Learn corporate priorities and stewardship approaches to ensure unprecedented and sustainable support for your nonprofit.

Over the past few decades, many corporations have broadened their focus from optimizing profits to include social impact.

Today, corporations recognize the importance of aligning values, corporate culture, and their brand with the holistic needs and interests of stakeholders. This shift is evident as many corporations move from making small donations supporting many causes to adopting a purpose-driven approach emphasizing tangible impact. Increasingly, what a corporation chooses to support is closely linked to the causes and concerns that its customers, employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders care about.

Notably, the health and human services sectors have emerged as significant beneficiaries, receiving 26% of all corporate donations over a two-decade span, making them the predominant recipients of such contributions. Understanding the underlying motivations will help your organization navigate the competitive and ever-expanding landscape of corporate philanthropy and develop a sustainable corporate philanthropy program.

In this article, we share steps to uncover these motivations and guide you through building a robust pipeline of corporate prospects, cultivating meaningful relationships, crafting tailored proposals, and implementing a powerful and sustainable corporate philanthropy program.

How Corporations Give

Companies tend to give back to the community in a variety of ways, including:

Company-Sponsored Foundation/Community Grants

Larger companies may have a private foundation linked to their business and aligned with the company’s mission. Gifts are made through a formalized grantmaking application process. Company-sponsored foundations often focus on the geographic areas in which the company is located, the emerging needs of that market, and key priorities or constituent groups that align with the mission.

Matching Gifts

Many companies offer to financially match donations that are contributed by their employees to a nonprofit. The matching ratio will vary per company—from 1:1 up to 4:1. You may find Double the Donation helpful as a matching gift tool for your nonprofit.

Corporate Sponsorships

Corporate sponsorships are a common type of support that nonprofits can receive from a new corporate partner. These sponsorships are typically associated with a form of recognition at a special event or program depending on the gift level.

Employee Volunteer Grants

For employees who give their time back to local nonprofits, some companies award volunteer grants directly to the nonprofit each year based on the number of hours an employee volunteered.

Build a robust pipeline

A sustainable corporate philanthropy program hinges on developing a robust pipeline of qualified prospects to ensure a continual source of substantial funding. It’s imperative to strategically identify corporations aligning with your organization’s mission and values; you might identify organizations whose mandate and interests focus on improving outcomes for vulnerable and underserved populations that overlap with your mission. Utilize existing databases and resources that monitor and track businesses based on geographic areas. Create a list of 10 to 15 well-respected companies in the local community that you want to build a relationship with. Start with the “About” page on the company’s website and branch out from there.

Consider the following questions:

Understand Corporate Motivations

Understanding the underlying motivations that drive a corporation’s philanthropic efforts allows you to adapt your fundraising approach accordingly. Corporations are often motivated by marketing and brand alignment or employee satisfaction. Delving into their corporate landscape—including the impact on employees, customers, and stakeholders—offers invaluable insights and a high-level understanding of their values and how they may be philanthropically motivated.

Look at Yourself From Their Perspective

As you seek to uncover corporate prospects, it is equally important to consider how these corporate prospects perceive your organization. There can often be a lack of understanding about why an organization needs philanthropic support. Highlight how philanthropy impacts programs and services and tell that story of impact clearly and compellingly.

Identify and Connect

Next, explore existing connections to key decision-makers within your target corporations. Networking is a valuable tool for accessing and establishing initial contact. Identify individuals who bridge, facilitate introductions, and open doors—personal connections enhance the credibility of your approach.

The power of volunteers to amplify your prospect identification efforts cannot be overstated. Volunteers, including board members and other stakeholders, can play a pivotal role in identifying organizations whose business interests intersect with the populations positively impacted by your services. Their insights and networks expand the reach of your prospect identification process.

These steps culminate in a prospect pipeline that transcends wishful thinking and becomes meaningful and measurable. This comprehensive approach ensures that your identification efforts engage corporations with a capacity that aligns closely with your mission, values, and impact objectives.

Cultivating Strategies for Corporate Philanthropy

Cultivation is not a linear process but a strategic journey to foster genuine connections and long-term partnerships built on mutual trust. Cultivation moves the prospect closer to a successful gift request and creates a relationship founded on shared values and purpose.

To embark on this journey, gather historical and relevant information before creating a cultivation strategy. It is common to see organizations collaborating with corporations across various dimensions like sponsorship, vendor relationships, community engagement, marketing, and media relations. Consult your organization’s compliance and legal departments to ensure an approach doesn’t trigger conflicts of interest. Understanding the breadth of any existing or anticipated corporate partnership or relationship is important before establishing a cultivation strategy.

Initiate this process by identifying the 6Rs of cultivation.

Right prospectRight purposeRight amountRight
Right solicitorRelevant factors or interests

This framework forms the foundation of a cultivation strategy. Invite subject matter experts and intentionally engage them during the cultivation process. If your corporate partner is enthusiastic about a particular service line or program, engage critical stakeholders or volunteers to answer questions and provide additional context.

Preparing for the request

If your organization has multiple locations or member organizations, consider creating one comprehensive approach for each corporate partner to eliminate internal competition and provide a unified and comprehensive request.

In the intricate dance of corporate philanthropy, crafting a proposal is more than a transaction; it is an art form that requires insight and strategic finesse. The pivotal precursor to unveiling your proposal is the briefing meeting, an opportunity to test the ask and gain a nuanced understanding of donor interests.

The briefing meeting is not just a formality but a strategic move to gauge the donor’s level of interest and specific goals. It serves as a crucial checkpoint to avoid surprises when the proposal arrives. From estimating capacity, preferred timing, and understanding their decision-making process, the timing of their budgetary process, and the insights gathered during the meeting pave the way for a timely, uniquely personal, and tailored proposal for your prospect.

Questions to keep in mind as you approach the request include:

The proposal

Proposals are personalized invitations to a collaborative partnership that creates real impact. Enriched by insights from the briefing meeting, the tailored pitch transforms a generic proposal into an inspiring and collaborative venture—a journey both parties embark on with a shared purpose.

A compelling proposal is a narrative that paints a vivid picture of long-term impact. It provides a detailed overview of the mission, clearly identifying the problem and conveying the consequences of inaction. It also clearly articulates the long-term vision, illustrating how the gift will contribute to achieving these objectives and making a tangible difference.

In personalized storytelling, it is often more compelling to “show” than to “tell.” A winning proposal often will captivate its audience by demonstrating the impact that can be achieved through investment, going beyond abstract ideas to share proof of concept instead. Acknowledging your corporate partner and their values, a strong proposal goes beyond a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and can highlight a deep understanding of their unique identity and aspirations.

Stewarding Corporate Relationships

Stewardship is essential to retaining and strengthening relationships with corporate donors. Collaborate closely with your corporate partners to create a stewardship plan meaningful to them. Whether they prefer impact reports, leadership updates, or in-person meetings, it is important not to apply a blanket approach to stewarding these relationships.

corporate fundraising is an investment—but it’s worth it!

Securing major gifts from corporations is about fostering enduring partnerships that create real impact. From building a robust pipeline to impactful recognition, each step contributes to a shared vision of positive change.

In this dynamic and competitive landscape of philanthropy, each step is a commitment to exploring a partnership model to its fullest. Transformative gifts from corporations are increasingly possible but require earnest planning and strategic thought. Investment in people and processes can move your organization from transactional small investments to transformative, long-term alliances that propel your growth.