking for as an investment. If you are successful, the funder is providing you an investment of funds that will generate a positive return to the community. Like any financial investment, some are more risky than others. If yours is a well-known organization with a long history of successful program delivery and sound financial practices, partners will likely be more comfortable providing mid-to-larger sized grants than they would to a brand new organization.

CharityVillage: With so many worthy charities in Canada, it would seemingly be impossible to believe that each one could have a strategic corporate partner. What are some of the ways a charity could approach a “blended” fundraising strategy that wouldn’t rely completely on finding an angel corporation?

Chirenda: Relying on one partner, whether to achieve social impact or for an income source, can be very risky. Each type of partnership and fundraising strategy comes with its own levels of liability, costs, problems, and opportunities. And not all strategies align with every organization and its stakeholders.

To inform their strategic plans, every organization should explore the right mix of voices and revenue that suits their needs. The good news is that there are a number of great tools out there to help you achieve a diverse funding portfolio.

Stakeholder Analysis or Network Mapping are great tools that can reveal opportunities and gaps in partnerships. Likewise, when reviewing your long term funding plans, developing a Matrix Map or conducting an Ecocycle Map can create strategic focus. Lastly, when analysing your donor base, developing a donor pyramid, or donor journey map can be an amazing tool to understand your donor mix.

CharityVillage: How can fundraisers best learn to perfect the “strategic ask”?

Chirenda: Breathe easy. In a healthy partnership, with a corporation or otherwise, the “ask” doesn’t need to be perfect. The request for support is one small communication among years of thoughts, actions, and conversations. In strategic partnerships, the project will evolve through a collaborative effort between partners before “the ask” is even finalized.

Keep in mind that when you see strategic partners in the wild, those were likely formed after years, if not decades, of relationship building – small collaborative projects or sessions that become larger in scale over time.

And when it comes to corporate partnerships, find ways to support your company representative in their internal conversations. See what they need to make their job easier. Depending on the corporation and the size of the request, they usually have to present the project to their supervisor, their colleagues, marketing team, and quite often staff committees.

CharityVillage: Donors might take a cynical view of corporate giving by saying for-profits are only aligning with a nonprofit to burnish their image as a responsible corporation, but are really just paying lip-service to the cause. Regardless of whether this is true, how do you advise nonprofits that align with a corporate entity to respond to critiques like this once they have signed a long-term giving contract with their new, for-profit partners?

Chirenda: We highly recommend having and publishing a gift acceptance policy at your organization, which could cover questions like these and keep staff and board members in alignment (a requirement for any charity becoming accredited through our Standards Program).

Consider having your leadership team or your board of directors give some thought to questions around corporate giving and other major gifts through the development of a gift acceptance policy. According to grantspace.org, a carefully thought-out policy answers questions such as: What types of gifts will the organization accept, and what will it not accept? Under what circumstances will gifts be accepted? How will gifts be recognized and tracked? How will major gifts like real estate, life insurance policies, and stock be handled?

CharityVillage: On the flip side of the previous question – how do you advise those in the corporate social responsibility ranks to evince true passion for supporting a cause rather than just throwing money at it?

Chirenda: This was a huge theme in our 2018 report, Corporate Giving in a Changing Canada. Our research has shown that most companies are now leveraging more than just money to support causes.

For example, 100% of companies in the study reported supporting or encouraging employee volunteering and 90% stated that they raise donations from employees. The new imperative for large companies is to leverage as many assets and resources as they can to drive impact and embed social values in their organization.

To that end, we are also seeing a shift from an input- focused giving approach to an outcomes-focused approach that puts more emphasis on the social impact of corporate community investment. Topics like impact investing, SROI measurement, and collective impact projects are all top of mind for companies.

CharityVillage: Will your organization be hosting or leading any learning experiences for fundraisers to further explore this new ethos of the corporate ask? If so, can you provide details?

Chirenda: The research report cited in the answer above, Corporate Giving In A Changing Canada, and also the seminal 30 Years Of Giving In Canada report produced in a 2018 collaboration with the Rideau Hall Foundation are both available for download on our website by anyone interested. These provide a comprehensive overview of the giving landscape in Canada – a very good place to start for Canadian fundraisers.

This fall, Imagine Canada will be releasing the third instalment of our annual corporate giving report which will go deeper in exploring the corporate community investment landscape in Canada and what it means for both companies and charities. I encourage anyone interested in this report and others to visit our website for more information.

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is a professional writer living in Toronto. He can be reached at aajzenkopf@yahoo.com.

Please note: While we ensure that all links and email addresses are accurate at their publishing date, the quick-changing nature of the web means that some links to other web sites and email addresses may no longer be accurate.

This article was originally published on September 25, 2019 by Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf on CharityVillage.

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